Socrates discoursing, from The Greeks documentary
Socrates discoursing, from The Greeks documentary

Admitting your own ignorance was at the heart of Socrates' method. Through a process of repeatedly questioning, he would always attempt to tease the truth out of the people he was conversing with.

Asked about whether an action was just or not, he would never simply say 'yes' or 'no'. Instead Socrates would ask the questioner what he actually meant when he used the word 'justice' and then invite him to explain how different understandings of justice might lead to different conclusions. Frequently, this process would come to no real conclusion and hit a frustrating dead end, called 'aporia' by the Greeks. Nevertheless to Socrates such conversations were still valuable, because only when someone admitted that he didn't know could he hope to learn anything at all.

Some people have jokingly said that Socrates learnt his unique questioning method by arguing with his nagging wife, Xanthippe. If he did, she had good reason to be angry with him. Never at home or at work, Socrates spent his time either arguing in the marketplace or accepting numerous invitations to dinner parties. Meanwhile, like most respectable Greek wives, Xanthippe was stuck at home with the children, and only allowed out in public on special occasions!