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Working Towards Using the Socratic Method

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By Robert L. Holder

The Socratic method is something like woodcarving. Just as a woodcarver removes layers of wood to get at the form of the object he is carving, the Socratic method is used to carve away all suppositions contrary to what is true about a given idea. It’s a way at getting at the positive by focusing on the negative. The teacher employing the Socratic method uses a series of questions to test the logic and facts of the beliefs of those he is teaching. It is not direct instruction. The technique at the heart of the Socratic method is called elenchos in the Greek, which can be translated as cross-examination. A student schooled in the Socratic method is taught to think and to take the truths that have been revealed by this whittling process and see where they apply to other ideas or beliefs.

The Socratic method requires a strict adherence to the rules of logic and proper reasoning. Since the teacher’s questions are designed to show the student where his reasoning is faulty, those who use the Socratic method must have a solid understanding of logic. Those who are instructed using the Socratic method will develop their abilities to think logically and use proper reasoning. It was Socrates belief that knowledge of the truth is an innate part of man that must be “given birth” or brought out through the questioning process. The Greek term for this birthing process is called maieutics.

Homeschoolers who are interested in the Socratic method must first develop their own ability to think and reason logically. Nathaniel Bluedorn has written a booklet, Learning Logic at Home, that will help parents find resources to learn more about the study of logic and how to implement it in their homeschool learning. It is available for purchase from Trivium Pursuit for $4 or you can download the pdf version at http://www.christianlogic.com/download/. There are several other audio and pdf file downloads available on that page which provide more logic resources to the parent just starting out using the classical method of homeschooling.

Trivium Pursuit also publishes an excellent introductory book on reasoning. The Fallacy Detective is designed to help students learn to recognize bad reasoning. This helps in learning to recognize faulty logic in other people’s thinking and in learning to develop logical arguments that don’t fall prey to common fallacies. My children have enjoyed using the book. It causes them to think about and understand each of the fallacies presented. The EHO review of The Fallacy Detective is also available to read.

For more information on the Socratic method and logic, visit the Wikipedia articles below. They include in-depth explanations as well as many additional resources.

Socratic Method
This article includes information about the Socratic method and Socrates.

Logic
This article tackles the topic of logic and so is much greater in scope covering various types of logic not just that used in the Socratic method.

Logical Fallacy
Defines logical fallacy and gives a list of fallacies with definitions and examples.

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