Apply The Socratic Paradox to Your Writing to Make It Better

Elisa Doucette
3 min readJun 15, 2021

“…although I do not suppose that either of us knows anything really beautiful and good, I am better off than he is — for he knows nothing, and thinks that he knows. I neither know nor think that I know.” ― Socrates (v. Plato in Apology)

Ok, so Socrates may or may not have said this quote.

It is hard to know exactly what Socrates shared, as most of what we have are transcriptions from the lessons and talks he gave to eager listeners in the agora (open-air market) of Athens. One of his most faithful pupils, Plato, recorded much of what he could — but even then, we are getting an interpretation of Socrates’ thoughts through the filter of Plato’s bias.

The Socratic Paradox (a philosophical experiment) states it simply: “I know that I know nothing.”

…which leads us to ask why so many young people, and some of the greatest thinkers of his time, were drawn to gather in the hundreds at Socrates’ feet, only to listen to him talk for hours.

Why would these people put so much intellectual faith in a man who had professed to them again and again that he didn’t actually know what the hell he was talking about?

Well, it’s quite simple.

Socrates didn’t jump on a stone to lecture like so many other philosophers of the ancient world.

Instead he is pictured sitting on the stones; at the same level as those who came to see him, having more conversations and discussions than one-way speeches.

Socrates would pose questions, share his thoughts, and then try to get the ideas and opinions of those around him. He would often ask them to teach him about their areas of expertise.

“Tell me more”, and “Explain that to me”, and “What do you think about that?” were frequent asks in the Socratic school that was being formed.

By doing this, Socrates gave his listeners three crucial opportunities:

  1. He asked them to think for themselves.
  2. He asked them to share their thoughts, so they had to hear what…
Elisa Doucette

I’m a writer & editor who helps you make your own words even better. Travel the world for great stories to share. Love language is GIFs