Maieutics (// or //) is a pedagogical method synonymous with the Socratic Method. Maieutics is based on the belief that many important lessons and truths cannot be taught directly as a transmission of knowledge from an instructor to a learner, but instead the learner learns these truths by interacting with an instructor and through his or her own experience.
In Symposium, Socrates claims that a student is not an empty vessel to be filled with the wisdom of their teacher: "If only wisdom were like water which always flows from a full cup into an empty one when we connect them with a piece of yarn.". Instead, one must must act as "a midwife" to a student's learning. In the Theatetus Socrates explains: "My art of midwifery is in general like theirs; the only difference is that my patients are men, not women, and my concern is not with the body but with the soul that is in travail of birth.". Additionally (and different from real midwifery) Socrates says it is his role to test the strength and realness of the ideas his students give birth to through questions and challenges.
Socrates' claim that he is a midwife follows from Plato's theory of recollection (anamnesis), in which Plato develops from Orphic mythology the idea that the soul is immortal and knows everything already, but forgets whenever the soul is reincarnated into life. The truths of the world that the soul knows are latent or forgotten in each individual but can be regained through reminders inside of life.
- "maieutic," Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology.
- Plato, "Symposium", (175d4-e1)
- Plato, "Theaetetus" (149e-150d)
- The dictionary definition of maieutics at Wiktionary