The unexamined life is not worth living” Apology
|Socrates (470 -399 BC)|
Although Socrates famously claimed to know nothing, he clearly did believe that it was important to understand the meaning of the words you used. What’s more he used a method, the elenchus (literally: refutation) which we can use today in our quest for wisdom. The elenchus can be summarised in 4 steps:-
1. Think of a word or concept that is in need of clarification
The elenchus is best suited to disputed, ambiguous, ethical terms (like tolerance, or the good life).
2. Offer a provisional definition
Not just a synonym, but an account that helps distinguish cases of X from cases which aren’t X, and which will help us attain X. The definition will provide
Necessary conditions - prerequisites e.g. to be reading this, you need to be human
Sufficient conditions - guarantees e.g. being unmarried and male are jointly sufficient for being a bachelor.
3. Try to refute the definition
Look for exceptions, which can be either:
i) Examples which are cases of X but which don’t fit this definition
ii) Examples which fit this definition but aren’t examples of X
4. Refine or alter the definition to take into account the exceptions
If you can adapt your definition – else start from scratch. Continue until you can find no exceptions!