Socrates, one of the founding fathers of Western Philosophical thought, was on trial. Many Athenians believed he was a dangerous enemy of the state, accusing the philosopher of corrupting the youth and refusing to recognize their gods. Socrates was known for asking too many questions rather than claiming to have all the answers.
Socrates loathed formal lectures, but he frequently engaged friends and strangers in lengthy conversations about morality and society. These discussions weren't debates, nor would Socrates offer explicit advice. In fact, the philosopher often claimed to know nothing at all, responding to his partner's answers only with further questions. Through this process, Socrates probed their logic, revealing its flaws and helping both parties reach a more robust understanding. He described himself as a ‘midwife’ whose inquiries assist others in giving birth to their ideas. His method of questioning draws out an individual's unexamined assumptions and then challenges those biases.
Two of his students, Plato and Xenophon, were so inspired that they replicated their mentors process in fictional dialogues. These invented exchanges provide perfect examples of what would come to be known as the Socratic method.
The Socratic method is incredibly useful in numerous fields. During the Renaissance, the method was used to teach clinical medicine. It was also adapted to tackle abstract questions of faith and became an essential part of American legal education. This approach is still used today by the Supreme Court to imagine the unintended impacts of passing a law. The Socratic method can be adapted to teach almost any topic that relies on critical reasoning.
Socrates was likely brought to trial and eventually sentenced to death for his subversive beliefs. His method of questioning, however, lives on and continues to provide powerful insights in various fields.