The Socratic method is a method of hypothesis elimination, in that better hypotheses are found by steadily identifying and eliminating those that lead to contradictions. The Socratic method searches for general, commonly held truths that shape beliefs and scrutinizes them to determine their consistency with other beliefs. The basic form is a series of questions formulated as tests of logic and fact intended to help a person or group discover their beliefs about some topic, exploring definitions or logoi (singular logos) and seeking to characterize general characteristics shared by various particular instances.
In the second half of the 5th century BC, sophists were teachers who specialized in using the tools of philosophy and rhetoric to entertain, impress, or persuade an audience to accept the speaker's point of view. Socrates promoted an alternative method of teaching which came to be called the Socratic method.
Socrates began to engage in such discussions with his fellow Athenians after his friend from youth, Chaerephon, visited the Oracle of Delphi, which confirmed that no man in Greece was wiser than Socrates. Socrates saw this as a paradox, and began using the Socratic method to answer his conundrum. Diogenes Laërtius, however, wrote that Protagoras invented the “Socratic” method.
Plato famously formalized the Socratic elenctic style in prose—presenting Socrates as the curious questioner of some prominent Athenian interlocutor—in some of his early dialogues, such as Euthyphro and Ion, and the method is most commonly found within the so-called "Socratic dialogues", which generally portray Socrates engaging in the method and questioning his fellow citizens about moral and epistemological issues. But in his later dialogues, such as Theaetetus or Sophist, Plato had a different method to philosophical discussions, namely dialectic.
Elenchus (Ancient Greek: ἔλεγχος, translit. elengkhos, lit. 'argument of disproof or refutation; cross-examining, testing, scrutiny esp. for purposes of refutation') is the central technique of the Socratic method. The Latin form elenchus (plural elenchi ) is used in English as the technical philosophical term. The most common adjectival form in English is elenctic; elenchic and elenchtic are also current.