chapter  2
17 Pages


ByPaul Woodruff

Socrates denies that he is a teacher, and the people he questions often deny that they have anything to learn from him. These denials are tinged with irony, of course, but they contain a grain of truth: Socratic education puts the responsibility for learning on the learner. Nothing is more important to this kind of education than the resources that learners bring to it: their experience, their conceptual and logical abilities, and their desire to know the truth. Still, Socrates is more teacher than he admits; he has firm beliefs himself about the rough outlines of knowledge and human virtue (his main subjects of inquiry); and he often questions people to bring them to see that they too must accept such beliefs, on pain of inconsistency with their deepest commitments. Socrates speaks humbly enough, but his aim is not modest: it is to transform people’s lives by coaxing them into thinking as a philosopher thinks. And Plato, in writing about this, faces hard questions about the value of the education for which Socrates stands.