Although "the Socratic method" is commonly understood as a style of pedagogy involving cross-questioning between teacher and student, there has long been debate among scholars of ancient philosophy about how this method as attributed to Socrates should be defined or, indeed, whether Socrates can be said to have used any single, uniform method at all distinctive to his way of philosophizing. This volume brings together essays by classicists and philosophers examining this controversy anew.
The point of departure for many of those engaged in the debate has been the identification of Socratic method with "the elenchus" as a technique of logical argumentation aimed at refuting an interlocutor, which Gregory Vlastos highlighted in an influential article in 1983. The essays in this volume look again at many of the issues to which Vlastos drew attention but also seek to broaden the discussion well beyond the limits of his formulation.
Some contributors question the suitability of the elenchus as a general description of how Socrates engages his interlocutors; others trace the historical origins of the kinds of argumentation Socrates employs; others explore methods in addition to the elenchus that Socrates uses; several propose new ways of thinking about Socratic practices. Eight essays focus on specific dialogues, each examining why Plato has Socrates use the particular methods he does in the context defined by the dialogue. Overall, representing a wide range of approaches in Platonic scholarship, the volume aims to enliven and reorient the debate over Socratic method so as to set a new agenda for future research.
Contributors are Hayden W. Ausland, Hugh H. Benson, Thomas C. Brickhouse, Michelle Carpenter, John M. Carvalho, Lloyd P. Gerson, Francisco J. Gonzalez, James H. Lesher, Mark McPherran, Ronald M. Polansky, Gerald A. Press, Franois Renaud, and W. Thomas Schmid, Nicholas D. Smith, P. Christopher Smith, Harold Tarrant, Joanne B. Waugh, and Charles M. Young.
Gary Alan Scott is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Loyola College in Maryland.
“This is a valuable tome—a collection of essays from both old lags and young scholars, with widely differing approaches to ancient philosophy, on an important topic in Socratic studies. You can play with the book's title to bring out different emphases, each relevant to a few of the articles in the book: Does Socrates have a method?
I enjoyed this book, while finding plenty to disagree with in many of the papers. Since the writers come from different directions, any scholar will also find plenty to disagree with — but of course such disagreement helps to test one's own cherished opinions and attitudes. And so this volume dedicated to the Socratic elenchus will act elenchtically on its readers.”
—Robin Waterfield, Bryn Mawr Classical Review (BMCR)
“This book puts philosophers and classicists who disagree over methodology in Platonic scholarship in direct ‘conversation' with one another in a single volume. That makes this collection of essays attractive to a broad range of scholars, regardless of where they might place themselves on the issue. It has the further virtue of focusing on a single issue.”
—Jill Gordon, Colby College
“Although Gregory Vlastos seemed to have framed the terms for all discussions of Socrates, this volume by Gary Alan Scott shows how many questions remain unanswered. It recuperates the initial power of Socratic questioning, endlessly rebellious to all scholarship.”
—Michel Narcy, Directeur de recherche CNRS, Co-directeur de "Philosophie antique"
“Scott's anthology recognizes both the critical attention that Vlastos's interpretation received and his powerful impact on how certain issues of Socratic method have been discussed, and continue to be discussed, by Plato scholars. . . . As Scott notes, there is a deliberate effort by most contributors to break with the tradition, and rethink old assumptions about the Socratic method associated with Vlastos's model. The current lack of consensus between scholars seems to be a desirable effect because it expands and stimulates discussion, especially about what terms one ought to use in talking about Socratic method.”
—Rebecca Bensen, Journal of the History of Philosophy
“Despite their variations in topic and approach, the essays are uniformly excellent.”
—D.H. Calhoun, Choice
“The fact that each interpreter is able to lend insight into one or another dimension of Platonic thinking without ever establishing anything like a definitive account of the Socratic method speaks well of both the genius of Plato and the construction of this collection of essays.”
—Christopher P. Long, Review of Metaphysics
“The result is a refreshing change of focus that challenges commonly held assumptions about Socrates' method of question and answer. . . . The authors of the collected essays have succeeded admirably in reexamining a notion that most Platonic (and non-Platonic) scholars blithely employ and in emphasizing some hitherto unexplored aspects of the Socratic elenchos, thereby deepening our understanding of its nature and function.”
—Zina Giannopoulou, Ancient Philosophy