Socratic Method
at a glance

What can
Socratic Effect
do for your

classical and
modern forms

The Law of Effect

Core Readings


In French
en français

Win Wenger


Comparing Classical and Modern Forms
of Socratic Method



  • Induce one to dig into and search one's own first-hand awareness, seeking to make one's response from what one discovers there. This reinforces the particular awareness, the behavior of being aware and, depending upon the subtleties of the matter being pursued relative to the learner, one's capacities for handling subtler issues. This is "the active ingredient" in Socratic Method, both forms, and why it is associated with genius and with high-level intellectual performance.

  • Can involve and be directed mainly by the Socratee, by the Socrateur, or even by oneself. (See The Socratic Continuum.)

  • In either case, classical or modern, both sides of a Socratic interview are led to pay attention to their own first-hand perceptions and to make specific responses to what they discover there. The Socratee — the person being drawn out — is being reinforced in his or her perceptions concerning the topic; the Socrateur is being reinforced somewhat on that but also and especially on his or her perceptions of the person being interviewed, in order that the questions, challenges, or other interview actions and interventions be on the mark. Thus both Socratee and Socrateur get the benefit of "the active ingredient" in the practice of Socratic Method, whether in the classical form or in modern.

  • In either case, classical or modern, connections are built between conscious and interior resources to such extent that, historically, practicing Socratics were nearly all convinced that somehow all knowledge and understanding is within every learner and needs merely to be "drawn forth." This experience was widespread enough that an entire profession — education, after educare, to draw forth — was named after it, even though that education profession no longer does educating and settles for merely teaching.

  • In any case, what is important is not what is taught but what is learned.

Classical Forms of Socratic Method:
  • Use specific leading questions to get one toward a specific desired "right answer."

  • As with various religious orders several centuries ago, use of such leading questions can lead to abuses turning normal congregation members step by step into dangerous fanatics. Lawyers in court use this tactic to badger witnesses into awkward positions.

  • As in schooling generally, going for one right answer (a problematic goal here in a universe of multiplex relationships and possibilities) can stifle creativity and often leads to dogmatism.

  • The classical form requires not only careful attention to the perceptions of the Socratee by the Socrateur, but for the Socrateur to be extremely well versed in the topic or subject he or she is Socratizing on. (That is one of the reasons schools generally gave up on Socratic Method in the 1870s and went over to the Prussian model, based on didactic instructional methods.)

Modern Forms of Socratic Method:
  • Are open-ended explorations first, less immediately concerned with forcing one's way to one preferred "right answer." As a result, practice of the method leads more toward creative command of much or all of the topic in question, and a broader, in-depth understanding of the topic than with the classical method.

  • Readily lead to a continuous stream of rapid flow with feedback in which one —

    • Describes his own ongoing perceptions, or perception of awareness;

    • Gets into a state of flow at his own optimal levels;

    • Hears his own ongoing descriptions in the context of his listener

    • Anything that you describe aloud in detail while examining in your perceptions, to a respected listener, you discover more and more about.

    • Educators Maria Montessori and John Dewey: learning proceeds best as feedback upon the learner's own actions. Echoed by sociologist Omar K. Moore.

    • Father of neuroanatomy Santiago Ramon y Cajal in the 1920s and ‘‘30s, and the leading neurophysiologist in our time Marion Diamond: not only learning, but actual physical brain growth and development, proceed mainly as feedback upon the organism's own activities.

    • Are so easy for the Socrateur to conduct that he can be fully effective even when he knows nothing about the topic. His power is in how well he listens, questions and encourages.

Suggested Ideal State:

The ideal state is where one is meaningfully heard, at length, in detail, on issues of felt significance. Classical Socratic Method could effectively provide this condition for only one or several students at a time so that, in larger classes, the other forty-seven students would get restless.

Modern method can create a total, sustained Socratic and mutually Socratic state for any number of participants, even where you have classroom sections numbering in the hundreds of students. Find a clear example of this with the system of Dynamic Format. Thus, literally just about everyone can enjoy and thrive in the kind of sustained growth-provoking experience hitherto reserved for only the most fortunate few.

Key References:   Dynamic Format | Mutual Listening

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Win Wenger

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