Start by asking “Why?”

Lessons from Socratic Questioning, and how to apply it to your day-to-day

Michael Trịnh
5 min readSep 21, 2019

If any point in history is like a kid who doesn’t stop asking their dad questions to the point their dad either gets angry or tells the kid to ask their mom, it’d be the story of Socrates and the people of ancient Athens.

In the bustling Agra public zone, Socrates would be finding passers-by and bombarding them with his questions, utilizing them as instruments to probe people’s thought processes. He asked all kinds of people these probing questions: everyone from your average merchants to the most famous Athenian statesmen!

I want to cover Socrates and his questioning because it shows us an awesomely useful tool that we can employ for counseling friends, reinforcing or up-rooting our current opinions and perceptions, and for finding the source of other people’s beliefs.

Socratic Questioning 101

What differs between a kid asking a billion questions to mom and dad and Socrates questioning passers-by with a probe on their beliefs, is the intention and direction as to where the questions were going.

While the kid is exercising his or her curiosity in an endless cycle with no real direction except to have more answers in their head, Socrates asked his questions with the intention of making those he talked to dig through the logic of their own beliefs. He would purposely assume a position of ignorance while talking, and at the same time assume the person he’d be talking to have more knowledge and capability.

Socrates and his questioning method ended up being referred to as Socratic questioning. We can break down this Socratic questioning process into a loop of:

  1. Asking a broad question to start and assuming total ignorance
  2. Getting an answer
  3. Following up with another question trying to get to the bottom of where the logic behind the person’s new answer came from
  4. Getting a slightly more clear answer as the person is thinking through their own logic more and reinforcing/up-rooting their own beliefs in the process
  5. Analyzing their new answer, and continuing to question the logic…



Michael Trịnh

Undergraduate builder & researcher @UofT in the crossroads of bioinformatics, immunology, and genome engineering.