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Pronounced /meɪˈjuːtɪk/Help with pronunciation

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.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 21 Feb. 2009
Last updated: 19 Apr. 2011

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
This page URL: http://www.worldwidewords.org/weirdwords/ww-mai1.htm
Last modified: 19 April 2011.