Summary: The literature on Socratic argumentation has been dominated by generalisations
about the strategy of a Socratic conversation (Robinson and Vlastos have led the way, in
different directions) or, at the other extreme, recently by total despair of finding a unitary
pattern (Polansky, Brickhouse and Smith). In this article I shall attempt to provide a more
well-founded picture of Socratic argumentation than has to my mind been offered so far.
This is done by a systematic examination of the arguments found in the so-called early dialogues.
Briefly the results demonstrate that (1) the overwhelming amount of refutation is
indirect (R. Robinson was right and Vlastos wrong); (2) indirect refutation is mainly used to
refute definitions of moral terms, whereas direct refutation is used on other (positive) moral
theses. This does not exclude indirect refutation from being used also for establishing important
moral theses; (3) more than half of the indirect refutations are conducted without the
support of external premises (‘basic reductio’); (4) there is a reliance on endoxa in both direct
and indirect refutation (‘extended reductio’); (5) there is a methodological development
from hypothesis in elenchus to elenchus in hypothesis; (6) we find four distinct patterns of
elenctic argument in the texts, three indirect and one direct. Hence I present a defence of
Robinson against the influential Vlastos and also a counter-argument against the recent
scepticism of e.g. Brickhouse/Smith.