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Socratic Confession of Ignorance

The Socratic Confession of Ignorance developed from the idea of dialogue that Socrates engaged in during his life.  By engaging others in conversation about the definition of a specific word in one’s area of expertise, Socrates would refute the respondent’s wisdom with three different methods.  These methods of rebuttal would then provoke the respondent to three different forms of action.  The third action of last resort is what Socrates termed the confession of ignorance.  The Socratic Confession of Ignorance came about when the respondent realized that he did not really know the answer to Socrates’ question.  This confession was usually involuntary, after much resistance to the pain that admitting ignorance brings.

Socratic Confession of Ignorance

Socrates’ purpose for the Socratic Confession of Ignorance exercise in dialogue was to prove to those who proclaimed great wisdom that they were not as wise as they thought.  By setting up the individual as such Socrates was teaching them that the nature of true wisdom is in understanding that you are wise when you can comprehend the limitations of your wisdom.

The Socratic Confession of Ignorance undermines the respondent’s confidence and finally awakens the realization that he does not know everything.  This is the beginning of understanding true wisdom and the purpose of Socrates’ exercise in dialogue.

The essential point of Socrates’ philosophy is understanding that wisdom comes from realizing the limited knowledge one possesses.  By questioning things rather than informing, brings about a higher level of knowledge cultivated from seeking new answers. 

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