World Wide Words logo


Pronounced /meɪˈjuːtɪk/Help with IPA

The maieutic method is Socratic: a person is engaged in a dialogue by a questioner until frustration caused by challenges to his ideas leads him to dissatisfaction with his settled convictions and makes him refine his views.

The idea behind the method is that the truth is already latent in every human being but that it has to be teased out and brought to the conscious mind. In practice, the questioner knows the answers already and leads the dialogue by supplying clues to allow the other person to work them out.

The word is from Greek maieuesthai, to act as a midwife, from maia, a midwife. Socrates compared himself to a philosophical midwife, who through his questioning could induce the delivery of superior understanding in the other person, because the knowledge was already present in that person’s mind.

Though the word is first recorded in the seventeenth century, it has become more common in modern times, especially in discussions of philosophy, education and psychotherapy. However, it’s not widely known outside such specialist fields.

The challenger then exercises a Socratic or maieutic function, drawing out an argument from the proponent as she recognizes that his case presented so far needs further development to constitute a cogent argument or the strongest argument possible.

Argument Structure: Representation and Theory, by James B Freeman, 2011.

Page created 21 Feb. 2009
Last updated 19 Apr. 2011

Support World Wide Words and keep this site alive.

Donate by selecting your currency and clicking the button.

Buy from Amazon and get me a small commission at no cost to you. Select a site and click Go!

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–2014. All rights reserved. See the copyright page for notes about linking to and reusing this page. For help in viewing the site, see the technical FAQ. Your comments, corrections and suggestions are always welcome.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–2014. All rights reserved.
This page URL:
Last modified: 19 April 2011.