1. Education
Send to a Friend via Email

Socratic Irony

What Is It?



Socrates, Ancient Greek philosopher. Marble portrait bust from the Archaeological Museum, Athens. Socrates (469-399 BC) is considered to be the intellectual father of modern Western philosophy. His method of enquiry was to enter into a penetrating discussion with his companions, questioning the nature of knowledge itself in pursuit of absolute truths. Socrates himself wrote nothing, but versions of his conversations are recorded in the written works of his pupils Plato and Xenophon. Socrates' pursuit of true knowledge brought him into conflict with the piety laws of his native Athens, where his eventual prosecution led to enforced suicide.

(Photo by Ann Ronan Pictures/Print Collector/Getty Images)


Socratic irony is a technique used in the Socratic method of teaching. Irony is employed when someone says something that conveys a message that contradicts the literal words. In the case of Socratic irony, Socrates might pretend to think his students wise or he might denigrate his own intelligence, as by pretending he doesn't know the answer.

According to the article "Socratic irony" in The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy (Simon Blackburn. Oxford University Press, 2008), Socratic irony is "Socrates's irritating tendency to praise his hearers while undermining them, or to disparage his own superior abilities while manifesting them."

Someone attempting to use Socratic irony might sound like the old television detective Columbo who always disparaged his own talents to make the suspect think he was an idiot.


©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.