Irony and shame in Socratic ethics

Julie Piering

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Socrates is both the first thoroughgoing moral philosopher and the first to employ irony as a philosophical tool. These innovative and foundational aspects of Socratic philosophy, however, lead to apparent inconsistencies and worrisome interactions. Socrates is charged with making his interlocutors look foolish, arrogant, self-serving, or ignorant. Worse still, he seems aware of these reactions. If Socrates knows his methods stir resentment, why does he continue with them? Furthermore, how should we view irony in light of Socratic ethics? I argue that Socrates uses irony and shame to bring about the desire for moral improvement. Socratic irony is of the riddling variety and the shame that it produces is not intended to belittle the interlocutor's sense of self. Instead, shame is an appropriate response to the realization that one's life is unexamined and possibly vicious. Therefore, the real problem with Socratic irony lies not with its use, but its failure rate.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)473-488
Number of pages16
JournalInternational Philosophical Quarterly
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy


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