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Maieutics (// or //) is a pedagogical method based on the idea that truth is latent in the mind of every human being due to innate reason but has to be "given birth" by answering intelligently proposed questions (or problems).
The idea is reminiscent of the 4th century BC philosopher Plato. In the Symposium and Theaetetus dialogues, Plato discusses the Socratic method, a form of inquiry and debate between individuals with opposing viewpoints based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to illuminate ideas. It is a dialectical method, often involving an oppositional discussion in which the defense of one point of view is pitted against the defense of another; one interlocutor may lead another to contradict himself in some way, strengthening the inquirer's own point. As to maieutics, it is based on Plato's theory of recollection (anamnesis), so that it holds that knowledge is latent in the conscious mind, awaiting discovery. This discovery is sought through dialectic and in contrast to Plato's theory, through inductive reasoning rather than deductive.
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, according to whom, 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 poses a conclusion on the matter of knowledge itself.
As presented by Plato
In philosophy, maieutic concepts historically have their origin in Plato's dialogues of Socrates.
In The Symposium, Socrates repeats the words of the priestess or wise woman Diotima of Mantinea who suggested that the soul is pregnant and wants to give birth, but the delivery requires assistance. Thus according to Plato, the role of the philosopher is to assist in this delivery, as would a midwife. From this dialogue comes the word "maieutics", the "spiritual midwife."
In Theaetetus, Socrates is presented as a "spiritual midwife" and in Meno, by posing questions to a slave who never learned geometry, Socrates leads him to “remember” how a square is doubled.
Maieutics consists in the belief that there is somehow a knowledge that is stored in the mind by tradition and the experience of past generations. Therefore, maieutics invites the individual to discover the truth that is latent in a person.
- "maieutic," Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology.
- The dictionary definition of maieutics at Wiktionary