So the Meno begins with a typically unsuccessful Socratic search for a definition, providing some lessons about good definitions and exposing someone’s arrogance in thinking that he knows much more than he really knows. Meno finds Socrates’ explanation somehow compelling, but puzzling. Plato’s Rationalism Meno’s Paradox Theory of Recollection Up Next References Learning in the Meno Objection: Obviously, Socrates taught the slave. Surely much of what is taught is just opinion, and surely some knowledge is learned on one’s own, without a teacher. Drawing a square in the dirt, Socrates asks the boy how to double the area of the square. And Socrates’ basic suggestion, that “being good and great” requires some important kind of knowledge, would seem both attractive and puzzling. Science Teacher and Lover of Essays. The questions in the Meno about teaching virtue are directly related to longstanding tensions between oligarchic and democratic factions. That could be the whole dialogue’s answer to Meno’s opening challenge, which specifies three options: Tell me if you can, Socrates: Is virtue something that’s taught? Later in the conversation, Socrates even seems to identify “recollection” with this latter part of the process (98a). - Meno proposes that virtue is the desire for good things and the power to get them - Socrates points out that this raises a second problem, many people do not recognize evil ... - for Socrates this proves immortality of the soul (theory known as recollection (anamnesis)) Socrates quickly turns the discussion into an investigation of something more basic, namely, what such virtue is. So why would Socrates use the faulty hypothesis that knowledge and only knowledge is taught, when it contradicts his notion of recollection and his model geometry lesson? Later, he supported the moderate faction among the Thirty Tyrants, and was banished by the extremists. The Forms, however, are perfectly definite realities, hanging together in perfectly rational ways. Socrates is drawn to the idea that the essence of all virtue is some kind of knowledge. (Forgotten-but-capable-of-being-remembered is a state of cognition between complete knowledge and pure ignorance.) The second argument, known as the Theory of Recollection, asserts that learning is essentially an act of recollecting things we knew before we were born but then forgot. Those were the formal charges that led to Socrates’ execution in 399 B.C.E. At the beginning of the dialogue, Meno did not know even how to begin looking for the one essence of all virtue that would enable us to understand things like how it is achieved. But then Socrates warns again that they will not really learn how virtue is acquired until they first figure out what virtue itself is. Rhode Island College So even if a “teacher” can show the answer, he cannot give the understanding. Explain Plato's riddle regarding discovery in the Meno and explain how that leads to his doctrine of recollection. Gabbie Chartier 1,598 views. The Meno seems to be philosophically transitional between rough groupings of dialogues that are often associated in allegedly chronological terms, though these groupings have been qualified and questioned in various ways. He asks Meno to join him again in a search for the definition of virtue. ); and that this kind of explanation must apply to all relevant cases (73d) and only to relevant cases (78d-e); and that something cannot be so explained in terms of itself or related terms that are still matters of dispute (79a-e). Much of the framework for developments in epistemology comes from the classical Greek thinkers, primarily Plato. Thousands of Athenians were killed or fled the city, and many who stayed acquiesced in fear for their lives. Socrates challenges Meno's argument, often called "Meno's Paradox" or the "Learner's Paradox," by introducing the theory of knowledge as recollection . Socrates tries to expose the false dichotomy by identifying states of cognition between complete knowledge and pure ignorance. Although Plato was not a fan of most sophists either, he portrays Anytus’ attitude as clearly prejudicial. And the combination of quotations from Theognis near the end of the dialogue suggest that virtue is learned not through verbal teaching alone, but through some kind of character-apprenticeship under the guidance of others who are already accomplished in virtue (95d ff.). In the Meno, Socrates presses Anytus about why so many of Athens’ leading statesmen have failed to teach even their own sons to be good, and Anytus could probably see that these questions apply to himself. Meno’s moral education would call for all of that even if Socrates could tell him what the essence of virtue is, which he claims he cannot do. Anytus is one of three men who will bring Socrates to trial in 399 B.C.E. Assume that about what is necessary and proceed under that assumption to evaluate Plato's doctrine of recollection. Or is it neither trained nor learned, but people get it by nature, or in some other way? But then Anytus cannot explain Socrates’ long list of counterexamples: famous Athenians who were widely considered virtuous, but who did not teach their virtue even to their own sons. The cumulative meaning ranges from knowledge and intelligence to understanding and wisdom. Perhaps because, in effect, it is really Meno’s own hypothesis, as his opening questions and his behavior