Change Your World-NOT your Body

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Eeny Meno, miny Plato (ignore)

Meno is an early Socratic dialogue written by Plato. The dialogue consist of four characters; Meno, Socrates, Meno's slave boy and Anytus. Plato employs the Meno character to create a philosophical paradox and in turn employs the Socrates character to disprove Meno's conundrum aka Meno's Paradox or the Paradox of Inquiry.

In short the Paradox of Inquiry is this: Can we know that which we do not know? If we do not know, how can we begin to know because we do not know, therefore we have no jumping off point for the beginnings inquiry? And if we know already, there is no need to know.

Plato begins Meno's journey towards this paradox by inquiring Socrates to tell him through what method virtue is obtained. Can virtue be taught/learned? Is virtue obtained through practice? Can one be born virtuous? Or does man incur virtue through other means?

Socrates playing the fool tells Meno he does not know the answer to how one aquires virtue or what virtue is. He then asks Meno if he knows, to which Meno generously provides him with several examples. Then through a series of pointed leading questions (socratic method) Socrates picks apart every example Meno provides bringing Meno full circle from a place of believed knowledge to a place of Meno admiting his also knows not what virtue is. Socrates then suggests to Meno that seeing how they now both seem to be in the same boat, that perhaps they should travel together inquiring after virtue. Meno takes this opportunity to pose an aporia (his paradox of inquiry) into Socrates' suggestion of inquiring further.

To answer or perhaps defy Meno's paradox, Socrates applies his theory of anamnesis. Anamnesis according to Socrates states that every soul being immortal/eternal naturally gains knowledge through the experiences of a lifetime only to forget this knowledge from one life to next because each and every new life begins with a tabula rasa. But by the right questions being asked, we can recollect from a past life/past knowledge that which we believed ourselves not to know in this life.

Socrates then uses Meno's slave boy to illustate just how one can know that which one doesnt know. Socrates elicits through specific questions to the slave boy, the boy's geometric knowledge of a square despite Meno's assertion that the boy had no such knowledge or teachings of geometry.

Socrates concludes that virtue, like knowledge comes to us from eternal truths. I dont feel his conclusion acceptable, because he merely employed other worldly means(that which cannot be questioned) as a way to side step Meno's Paradox.

Whether we realise it or not, all of us deal with Meno's paradox daily. There is a knock on our door and for a brief moment we wonder that which we do not know (whose knocking?), and we solve this riddle by answering the door. Probably one of the most important aspects of our civil society that employs the socratic method to a meno paradox is our police force. They daily question witnesses and potential witnesses drawing out that which they (thought) they did not know. At first question a potential witness to a crime may say "I saw nothing". But after a series of pointed questions, they find they knew the color or make of the get-away car, the ethnicity of the perp, what the perp was wearing etc. The knowledge with which we answer the riddles of our daily lives may not come to us through eternal truths/souls, but like Meno's slave boy through questions and answers.
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