Plato’s dialogues, involving his own version of his old mentor Socrates, the Apology and Euthyphro, espouse one of the famous methods of philosophic inquiry, the Socratic Method. This dialectical method of questioning basically asks a question to answer another question. Thus the flow of inquiry is somehow continuous in nature, that the method of question is a universal method in acquiring certain truths and knowledge. This is evident in Socrates’ main ideal in life – that every person, including himself, knows nothing.
That is why to question is the ideal method in creating an understanding of what real knowledge is. In the Apology, it narrates the famous prosecution of Socrates who was branded by Athenian society as a nosy busybody who ‘nags’ people into proper self-examination and inquiry. To question is to know. However, the citizens chide Socrates’ proposition and the citizens of Athens choose to lead a life of ignorance rather than a well-examined life.
In Euthyphro, Socrates helps a man named Euthryphro, a self-proclaimed religious expert, in organizing his own illogical religious views by employing the Socratic Method and refining his arguments. Socrates’ reputation came from a prophecy from the Oracle made at Delphi, which proclaimed him as the wisest among men: “he asked the oracle to tell him whether there was anyone wiser than I was, and the Pythian prophetess answered that there was no man wiser” (Fowler 1914, 21a).
Yet, Socrates denies this claim by arguing that he always knows nothing: “when I heard the answer, I said to myself, what can the god mean? And what is the interpretation of this riddle? For I know that I have no wisdom, small or great” (Folwer, 1914, 21c) “[my] investigation has led to my having many enemies of the worst and most dangerous kind, and has given occasion also to many calumnies, and I am called wise, for my hearers always imagine that I myself possess the wisdom which I find wanting in others” (Fowler, 1914, 23a).
Apology or apologia in Greek is a defense speech that provides the dialogue its title. Socrates is convicted of legal charges of creating false gods and corrupting the minds of the youth apart from the usual accusations of being a busybody. He thus employs the Elenchus or Socratic method in his speech to counter-argue against his accusers. He implies in his speech that he will not employ the rhetoric methods but rather, he urges his accusers to judge him not by his words but by the truth.
In Euthyphro, the Socratic Method is evident in the following dialogue between Socrates and Euthyphro. Socrates meets Euthyphro in a courtyard before their respective trials. Euthyphro conveys to Socrates that he had set charges against his own father and argues that it was the right thing to do. He then relays his own perspective of what religious piety is through three different definitions. First, Euthyphro argues that piety is his own actions of convicting his own father. But Socrates argues that it is not a definition of piety, but merely an example.
It is evident in both dialogues that the method of Socratic inquiry is a method of knowing truth and knowledge. But what is essential for this method is complete and blatant disregard for all prior knowledge and declare that “I know nothing. ” For Plato’s Socrates, this self-affirmation of the self further delves into the nature of the soul, the surroundings which provides experience, and an understanding of the greater mysteries in life. Indeed, a life well-examined is a life well-lived. The method of inquiry is not limited to the external experiences of man but also to the self.
Plato implies that denying ourselves of our existing knowledge is the hardest thing to accomplish – that not all human beings can detach themselves from a state of ignorance that prevents them in knowing the real truths in life. The phrase proclaimed by Socrates upon hearing the Oracle is a definitive example of the first steps in knowing – that is, completely open to new ideas through question. Not only that this method applies to a clearer understanding of the truth, but it also provides a proper examination of the self that leads us to a greater realization and brings new and different perspectives in life.