I typically construct my arguments in a procedure, where one argument leads to the next. Like so;

Conclusion It should not be illegal to be a racist.

a. The problem with racists, is that they discriminate against other people.

b. To make, being racist, illegal, would be to discriminate against racists, who are people too. (correct me if I'm wrong)

c. So the only difference between the racist and the one discriminating, is which group of people they don't like.

However, I have a tendency to lose track of the person I am talking to, and not making sure they follow where I am going. Making sure they agree to the first argument before moving on to the next. (this often makes them reach another conclusion than me)

I am not a native English speaker, and most people I speak with aren't either, but many of my arguments piggyback on arguments I read or hear in debates in English. Often when I go on my rant, I use term completely unfamiliar to the person I am talking to, without actually knowing a good native equivalent.

To combat this, I have tried asking questions instead. With the hope that the language is mutually known, and the arguments understood, like so (I'll be John);

John: What is the problem with racists?

Jeff: They discriminate people, and are full of hate. (sometimes people don't even want to answer the question)

John: But, don't you hate racists? (might just use a similar word to hate)

Jeff: Of course.

John: And wouldn't it be discriminating to make it illegal, you are targeting a specific group?

Jeff: Yes, but it is a worse group, being black isn't a choice, but being racist is.

John: So isn't the only difference between the racist and you, which group of people they don't like.

Jeff: But the group .. (the argument isn't done, but the method of getting to the same conclusion is quite different)

This seems different from The Socratic Method which seems to focus on reaching agreement, and not to make a point. I tend to be quite reliant on the other person answering within what I expect.

Is this questioning style of argumentation recognized, and if so, advised or not? (I am not sure this is the correct forum, but IPS also seems off.)

  • Interesting modern approach: J.Hintikka, Socratic Epistemology: Explorations of Knowledge-Seeking by Questioning (2007). Commented Sep 20, 2017 at 14:32
  • I would've called this method cross-examination, and thought the Socratic Method was more along the lines of a FAQ, but apparently I'm wrong. BTW, I disagree w/ John's argument, though that's not really relevant to this question.
    – user935
    Commented Sep 21, 2017 at 18:16
  • @barrycarter, Hehe, no it isn't. Cross-Examination seems like a good fit as well, though it carries specific procedures, related to law. If you want, (and I'm not sure SE likes this) you can tell me why you disagree with John. I won't respond, but I will take your argument into consideration on my daily commute. Commented Sep 22, 2017 at 6:19
  • We can also go private (contact info in my profile), but: racism is the invalid belief that people's behavior and beliefs are based more upon their race than upon other factors. So, 1) racism bad because it's wrong. 2) tolerant people can live together in harmony with other tolerant people, but not with intolerant people. Therefore, it's OK to be intolerant of intolerance. It's like multiplying two negatives to get a positive.
    – user935
    Commented Sep 22, 2017 at 14:06

1 Answer 1


This is, in fact, the Socratic Method, or at least a version of it, named after the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates, who is typically depicted in the work of his student Plato as only asking questions, rather than making declarative statements. At least in the early dialogues, this tends to lead to aporia, a state of mutual confusion and suspension of judgement, rather than agreement.

There's some controversy about how Socrates actually used the method himself. He claims (in Plato) to be after a search for a truth that he does not know himself, and therefore can only aid the search for, not actually supply. However, in many of Plato's dialogues, he seems to be actually advancing a well-defined argument with a defined goal, except by the use of questions. In other words, he has a specific answer that he is trying to elicit from the student (as exemplified in the slave boy scene from the Meno). This is sometimes called the "Pseudo-Socratic Method." It is unclear which, if either, the historical Socrates actually used, since we largely know him only through Plato.

Both the Socratic and pseudo-Socratic methods are long-established foundations of educational technique, although few educators in these well-defined times are brave to invite truly open-ended Socratic inquiry. Even in its lesser form, however, Socratic questioning encourages participation, and a deeper engagement with the material, and, as you have indicated, prevents the instructor from outpacing the student. (On the other hand, as you might be aware, the historical Socrates' incessant questions were considered so obnoxious and disruptive that his own community eventually had him executed.)

  • Nice article, hadn't heard the the slave boy before. I guess that, to make someone else come to your own conclusion, is a lot like teaching. Commented Sep 21, 2017 at 6:33

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