throughout the dialogue persistently imply. On behalf of the rest of the theory, I wouldn’t much insist. Some philosophers and experimental psychologists today agree that basic mathematical concepts, and the beliefs implicit in them (along with many others), are innate—not as an eternal possession of an immortal soul, but as a universal and specialized human capacity determined in part by biological evolution. That knowledge must be discovered under everything we must “chip off” the surface. His natural talents and his privileged but unphilosophical education are not guided by wisdom or even patience, and he prefers “good things” like money over genuine understanding and moral virtue. As the first Platonic dialogue that our freshmen read, it is the gateway to all the philosophic works to come, both ancient and modern. Cambridge University Press, 2006. But while Socrates clearly knows more than Meno about how to investigate the essence of virtue, he has not been able to discover exactly what it is. So the geometry lesson successfully demonstrates some of the beauty of Socratic education, and the power of deductive reasoning in learning. After those Persian invasions, many independent cities had asked Athens to replace Sparta in leading a united defense and reprisal against the Persian empire. According to the initial statement, all souls have already learned everything in many former lives, and learning in this life is therefore a matter of remembering what was once known but is now forgotten. Burnet, John. The conclusion of this hypothetical investigation would be that virtue is taught because it is some kind of knowledge—and the argument to that effect requires the rejection of Meno’s constant preference for “good things” like wealth and power (78c-d, 87e-89a). Let us do your homework! Through many reversals of fortune, Athens both suffered greatly and flourished culturally, using some of that tribute for her own development and adornment. In each case, since Meno accepts these claims that contradict his proposed definitions, he is shown not to know what he thought he knew about virtue. Anytus departs in annoyance at Socrates’ seemingly dismissive treatment of Athens’ political heroes, so Socrates continues the issue with Meno. Concedes that, in some sense, inquiry is impossible. We discover these truths through our innate knowledge, that is, knowledge that is within us and that can be discovered. Meno’s challenge to Socrates in the opening lines of the dialogue had used the terms “learned” and “taught” interchangeably. Second Edition. The soul is repeatedly reincarnated 3. But Anytus may well have sincerely believed that Socrates corrupted young men like Critias and Charmides by teaching them to question good traditions. By carefully questioning the slave boy, Socrates is able to get him to recognize that the way to construct a square double in area to a given square is to use the diagonal of the given square as a base. The Doctrine of Recollection in Plato's Meno - Philosophy Core Concepts - Duration: 13:22. The Theory of Recollection. And it would not be a theoretical understanding divorced from the practice of virtue. The correct answer, or the truth in this case, was attained through the mind’s inner resources. “Meno’s Paradox and Socrates as a Teacher.” In Essays on the Philosophy of Socrates, edited by Hugh Benson. The enslaved boy demonstration: Meno asks Socrates if he can prove that "all learning is recollection." Amongst the discussion of common topic virtue in Meno one might come across this very simple but a tricky paradox: In Plato’s Meno (c.385 BC), Plato writes in the voice of Socrates, who performs in the role of a “midwife,” employing systematic questioning to draw out, from the minds of his pupils, Meno and the slave boy, the seeds of true and reliable knowledge. Near this point in the dialogue, Socrates also states that after employing such ideas to elicit the relevant true beliefs, more work is still required for converting them to knowledge (85c-d). But what interests most people about Socrates today comes from Plato’s philosophical portraits. Plato: Meno. Since the contents of individual "material" or physical memories were trivial, only the universal recollection of Forms, or divine objects, drew one closer to the immortal source of being. The contemporary historian Xenophon (who also wrote Socratic dialogues) survived Cyrus’ failed campaign, and he wrote an account whose description of Meno resonates with Plato’s portrait here: ambitious yet lazy for the hard work of doing things properly, and motivated by desire for wealth and power while easily forgetting friendship and justice. To make matters more confusing, a few of the Thirty Tyrants or their extremist supporters, like Critias and Charmides, had earlier been associates of Socrates. Meno’s host Anytus now arrives at just the right moment, since Anytus is passionately opposed to the sophists who claim to teach wisdom and virtue with their traveling lectures and verbal displays. In the context, that “always” does seem to include many lifetimes, though it could in principle refer just to however long the mind has existed, perhaps since some point of development in the womb. According to Socrates, the practical purpose of the theory of recollection is to make Meno eager to learn without a teacher (81e-82a, 86b-c). So it may help to think of our dialogue as