Undergraduate Humanities Forum 2007-2008: Origins

Document Type


Date of this Version

April 2008


2007-2008 Penn Humanities Forum on Origins, Undergraduate Mellon Research Fellows.

URL: http://humanities.sas.upenn.edu/07-08/uhf_fellows.shtml


When reading the enormous collection of writings on Socrates, one is apt to respond as Strepsiades did to his son's defense of mother-beating. Every point seems to follow logically from the last, and the finished argument apparently stands firmly upon the given evidence - yet, like Strepsiades, we have the visceral feeling that something is seriously amiss. In the same way, modern readers meet with vastly conflicting appraisals of Socrates and his philosophy, all of which claim to approach the historical truth most closely. Any treatment of Socrates must address, at least in passing, the hurtles which a lacunose historical record sets before potential commentators.

Socrates has never been easy to understand. To non-specialists, he is a stereotypical Greek philosopher, immortalized for his eponymous teaching method. One of the few certainties about his career was his fixation upon questioning anyone and everyone. What is known today as the Socratic method, however, bears little resemblance to Socrates' style of debating. Socrates did not trade in questions and answers, as the modern practitioner of the Socratic method does. He asked questions which he could not answer, he would respond to his interlocutors with puzzling irony, and most vexing of all, he frequently denied possession of any knowledge at all. In a way, Socrates should be the last person associated with the now traditional question-answer script.



Date Posted: 23 June 2008

This document has been peer reviewed.