Skip to main content

This tool will help improve your critical thinking - Erick Wilberding


35,655 Questions Answered

TEDEd Animation

Let’s Begin…

Socrates, one of the founding fathers of Western philosophical thought, was on trial. Many believed he was an enemy of the state, accusing the philosopher of corrupting the youth and refusing to recognize their gods. But Socrates wasn’t feared for claiming to have all the answers, but rather, for asking too many questions. Erick Wilberding digs into the technique known as the Socratic Method.

Additional Resources for you to Explore

The BBC’s In our Time, hosted by Melvyn Bragg, has an informative episode on Socrates.

Socrates was immensely and enthusiastically curious. He really wished to understand better what someone thought, how he thought it, and he wanted to test this idea and its reasoning. It was as if the other person had something to teach him. He wanted to walk through the person’s ideas and reasoning. So he connected his questions in longer chains to pull a network of ideas into the open for better understanding and fair evaluation. The first step was to clarify and understand the issue or problem. The second step was to understand the other person’s view on the issue or problem. The third step was to work out and follow the path of reasoning to discover where the argument led. In this way Socrates made the thinking visible. He showed the path to the answer; he did not tell the answer. And in the conversation he never became frustrated, annoyed, irritated, or angry. He was always curious, good-humored, and excited about the search and the discovery. Alternative views were welcome.

One can catch a glimpse of the genius of Socrates in action by reading the dialogues by Plato and Xenophon. Plato wrote many dialogues, but one can begin with Meno and Euthyphro. In Xenophon’s Memoirs on Socrates one can read other exchanges.
Socrates was very critical of the form of direct democracy in his time. We can learn more about this particular kind of democracy in the video lesson What did democracy really mean in Athens?. More context can be found in the enjoyable A day in the life of an ancient Athenian.

For further understanding of Plato, who was Socrates’ most famous pupil and one of the most influential philosophers in history, one can watch the lessons on Plato’s Allegory of the Cave and Plato’s best (and worst) ideas – Wisecrack.

An overview of the comedy of Aristophanes, who caricatured Socrates in The Clouds, is presented in the video lesson Why is Aristophanes called "The Father of Comedy"?

A look at the different ways that the Socratic Method has been developed and adapted is found in Socratic Methods by Erick Wilberding. Heather K. Gerken, the dean of Yale Law School, wrote an insightful article How to Teach the Socratic Method With a Heart. An incisive modern adaptation of Socratic Method in clinical education (which can easily be adapted to many other areas) is the One Minute Preceptor model. Perhaps the best known Socratic educator is Harvard’s Michael Sandel, whose class on Justice may be seen online. Socratic questioning can also play a central role in Cognitive Behavior Therapy, which helps to free people from negative and unhealthy thinking patterns.

Next Section »

About TED-Ed Animations

TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Erick Wilberding
  • Director Draško Ivezić, Adriatic Animation
  • Narrator Addison Anderson
  • Storyboard Artist David Lovrić, Draško Ivezić
  • Animator David Lovrić
  • Art Director Draško Ivezić
  • Music Jarrett Farkas
  • Sound Designer Weston Fonger
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Director Alex Rosenthal
  • Producer Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Editorial Producer Dan Kwartler
  • Script Editor Alex Gendler
  • Fact-Checker Liz McGlone

More from The Way We Think