Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Meno and Phaedo

The Elenchus in Plato's Five Dialogues

The Socratic method of investigation, the elenchus, is explained by example in Plato’s Five Dialogues. In Euthyphro, Apology, and Crito, Plato’s character of Socrates employs the elenchus as a way to challenge interlocutors. If an Athenian claims to be knowledgeable about a subject, Socrates sets out to prove that this knowledge is unfounded. With the elenchus, Socrates analyzes the incongruities of widespread beliefs. By doing so, he achieves his goal of rendering his interlocutors incapable of making unyielding conclusions about their wisdom, which frustrates and embarrasses them. However, Socrates does not aim only to publicly shame the interlocutor, but more importantly to scrutinize unexamined beliefs and to prove that these beliefs are often platitudinous. What ultimately comes of the elenchus is not a revised definition of unexamined beliefs, but rather an understanding that humans are ignorant beings, and cannot provide concrete knowledge on every subject. Through his depiction of Socrates, Plato bestows upon us an erudite ignorance. Once we understand that we lack knowledge, we no longer must live according to hollow, contradictory beliefs. Instead, we can start questioning beliefs for ourselves; we can live more...

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