asking how we can acquire “virtue” in the very general sense of human goodness or human greatness. Here, Socrates clearly asks “leading questions,” and eventually even shows the slave the answer in the form of a question (84e). Or what kind of wisdom? The Meno holds a distinguished place in the St. John’s curriculum. It only takes seconds! A Socratic definition is supposed to reveal the essence of a unitary concept or a type of real thing. Eventually, Socrates seems to persuade him that the essence of aretê must be some kind of knowledge, but then this provisional conclusion gives way under the observation that what they are looking for is apparently never actually taught. Other characters in Plato’s dialogues usually have difficulty understanding what Socrates is asking for; in fact, the historical Socrates may have been the first person to be rigorous about such definitions. Nehamas, Alexander. About the historical Socrates, much of what we think we know is drawn from what Plato wrote about him. The Theory of Recollection was proposed to clarify things about the Meno’s Paradox. He asks again whether virtue is something that is taught, and once again he wants to be taught about this just by being told (86c-d; compare 70a, 75b, 76a-b, 76d). As Socrates three times exposes the inadequacies of Meno’s attempted definitions, giving examples and guidelines for further practice, Meno’s enthusiasm gives way to reluctance and frustration. Recollection Theory through Starbucks Cups - Duration: 2:49. Socrates responds by calling over an enslaved boy, who he establishes has had no mathematical training, and setting him a geometry problem. (Compare Meno 94e f. and 99e f. with Apology 23a-24a and 30cd.). Cambridge University Press, 1992. (after Anytus’ return from exile in 403 B.C.E., before Meno’s departure for Persia by early 401 B.C.E., and shortly before annual rites of initiation to the religious Mysteries, which are mentioned at Meno 76e). We see the famous “Socratic Method,” in which Socrates refutes someone’s claim to knowledge by revealing that one of their claims is contradicted by others that they also believe to be true. Translated by Adam Beresford and introduced by Lesley Brown. Plato, a classical Greek philosopher who is a famous writer. The failed attempt to define virtue as a whole in the Meno is much like the failed attempts in other dialogues to define particular virtues: piety in the Euthyphro, courage in the Laches, moderation in the Charmides, and justice in the first book of the Republic. The epistemological thesis is about reason. Socrates’ efforts to guide Meno throughout the dialogue indicate that achieving the wisdom that is virtue would require both the right kind of natural abilities and the right kind of training or practice—so that teaching can help if it is not mere verbal instruction but discussions that help a learner to discover the knowledge for himself. Meno’s frustration in trying to define virtue had led him to object: But in what way will you look for it, Socrates, this thing that you don’t know at all what it is? The practical side of learning as recollection applies no less in Socrates’ interactions with Meno. Active Socratic inquiry requires humble hard work on the part of all learners: practice in the sense of the personal effort and training that properly develops natural ability. Is Meno here honestly identifying a practical difficulty with this particular kind of inquiry, where the participants now seem not to know even what they are looking for? Socrates published nothing himself, but, probably soon after his death, the Socratic dialogue was born as a new genre of literature. A surprising interpretation of knowledge occurs in the middle third of the Meno, when Socrates suggests that real learning is a special kind of remembering. He gathers well-known examples of allegedly virtuous men who did not teach their virtue even to their own children, which indicates that virtue is not something that is taught. But what kind of knowledge? This is because Socrates only asks questions, and does not assist the boy in finding the solution. The closing pages argue that if their earlier hypothesis was true, and “people are taught nothing but knowledge,” then since virtue is not taught, virtue would not be knowledge. By contrast, if one’s soul had only been transmigrated two they would not be as knowledgeable. The Meno’s geometry lesson with the slave, where success in learning some geometry is supposed to encourage serious inquiry about virtue, is one indication of Plato’s interest in relations between mathematical and moral education. A successful definition in Socrates’ sense does not just state how a given word is used, or identify examples, or stipulate a special meaning for a given context. Woodruff, Paul. Oxford University Press, 1992. Plato believes that by asking the right question, one can jog his memory and recollect things that he doesn’t aware of knowing. Glenn Rawson Is it something that is taught, or acquired through traini… To illustrate what he means by saying that successful inquiry is simply a matter of recollecting what we already know, Socrates poses a geometry problem to a young slave in Meno's retinue. The notion that learning is recollection is supposed to show that learning is possible in spite of Meno’s objection: we can learn by inquiry, because we can begin in a state of neither