Maieutics (Template:Pron-en) is a procedure of pedagogy. It is based on the idea that the truth is latent in the mind of every human being due to his innate reason but has to be "given birth" by answering questions (or problems) intelligently proposed. The word is derived from the Greek "μαιευτικός", pertaining to midwifery.
Normally it is thought that maieutics was created by the historical Socrates, because it is placed in the character of Socrates in the Theatetus of Plato. But it is not proven that the historical Socrates is the original author, although it has to do with the Socratic School.
According to Plato, several traits in Socrates' activity make it resemble a midwife's art, while the main difference between them seems to be that a midwife operates with people and Socrates with ideas.
- A midwife is experienced in giving birth, but exerts herself as such only when she is already barren.
- The midwife can detect which people would make a good couple, capable of having healthy children were they to mate. In fact she sometimes helps people to associate with one another.
- The midwife cuts the umbilical cord, dissociating the newly born from the circumstances of its origin (i.e., from its mother)
- Most importantly, the midwife must test by all means whether the newly born is "a false phantasm" or a "healthy baby, endowed with life and truth." The Socratic means to discern this is dialectics.
Possible origin Edit
The invention of this method occurred about the 4th century BC. It is said that Socrates is the author because he is mentioned as such in Symposium and Theatetus. But Socrates is the author of the Socratic Method that makes the interlocutor understand that what he thought was true was actually a prejudice. As to Maieutics, it is based on the theory of reminiscence, so that whereas the Socratic Method begins from the idea of a prejudice, Maieutics holds that knowledge is latent in the conscience awaiting discovery. This discovery is sought through dialectic and inductive reasoning.
In Theaetetus, the basic question is "What is knowledge?". Theaetetus is a young student of mathematics who proposed three definitions that are refuted by Socrates. Knowledge cannot be defined as a perception nor as a true opinion nor as an explanation besides a true opinion. Socrates debates these arguments from a critical point of view by posing more questions, but never posed a conclusion on the matter of knowledge itself.
Maieutics and the Socratic Method Edit
Maieutics consists in the belief that there is a stored knowledge in the conscience by tradition and the experience of past generations. Therefore, Maieutics invites the individual to discover the true that is latent in him. Contrary to that, the Socratic Method exposes the individual's erroneous conceptions. The Socratic Method is meant for those who think they know but are actually ignorant, while Maieutics is addressed to those who know, but do not know that they know.
Presented by Socrates Edit
In philosophy the concept of Maieutics is mistakenly linked to the historic Socrates.
The first text of the Plato dialogues in chronological order to link Maieutics to Socrates is Symposium. In this dialogue Socrates repeated the words of priestess or wise woman Diotima of Mantinea. She suggested that the soul of men is pregnant and it wants to give birth. However, the delivery can not be done, said Diotima. The role of the philosopher is to help in the delivery as a midwifery. What is delivered is light that is defined as λóγος. From this dialogue comes the word "Maieutics", the "Spiritual Midwife."
In the second dialogue, Theaetetus, Socrates is presented as the "Spiritual Midwife."
In the Meno dialogue, Socrates takes a slave boy, who never learned geometry, on a process of asking him questions to help him remember how to double a square.
In education Edit
Maieutics as a method of knowledge has been important for the development of education. It compares the philosopher with the educator as a "Midwife of Knowledge" that helps the student to reach the light. Maieutics uses dialogue as a dialectic instrument to reach truth.
In the Socratic School, the teacher does not fill the mind of the student with information, as his mind were an empty box. In this kind of method the teacher helps the pupil to reach knowledge through a dialogue of questions.
Many other disciplines and science have been inspired by Maieutics. In the 20th century Jacques Lacan understood psychoanalysis from a Maieutics point of view where the analyst helps the patient to discover in his own conscience the knowledge that affects him. The analyst encourages the patient to make conscious what is unconscious.
The Method Edit
Maieutics is related to the Socratic Method. The first step is to clarify prejudices.
The basic elements of the Socratic dialogues are the question, the answer, the debate and the conclusion. These elements go from the initial erroneous idea to intellectual discernment.
In this sense, it is possible to describe three phases of the Socratic School:
- The Socratic Method: In this step the student answers without thinking too much about what he says. Generally, the disciple thinks that what he says is true. This is the level of prejudice. The philosopher debates the pupil's idea with more questions until the student reaches the conclusion that what he was thinking was mistaken and he reaches a more clear conclusion.
- Maieutics: This is the second step after the Socratic Method. Free from prejudices, the disciple is invited to continue the dialogue in a more deep and coherent manner to the truth. It is based in the idea that knowledge is latent in the human conscience. The philosopher, as a midwife, has to help the student to give birth to the truth.
- Aletheia: From Greek ἀλήθεια stands for Truth. It is the last step. The student becomes master of the truth. Aletheia is, "the state of not being hidden; the state of being evident."