How to Argue Using the Socratic Method

The Socratic method can be used to show someone that they are wrong, or at least imprecise, by getting them to agree with statements that contradict their original assertion. Since Socrates believed that the first step to knowledge was recognition of one's ignorance, it's not surprising that this method focuses not so much on proving your point but on disproving the other person's point with a series of questions (elenchus), resulting in their aporia (puzzlement). This method is used in law school to teach students critical thinking skills, and it is also used in psychotherapy, management training, and classrooms.


  1. Image titled Argue Using the Socratic Method Step 1
    Locate the statement that sums up their argument. Socrates would often elicit such a statement by asking the person to define something, like "What is justice?" or "What is truth?" You can employ the Socratic method using any declarative statement which a person sounds certain of, like "This table is blue."
  2. Image titled Argue Using the Socratic Method Step 2
    Examine the implications of the statement. Assume that their statement is false and find an example where the statement is false. Can you provide a scenario, real or imaginary, that is inconsistent with their statement? Wrap this scenario in a question:
    • "To a blind person, is this table still blue?"
    • If the person says no, proceed to the next step.
    • If the person says yes, ask: "What makes it blue to a blind person, and not green, or pink, or purple?" In other words, if someone can't see, what makes the table blue? This question might stump some people who regard colour as only existing in the perception of the human experiencing it. If so, proceed to the next step.
  3. Image titled Argue Using the Socratic Method Step 3
    Change the initial statement to take the exception into account. "So the table is blue only to those who can see."
  4. Image titled Argue Using the Socratic Method Step 4
    Challenge the new statement with another question. E.g. "If the table is in the middle of an empty room, where no one can see it, is it still blue?" Eventually, you should come to a statement that the person has agreed to but that contradicts their original statement. In this example, you might end up pointing out the subjectivity of the perception of color and argue (using questions, not statements) that color only exists in a person's mind as a result of their perception; it isn't actually a property of the table. In other words, the table is not blue. Your opponent's perception of it is blue. If the person rejects existentialism as a presupposed truth however, they may still disagree with your final assertion.


  • The Socratic Method is not about proving people wrong, but challenging assumptions. If your goal is to argue effectively, Socrates may offer some advice, but this method is best used for challenging even your own beliefs.
  • The key to using the Socratic method is to be humble. Don't assume that you or anyone knows anything for sure. Question every premise.
  • Remember that the goal with the Socratic method is to examine possibilities, and that is done by asking questions, not by giving answers. Socrates was known (and criticized) for asking questions to which he didn't have answers.[1]


  • Socrates, the inventor of this method, was forced to take hemlock because he annoyed too many people. While it's unlikely that excessive use of the Socratic method will lead you to the same fate, it's quite possible that no one will want to speak to you if you make a habit of tearing apart any declarative statement that falls on your ears. Debate in a friendly fashion and try not to embarrass or annoy your opponent.
  • Plato argued that Socrates did not know the answer and yet from the writings of Plato (which is the only way we know of Socrates) one can presume he often asked questions he had answers for. Professors of Business & Law have been known to use this technique of rhetorical questioning in their teaching, as has a Christian religious figure - Jesus of Nazareth.

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