Meaning of Maieutics
What is Maieutics:
The maieutics, from the Greek maieutiké, means midwife, midwife or midwife. It is also called Socratic maieutics since it is one of the two phases of the philosophical method of the Athenian Socrates (470-399 BC), or ‘Socratic method’, which consists of the use of dialogue to lead to the truth.
The ‘Socratic method’ uses irony and maieutics to provoke, through dialogue, an inductive reasoning that would eventually lead to a universal truth.
The irony in the ‘Socratic method’ serves to let the interlocutor know his ignorance on the issues and activate curiosity towards the search for truth.
Socratic maieutics, as the word suggests, aims to help give birth to true knowledge through questions that will lead the interlocutor to realize their own mistakes and find their own sequence of logical questions until arriving at an irrefutable truth.
Socrates calls this philosophical method maieutic, which literally means the office of helping in childbirth, in order to make an analogy to the help that is given to man in his process of "giving birth to knowledge" through dialogue.
There is no described method for the process of maieutics, but it can be summarized, according to the teachings of Socrates, in the following sequences of points:
- Approach to the subject, such as: what is it to be human? What is beauty?
- Student's response to the question: which is discussed and refuted in feedback with the teacher.
- The confusion and disorientation of the student: it is one of the necessary conditions for learning. It is the moment in which a change is generated from what was believed to be known towards the acceptance of one's own ignorance. Socrates exemplifies this process with the pains that women feel in the moments before giving birth.
- More and more general definitions on the subject: after the confusion, the maieutics leads the student towards the discussion of more and more general, but more precise topics, such as: the human being or beauty.
- The conclusion: although a conclusion is not always reached, the objective is always to reach it with the assurance that the knowledge of the acquired reality is universal, precise and strict.
Socratic maieutics is not a cycle but a continuous process of searching for truth using personal reasoning. Plato, as a student of Socrates, did not finish many of his dialogues since they did not reach a universal or precise knowledge.
See also about dialectics.
Excerpt from the work Dialogues from Plato: