Socratic dialogues

Socratic dialogues

Not to be confused with Socratic method.

Socratic dialogue (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.


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 Simonedes 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]

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.

Socratic dialogue in medieval and early modern philosophy

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.[2]

Contemporary Socratic dialogues

  • Owen Barfield

Barfield's Worlds Apart is a dialogue in the Socratic tradition analyzing the problem of specialization in modern society and universities.[3]

  • 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, Alduous Huxley, and J. F. Kennedy.[4] He also authored a book of Socratic logic. [5]

  • 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.[6]

See also



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