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Socratic questioning (or Socratic maieutics)[1] is disciplined questioning that can be used to pursue thought in many directions and for many purposes, including: to explore complex ideas, to get to the truth of things, to open up issues and problems, to uncover assumptions, to analyze concepts, to distinguish what we know from what we don't know, to follow out logical implications of thought, or to control the discussion. The key to distinguishing Socratic questioning from questioning per se is that Socratic questioning is systematic, disciplined, and deep, and usually focuses on fundamental concepts, principles, theories, issues, or problems.

Socratic questioning is referred to in teaching, and has gained currency as a concept in education particularly in the past two decades.[citation needed] Teachers, students, or indeed anyone interested in probing thinking at a deep level can and should construct Socratic questions and engage in these questions.[2]

Pedagogy Edit

When teachers use Socratic questioning in teaching, their purpose may be to probe student thinking, to determine the extent of student knowledge on a given topic, issue or subject, to model Socratic questioning for students, or to help students analyze a concept or line of reasoning. It is suggested that students should learn the discipline of Socratic questioning so that they begin to use it in reasoning through complex issues, in understanding and assessing the thinking of others, and in following-out the implications of what they, and others think.

In teaching, teachers can use Socratic questioning for at least two purposes:

  • To deeply probe student thinking, to help students begin to distinguish what they know or understand from what they do not know or understand (and to help them develop intellectual humility in the process).
  • To foster students' abilities to ask Socratic questions, to help students acquire the powerful tools of Socratic dialogue, so that they can use these tools in everyday life (in questioning themselves and others). To this end, teachers can model the questioning strategies they want students to emulate and employ. Moreover, teachers need to directly teach students how to construct and ask deep questions. Beyond that, students need practice to improve their questioning abilities.

Socratic questioning illuminates the importance of questioning in learning (indeed Socrates himself thought that questioning was the only defensible form of teaching). It illuminates the difference between systematic and fragmented thinking. It teaches us to dig beneath the surface of our ideas. It teaches us the value of developing questioning minds in cultivating deep learning. Integrating Socratic questions in the following manner in the classroom helps develop active, independent learners:[3][unreliable source?]


  1. Getting students to clarify their thinking
    e.g., ‘Why do you say that?’, ‘Could you explain further?’
  2. Challenging students about assumptions
    e.g., ‘Is this always the case?’, ‘Why do you think that this assumption holds here?’
  3. Evidence as a basis for argument
    e.g., ‘Why do you say that?’, ‘Is there reason to doubt this evidence?’
  4. Alternative viewpoints and perspectives
    e.g., ‘What is the counter argument for?’, ‘Can/did anyone see this another way?’
  5. Implications and consequences
    e.g., ‘But if...happened, what else would result?’, ‘How does...affect...?’
  6. Question the question
    e.g., ‘Why do you think that I asked that question?’, ‘Why was that question important?’, ‘Which of your questions turned out to be the most useful?’

The art of Socratic questioning is intimately connected with critical thinking because the art of questioning is important to excellence of thought. What the word "Socratic" adds to the art of questioning is systematicity, depth, and an abiding interest in assessing the truth or plausibility of things.

Both critical thinking and Socratic questioning share a common end. Critical thinking provides the conceptual tools for understanding how the mind functions in its pursuit of meaning and truth; Socratic questioning employs those tools in framing questions essential to the pursuit of meaning and truth.

The goal of critical thinking is to establish an additional level of thinking to our thinking, a powerful inner voice of reason, that monitors, assesses, and reconstitutes—in a more rational direction—our thinking, feeling, and action. Socratic discussion cultivates that inner voice through an explicit focus on self-directed, disciplined questioning.

Psychology Edit

Socratic questioning has also been used in therapy, most notably as a cognitive restructuring technique in cognitive therapy, Logotherapy and Classical Adlerian psychotherapy. The purpose here is to help uncover the assumptions and evidence that underpin people's thoughts in respect of problems. A set of Socratic questions in cognitive therapy to deal with automatic thoughts that distress the patient:[4][5]

  1. Revealing the issue: ‘What evidence supports this idea? And what evidence is against its being true?’
  2. Conceiving reasonable alternatives: ‘What might be another explanation or viewpoint of the situation? Why else did it happen?’
  3. Examining various potential consequences: ‘What are worst, best, bearable and most realistic outcomes?’
  4. Evaluate those consequences: ‘What’s the effect of thinking or believing this? What could be the effect of thinking differently and no longer holding onto this belief?’
  5. Distancing: ‘Imagine a specific friend/family member in the same situation or if they viewed the situation this way, what would I tell them?’

Careful use of Socratic questioning enables a therapist to challenge recurring or isolated instances of a person's illogical thinking while maintaining an open position that respects the internal logic to even the most seemingly illogical thoughts.

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. Jacques Brunschwig, Geoffrey Ernest Richard Lloyd (eds), A Guide to Greek Thought: Major Figures and Trends, Harvard University Press, 2003, p. 233.
  2. Paul, R. and Elder, L. (2006). The Art of Socratic Questioning. Dillon Beach, CA: Foundation for Critical Thinking.
  3. Outstanding Teaching’. UK.
  4. Judith S. Beck (1995). Cognitive Therapy: Basics and Beyond, 109, Guilford Press. URL accessed 25 May 2011.
  5. Error on call to template:cite web: Parameters url and title must be specified Elizabeth Jeglic. Therapeutic Interventions. John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY.
  1. Jacques Brunschwig, Geoffrey Ernest Richard Lloyd (eds), A Guide to Greek Thought: Major Figures and Trends, Harvard University Press, 2003, p. 233.
  2. Paul, R. and Elder, L. (2006). The Art of Socratic Questioning. Dillon Beach, CA: Foundation for Critical Thinking.
  3. Outstanding Teaching’. UK.
  4. Judith S. Beck (1995). Cognitive Therapy: Basics and Beyond, 109, Guilford Press. URL accessed 25 May 2011.
  5. Error on call to template:cite web: Parameters url and title must be specified Elizabeth Jeglic. Therapeutic Interventions. John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY.

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