complete knowledge nor pure ignorance. Scolnicov, Samuel. Article last reviewed: 2019 | St. Rosemary Institution © 2010-2020 | Creative Commons 4.0. Democratic and oligarchic factions might then still have been negotiating terms of reconciliation in order to prevent further civil war. That requires working out the explanation for oneself (82d, 83d, 84b-c, 85c-d; compare 98a). The standard English translations of aretê are “excellence” and “virtue.” “Excellence” reminds us that the ancient concept applies to all of the above and even to some admirable qualities in nonhuman things, like the speed of a good horse, the sharpness of a good knife, and the fertility of good farmland. In this connection, it is often said that Greek ethical thinking evolved from a focus on competitive virtues like courage and strength to a greater appreciation of cooperative virtues like justice and fairness. It seems to be tacitly dropped from the rest of the dialogue, and when Meno later revisits his opening challenge, he omits the option about training (86c-d). Oxford University Press, 1992. This leads up to Meno’s famous paradox, in which he asks Socrates how he can learn anything if he does not know what he is searching for. This reformulation of Meno’s objection has come to be known as “Meno’s Paradox.” It is Plato’s first occasion for introducing his notorious “theory of recollection,” which is an early example of what would later be called a theory of innate ideas. Book VII of the Republic describes a system of higher education designed for ideal rulers, which uses a graduated series of mathematical studies to prepare such rulers for philosophical dialectic and for eventually understanding the Form of Goodness itself. Fine, Gail. But Meno does not learn this lesson. back to the unanswered question of what virtue is (Is it knowledge?). Anytus believes that virtue can be learned instead by spending time with any good gentleman of Athens, but Socrates shows that this view is superficial, too. The boy has never been formally educated about geometry, but through Socrates questioning, the boy is able to figure out a problem about the lengths of the sides of a square. Much of the best Greek art still familiar to us today—the sculpture and architecture, the tragedy and comedy—comes from the Athens of that time. But what about his practice? After the geometry lesson, Socrates briefly reinterprets the alleged “recollection” in a way that can be taken as the discovery of some kind of innate knowledge, or innate ideas or beliefs. The whole range of examples used in this dialogue would be relevant. Meno is in fact intrigued, and when he asks for a demonstration, Socrates illustrates by cleverly leading an uneducated slave to the correct answer to a geometrical problem—and doing so by “only asking questions” and eliciting the correct answer from the slave himself. Is it something that is taught, or acquired through training, or possessed by nature? Chicago: Bolchazy-Carducci, 1984. Plato’s Meno introduces aspects of Socratic ethics and Platonic epistemology in a fictional dialogue that is set among important political events and cultural concerns in the last years of Socrates’ life. Anytus had himself been prosecuted in 409 B.C.E., for failure as a general in the war against Sparta, and allegedly he escaped punishment by bribing the jury. Your online site for school work help and homework help. Or is it trained? “the good are not so by nature... For if they were, this would follow: if the good were so by nature, … Meno refuses to pursue knowledge of virtue the hard way, and he thinks that what he hears about virtue the easy way is knowledge. But we’ll be better men, braver and less lazy, if we believe that we must search for the things we don’t know, rather than if we believe that it’s not possible to find out what we don’t know, and that we must not search for it—this I would fight for very much, so long as I’m able, both in theory and in practice. The Meno is a philosophical fiction, based on real people who took part in important historical events. And what about Socrates: does he teach virtue in the Meno? But supporters of a return to democracy soon rallied outside the city, defeating the Thirty’s army in May 403 B.C.E. A model geometry lesson with an uneducated slave is supposed to illustrate the importance of being aware of our own ignorance, the nature of proper education, the difference between knowledge and true belief, and the possibility of learning things without being taught. When the conversation returns to Meno’s initial question of whether virtue can be taught, Socrates introduces another manner of investigation, a method of “hypotheses,” by which he argues that virtue must be some kind of knowledge, and so it must be something that’s taught. But for now, the recently restored democracy is anxious about continuing class conflict, and fearful of renewed civil war. Tutor and Freelance Writer. The example of the slave boy in Plato's meno helps to support Plato's argument that we do not just have knowledge, and that we know things only by recollection. While the theory that learning is recollection suggests that an essential basis for wisdom and virtue is innate, Socrates also reminds Meno that any such basis in nature would still require development through experience (89b). According to Xenophon, when Cyrus was killed and his other commanders were