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Dialogue and Dialectics

SocraticThe Literature Of Socratic Conversations, The Socratic Dialogues Of Plato, Bibliography

Socrates (c. 470–399 B.C.E.) developed a method of inquiry and instruction that involved question and answer, or the "Socratic method." Although Socrates professed to be ignorant of the answers to his questions, his questioning and testing of the answers given were designed to expose the weakness of the opinions held by his interlocutors and to refine those opinions. While Socrates left no writings of his own, the Socratic method is demonstrated in the writings of several of his pupils, especially his most famous pupil, Plato (c. 428–348 or 347B.C.E.). The Socratic dialogues of Plato present Socrates in conversation with known contemporaries. These early dialogues involve question and answer, but most of these arrive at no definite conclusion or firm agreement.

The Greek noun dialogos derives from the verb dialegesthai, meaning "to enter into a conversation." The term dialectic, or the art of argumentation (dialectike techne), is derived from this verb as well, but in the case of Socratic dialectic the relevant Greek term is elegkhos (elenchus). Elenchus means a testing, and, since those tested by Socratic questioning are often shown inadequate in their responses, it comes to mean refutation.

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