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Ancient Philosophy

Socrates

What is Socratic irony?

In both real life and Plato’s dialogues, Socrates liked to draw his audience into debate by presenting himself as knowing nothing. The oracle at Delphi had said that there was no man wiser than Socrates, although Socrates himself always said that he knew nothing. (The fact that he knew he knew nothing is said to have set him apart from everyone else.)

Socrates would begin a dialogue by flattering his interlocutors about their intelligence or virtue. If they were willing to converse with him a process of careful questioning followed. From such “interrogation” it would emerge that the person he was talking to knew very little about the subject in which he was supposed to be an expert. In saying at the outset that he himself knew nothing, Socrates had nothing to lose, whereas his interlocutors would either be personally humiliated or unmasked as hypocrites or charlatans.



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