The elenchus is the primary method of Socratic philosophy. Essentially a cross-examination, it proceeds by an intensive series of questions and aims to lead the interviewee to conclude for himself that he does not know what he assumed to know previously. The elenchus is Socrates's primary means of deepening the wisdom of his students. By convincing other characters in an elenchus that they do not actually know the nature of something they thought they did, Socrates brings these characters closer to one single truth and grain of knowledge—namely, that they know nothing.

Socratic Irony

Socratic irony is a form of indirect communication employed by Socrates to reveal the ignorance of his interlocutors while insincerely praising their abilities. This technique is deeply informed by the elenchus. Socrates even occasionally practices it against himself although philosophers today are divided as to his sincerity while doing so.


The search for the meaning of courage is the central theme of Laches. This is a search that ultimately fails in the end since neither Socrates nor any one of his companions is able to adequately put into words the meaning of courage. However, this failure is itself a noteworthy point of the dialogue.


The Sophists were a class of rhetoricians and philosophers who were widely hired as teachers in ancient Greece. Socrates mentions them mainly in sarcasm when he states that he wishes he could afford to absorb their wisdom. Socrates dislikes the sophists because they pretend to have knowledge of the nature of virtue and they give grand, pretentious explanations rather than the clear and concise definitions preferred by Socrates. In short, they practice rhetoric rather than true philosophy.