quickly beheaded by the King’s men, Meno was separated and tortured at length before being killed, because of his special treachery (see Xenophon’s Anabasis II, 6). (93a-b). Eventually, Meno blames Socrates for his trouble, and insults Socrates by comparing him with the ugly, numbing stingray. Generally, Plato’s Socrates focuses his inquiries on moral subjects, and he will discuss them with anyone who is interested. Rather, Socrates’ practice in the geometry lesson actually goes pretty well with his theory that there is no teaching, because his leading questions there require that the slave think through the deduction of the answer from what he already knew. Socrates was then about sixty-seven years old, and had long been famous for his difficult questions about virtue and knowledge. In the Gorgias (named after a sophist or orator who is mentioned early in the Meno as one of Meno’s teachers), Socrates debates an ambitious young orator-politician who is drawn to a crass hedonism, and claims that his soul lacks good order because he neglects geometry, and so does not appreciate the ratios or proportions exhibited in the good order of nature. But then Socrates also argues to the contrary that since virtue is never actually taught, it seems not to be knowledge after all. Both the importance and the vagueness of the term is expressed in Socrates’ question to Anytus: Meno has been telling me for some time, Anytus, that he desires the kind of wisdom and aretê by which people manage their households and cities well, and take care of their parents, and know how to receive and send off fellow-citizes and foreign guests as a good man should. And though Socrates is no professional teacher, Anytus considers him just as bad, or worse. As Socrates says to Anytus: For some time we have been examining … whether virtue is something that’s taught. (80e). The theory of recollection purports to explain the possibility of successful learning when no one is available from whom to learn the knowledge sought, but it offers no recommendation or advice on the method to be employed in seeking this knowledge. He offers a theory that “there is no teaching but recollection” (82a). Much of ancient Greek literature shows that aretê was a central ideal and basic motivator throughout the culture. In this final portion of the dialogue, Socrates twice again asks Meno whether “if there are no teachers, there are no learners.” And Meno keeps affirming it, though no longer with full confidence: “I think … So it seems … if we have examined this correctly” (96c-d). But eventually most were just supplying mandated funds to Athens, basically for the continuation of Athens’ war against Sparta’s Peloponnesian League. Isn’t Socrates trying to teach Meno, by leading him to a correct definition of virtue, as he led Meno’s slave to the correct answer in the geometry lesson? Plato believed that the soul is immortal, and that it recollects truths it discovered in a previous existence. But he agrees, reluctantly, to examine whether virtue is something that is taught by way of “hypotheses” about what sorts of things are taught, and about what sorts of things are good. Plato is a combination of both rationalist and mystic. Scott, Dominic. This whole lesson was conducted in order to encourage Meno to try learning what virtue is, when he does not have a teacher to tell him what it is (81e-82a, 86c). This theory would explain both deja vu and synchronicity. Socrates does not identify theses within the Theory of Recollection, but it is illuminating to see it as consisting in two theses: an epistemological thesis and an ontologicalthesis. Artists and intellectuals flocked to Athens, including the new kind of traveling teachers, called “sophists,” who are so disparaged in the last part of the Meno. Or is he just throwing up an abstract, defensive obstacle, so that he does not have to keep trying? Such a definition would specify not just any qualities that are common to that kind of thing, but the qualities that make them be the kind of thing they are. ), both of which associate it closely with theories of human immortality and eternal, transcendent Forms. Klein, Jacob. The soul is immortal 2. The dilemma is that we cannot learn either what we know or what we do not know, because there is no need to learn what we already know, and we cannot recognize what we do not yet know. The primary objective of Plato’s Meno is an inquiry into the nature of virtue. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1903. But then he argues, from the fact that no one does seem to teach virtue, that virtue is not after all something that is taught, and therefore must not be knowledge. But in the third stage of the dialogue, Meno nonetheless resists, and asks Socrates instead to answer his initial question: is virtue something that is taught, or is it acquired in some other way? The question of how this knowledge can be discovered is answered through Plato’s process of recollection. Plato 's argument of recollection in Meno tries to solve the puzzle of how knowledge is acquired or learned. (91a). Penguin Classics, 2006. Athens’ radically democratic form of government was distinctive but influential in typically oligarchic Greece, and influential largely because she presided over the Delian League of nearly 200 city-states, which became an Athenian empire. 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