Season 2,
45 Min

Episode 55: Question Everything – the Socratic Method and the Examined Life

May 29, 2017

“The unexamined life is not worth living,” Socrates famously said.  Since the times of Ancient Greece, Socrates’s Method of questioning everything from beauty, virtue, courage and friendship down to our most basic assumptions has endured as a way of living an Examined Life.

So how can we apply the Socratic method to think not only about the human condition but to examine our own individual life?

 

In this episode, Clay and Sarah discuss:

* the basic principles of the Socratic method

* five steps we can use to apply the Socratic method to our own lives

* the idea of Active questioning

* why it can feel unsettling to question Everything

* how the ‘ladder of inference’ can lead us into repetitive habits and unexamined assumptions

* background history of the life of Socrates

* tools to stay open to new perspectives

 

Son of a stone-cutter and a midwife, Socrates claimed he did similar work with ideas — bringing out what is within.  He did not claim to have any answers or insights from his questions, but rather used these questions to help people interrogate their own beliefs.  He was, he claimed, a midwife of ideas.

Above all else, Socrates asked – What is mankind capable of? And how can we become more excellent? In other words, how can we lead the best possible life?

He saw Questions as the method by which misconceptions could be chiselled away and the Truth ultimately revealed.  And his Dialogues with everyday people on issues of Friendship, Love, Work, Society and a Life that Mattered were all recorded by his student, Plato.

According to Ronald Gross who wrote the excellent book Socrates’ Way: Seven Keys to Using Your Mind to the Utmost, Socrates’ basic values included: (1) self-understanding as the basis for authentic living, (2) questioning conventional wisdom to verify truth for ourselves, (3) accepting the individual has moral and spiritual authority over his own soul, (4) free speech and dissent are essential to a healthy society, (5) thinking should be disciplined by logic and personal experience, (6) the physical body should be valued and appreciated.

An excerpt from Socrates Cafe by Christopher Phillips explains that we can use the Socratic Method to examine our own beliefs and perceptions by asking:

What does X mean?

What speaks for AND against it?

What plausible alternatives are there?

 

With Socrates’s famous method, Plato opened the ‘Academy’ to cultivate people’s ability to think.  In our contemporary world, where school and universities are mostly geared to teaching students a certain amount of information that can then be quantified with an exam, and where the term ‘academic’ can often be associated with impractical theory, it is interesting to note that the beginnings of the academy in Ancient Greece were quite the opposite – a place to question, to expose what we don’t know, to peel away layers of misbelief, and above all to endow its students with practical knowledge for everyday life.

The truly amazing and unique quality of Socrates, Ronald Gross explains, was this — “Socrates did not contend that following him [or his method] was ‘the way’ – just a way to find your way.”

 

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