Socratic dialogue

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Socratic dialogue (Ancient Greek: Σωκρατικὸς λόγος) is a genre of prose literary works developed in Greece at the turn of the fourth century BCE, preserved today in the dialogues of Plato and the Socratic works of Xenophon. Characters discuss moral and philosophical problems, illustrating a version of the Socratic method. The dialogues are either dramatic or narrative, and Socrates is often the main character.

Platonic dialogues

Most of the Socratic dialogues referred to today are those of Plato. Platonic dialogues defined the literary genre subsequent philosophers used.

Plato wrote approximately 30 dialogues, in most of which Socrates is the main character. Strictly speaking, the term refers to works in which Socrates is a character. As a genre, however, other texts are included; Plato's Laws and Xenophon's Hiero are Socratic dialogues in which a wise man other than Socrates leads the discussion (the Athenian Stranger and Simonides, respectively). The protagonist of each dialogue, both in Plato's and Xenophon's work, usually is Socrates who by means of a kind of interrogation tries to find out more about the other person's understanding of moral issues. In the dialogues Socrates presents himself as a simple man who confesses that he has little knowledge. With this ironic approach he manages to confuse the other who boasts that he is an expert in the domain they discuss. The outcome of the dialogue is that Socrates demonstrates that the other person's views are inconsistent. In this way Socrates tries to show the way to real wisdom. One of his most famous statements in that regard is "The unexamined life is not worth living." This philosophical questioning is known as the Socratic method. In some dialogues Plato's main character is not Socrates but someone from outside of Athens. In Xenophon's Hiero a certain Simonides plays this role when Socrates is not the protagonist.

Generally, the works which are most often assigned to Plato's early years are all considered to be Socratic dialogues (written from 399 to 387). Many of his Middle dialogues (written from 387 to 361, after the establishment of his Academy), and Later dialogues (written in the period between 361 and his death in 347) incorporate Socrates' character and are often included here as well.[1] However, this interpretation of the corpus is not universally accepted.[2] The time that Plato began to write his works and the date of composition of his last work are not known and what adds to the complexity is that even the ancient sources do not know the order of the works or the dialogues.[3]

Other ancient authors

  • Alexamenus of Teos
    • According to a fragment of Aristotle, the first author of Socratic dialogue was Alexamenus of Teos, but we do not know anything else about him, whether Socrates appeared in his works, or how accurate Aristotle was in his antagonistic judgement about him.
  • Aristotle
    • Aristotle himself is reputed to have written Socratic dialogues. No manuscripts, however, are extant.

Medieval and early modern dialogues

Socratic dialogue remained a popular format for expressing arguments and drawing literary portraits of those who espouse them. Some of these dialogues employ Socrates as a character, but many employ the philosophical style similar to Plato while substituting a different character to lead the discussion.

  • Boethius
    • Boethius' most famous book The Consolation of Philosophy is a Socratic dialogue in which Lady Philosophy interrogates Boethius
  • Augustine
    • Augustine's Confessions has been called a Socratic dialogue between Augustine the author and Augustine the narrator.[5]

Contemporary dialogues

  • Owen Barfield
    • Barfield's Worlds Apart is a dialogue in the Socratic tradition analyzing the problem of specialization in modern society and universities.[6]
  • Peter Kreeft
    • Kreeft has published a series of Socratic dialogues in which Socrates questions famous thinkers from the distant and near past. The first of the series was Between Heaven and Hell, a dialogue between C. S. Lewis, Aldous Huxley, and J. F. Kennedy.[8] He also authored a book of Socratic logic.[9]
  • Keith Buhler
    • Buhler has published a Socratic dialogue in which Seraphim Rose as the socratic character questions a group of theology students on the Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura.[10]
  • Ian Thomas Malone
    • Malone has published a series of contemporary Socratic dialogues titled Five College Dialogues.[11] Five College Dialogues is intended to be a comedic resource for college students with a graduate student named George Tecce acting as the role of Socrates.

See also


  1. Plato & Socrates, The Relationship Between Socrates and Plato,
  2. Smith, Nicholas; Brickhouse, Thomas (2002). The Trial and Execution of Socrates : Sources and Controversies. New York: Oxford University press. p. 24. ISBN 9780195119800.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Fine, Gail (2011). The Oxford handbook of Plato. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 76,77. ISBN 0199769192.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Diogenes Laërtius, Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers, ii.123
  5. McMahon, Robert. "Augustine's Confessions and Voegelin's Philosophy". First Things. Retrieved 12/05/2012. Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Barfield, Owen. "Worlds Apart".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Gide, Andre. Corydon.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Kreeft, Peter. "Between Heaven and Hell".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Kreeft, Peter. Socratic Logic: A Logic Text using Socratic Method, Platonic Questions, and Aristotelian Principles.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Buhler, Keith. "Sola Scriptura: A Dialogue". CreateSpace Independent Publishing. Retrieved 12/05/2012. Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Malone, Ian Thomas. "Five College Dialogues".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


  • Jowett, B. (1911). The Dialogues of Plato: Translated into English, with analyses and Introductions Vol.I. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York