A thinking person’s guide to a better life. Ward Farnsworth explains what the Socratic method is, how it works, and why it matters more than ever in our time. Easy to grasp yet challenging to master, the method will change the way you think about life’s big questions.
About 2,500 years ago, Plato wrote a set of dialogues that depict Socrates in conversation. The way Socrates asks questions, and the reasons why, amount to a whole way of thinking. This is the Socratic method—one of humanity’s great achievements. More than a technique, the method is an ethic of patience, inquiry, humility, and doubt. It is an aid to better thinking, and a remedy for bad habits of mind, whether in law, politics, the classroom, or tackling life’s big questions at the kitchen table.
Drawing on hundreds of quotations, this book explains what the Socratic method is and how to use it. Chapters include Socratic Ethics, Ignorance, Testing Principles, and Socrates and the Stoics. Socratic philosophy is still startling after all these years because it is an approach to asking hard questions and chasing after them. It is a route to wisdom and a way of thinking about wisdom. With Farnsworth as your guide, the ideas of Socrates are easier to understand than ever and accessible to anyone.
As Farnsworth achieved with The Practicing Stoic and the Farnsworth’s Classical English series, ideas of old are made new and vital again. This book is for those coming to philosophy the way Socrates did—as the everyday activity of making sense out of life and how to live it—and for anyone who wants to know what he said about doing that better.
“The Socratic method decelerates reasoning, making space for deliberation when disagreements arise. So, the Socratic method is, Farnsworth says, an antidote to some social pandemics of our day.”
—George F. Will, Washington Post
“By presenting the Socratic method as invitingly as it does, [this book] eases the daunting task of taming the fanatical, irrational, censorious beasts in the American political zoo.”
—Wall Street Journal
“Learned, erudite, and elegant.”
“A wonderful book. It is elegant, erudite, but wears its pedagogical virtues so lightly as to never come off as pedantic.”
—Rebecca Goldstein, author of Plato at the Googleplex
“A group of bad American movies has unfortunately associated the Socratic method of inquiry and teaching with a bullying style of teaching. But the Socratic method was something very different to Socrates, and is something that remains at the heart of serious intellectual honesty. Ward Farnsworth’s important book is not only impressively erudite in its mining of classical sources, but is also the best account we have of what the Socratic method really is and why we dismiss or caricature it at our peril.”
—Frederick Schauer, David and Mary Harrison Distinguished Professor of Law, University of Virginia
“Many of us refer casually to the Socratic method and some of us think we practice it. But is only when reading Ward Farnsworth’s learned and inspiring book that one can begin to appreciate the profundity of Plato’s teaching and understand how its lessons are just what is needed in a world where invective and hasty judgments seem to have replaced deliberative reasoning and rational argument.”
—Stanley Fish, author of Winning Arguments
“A great success. There is nothing like it. An excellent resource both for students and for general readers.”
—A. A. Long, author of Epictetus: A Stoic and Socratic Guide to Life
“A beautifully written, immensely thoughtful, and multi-faceted book. Ward Farnsworth offers a fresh understanding of the Socratic method as it’s represented in Plato’s early dialogs, then shows how it can be internalized as a way of bettering intelligence.”
—Henry Abelove, Professor Emeritus of English, Wesleyan University
“Ward Farnsworth’s The Socratic Method deserves attention from scholars and lawyers and teachers of law—but, really, from anyone who wants to practice clear thinking. The book rests on a firm foundation of scholarship and then goes on to do something at which few such scholarly works succeed: it is useful for ordinary readers. It is indeed a practitioner’s handbook. Read it to enlarge your knowledge of ancient thought, but also read it for the mental exercises all thinkers need in order to stay agile.”
—Paul Woodruff, author of The Garden of Leaders: Revolutionizing Higher Education
“Ward Farnsworth’s brilliant new book, The Socratic Method, offers powerful insights into the most important and effective means for discovering the truth, or at least coming closer to it, in education, politics, business, and everyday relations. Building on the wisdom of Socrates, Farnsworth makes clear not only why Socratic discourse is essential, but also how to undertake such discourse in a positive and affirming manner. This is especially important today at a time of deep political polarization in which Americans increasingly speak only to people like themselves and hold those who disagree with them in disdain. This state of affairs, no doubt contributed to by the advent of social media, poses a serious threat to a well-functioning democracy. If we as a nation are to make it through these times and preserve the most fundamental premises of our democracy, we must all learn how to engage in Socratic discourse and embrace the principles of an open mind, rigorous questioning and honest debate. This book offers essential lessons to anyone seeking to preserve American democracy.”
—Geoffrey R. Stone, Edward H. Levi Distinguished Professor of Law, The University of Chicago