Proposed identification and description of Socrates' method of examination.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Education
Socrates' first mission to understand the riddle of the Oracle led him to a definition of wisdom. His second method was to help others discover this wisdom and from this discover how to live the good life. Plato portrays Socrates in the Earlier Dialogs using the elenchus to fulfil this mission. This form of argument has been described by Socratic scholars, but contradictions between it and statements made by Socrates of what he did indicate it may not be the method he used. Socrates may not have used the elenchus, but he did do something and what it was can be identified from his statements; providing these are accepted as reliable. The method proposed indicates that Socrates rationally examined life by asking people why they take certain actions. Their answers were either in terms of the expected results, or general statements of what a person should do. Socrates appears to have examined the first type of answer directly by a cross-examination of the person's opinions of what the consequences will be. He appears to have examined the second type of answer by examining examples based on the general statement. The first type of examination will indicate whether it is wise to take a particular action or not. The second type of examination will only indicate whether the aim of the action is worthwhile. The evidence suggests that Socrates had a pragmatic method of examining life which indicates which actions are most likely to bring the best results and therefore the best life. The wise person will use the method to examine their life, and then act in accordance with what they discover.