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Socratic Irony for Beginners

Updated on September 23, 2016

Socratic Irony for Beginners

It can be an intimidating prospect to embark on a study of the early Greek philosophers; or on any aspect of philosophy for that matter.

The uninformed student has a tendency to view the discipline of philosophy as being reserved for a select few intellectuals possessing some extraordinary capacity for academic thought. Perhaps it was this very fact that prompted Socrates, one of the earliest classical Greek philosophers, to formulate the technique of Socratic irony to invite philosophical discussion.

Socratic irony is, simply put, the admission of your own ignorance and the simultaneous expression of your willingness to learn from someone else’s insight.

Socrates used to go around Athens, his place of birth, having casual discussions with people he met on the streets and in the marketplace; inviting them to share with him their insight on certain concepts. Take, for example, the concept of “Justice”. Socrates would start a discussion about “Justice” with a simple question, such as: “What is Justice?” When someone answered by saying something like: “Justice is to give each man what he deserves”, Socrates would follow up by asking: “Who decides what every man deserves?” This would quickly lead to the discovery, for example, of the problem we face in defining “Justice” when “Justice” is dispensed by people in authority who are themselves unjust.

The process of Socratic irony, as described above, brought Philosophy down from the Ivory Towers of academic consideration, to a level where ordinary people felt comfortable discussing Philosophical principles and giving their opinion on concepts previously reserved for the intellectuals of their time.

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