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Plato – Understanding Essay

Knowledge and opinion essentially form the entire dialogue of Plato’s Meno. Throughout the dialogue Socrates and Meno are on the search for whether virtue can be taught. From Socrates and Meno’s search for virtue, the importance of understanding knowledge and opinion becomes evident. Socrates and Meno’s search for virtue results in three themes. These themes are the relationship of knowledge, opinion and the helpful importance of teaching. Understanding knowledge, opinion and teaching’s importance help create the understanding of why knowledge is beneficial and pursued in life.

Knowledge, according to Socrates, is recollection. Socrates shows this by saying, As the whole of nature is akin, and the soul has learned everything, nothing prevents a man, after recalling one thing only—a process men call learning—discovering everything else for himself, if he is brave and does not tire of the search, for searching and learning are, as a whole, recollection (81d). Teachers play a role in developing knowledge so it can become recallable. Today almost every person in this world in one way or another is schooled and taught things by a teacher.

Years continue to go by with teachers playing an impact in almost everyone’s lives because they are benefiting people’s growth in knowledge. Teachers not only help us gain knowledge but even with things that cannot be taught, teachers can still play a role. In the Meno it is concluded that virtue is one of those things that cannot be taught. Teachers are also actually helpful in the pursuit of things that cannot be taught. Different ways teachers can help in the pursuit of knowledge of things that cannot be taught is by asking questions, or encouraging questions to be asked.

What this allows is those to pursue knowledge faster and more successfully than they would in most cases alone. So regardless whether it is something that can be taught or not, teachers play a key role in gaining knowledge. Gaining knowledge is something that is desired by each one of us. All of us because of our human nature have a desire to know things. Sometimes that desire is so we can feel superior to another, sometimes it is to answer ones own questions about life itself, and sometimes it is to simply better ones everyday life.

From these desires of wanting to know things it is obvious we as humans desire knowledge. But where exactly does this desire to know come from? This desire stems from opinion. Humans are opinionated and often feel very strongly about one’s opinions. Knowledge and opinion relate and there is a key difference essential to understanding knowledge. As Socrates pointed out knowledge is understood to be something that is true and can be recalled upon over and over knowing it is always true. However, the ability to be recallable is where opinion differs from knowledge.

Opinions can in fact be true (true opinion) and be as useful as knowledge; however, there remains one distinct difference between the two. That difference is opinions can leave one’s mind. Opinions need to become tied down and become knowledge to avoid being forgotten. Socrates shows through an example of what happens if opinions are not tied down. Socrates refers to a beautiful work of Daedalus to show the importance of knowledge. Socrates explains that opinions if true are good only as long as they hang around in one’s mind.

As soon as the true opinion escapes one’s mind it is no longer valuable. So if Socrates can tie the beautiful work of Daedalus it becomes more valuable just as knowledge becomes more valuable than true opinion because it is tied down forever with no potential of being forgotten (98a). Understanding this difference between knowledge and opinion is essential because it gives the reason as to why knowledge is pursued. Besides knowledge and opinion’s difference they also relate to one another in the pursuit of knowledge.

Acquiring knowledge begins with opinions that are gained through different experiences. Before opinions become knowledge they can be stirred up through questions. In the Meno, Socrates does a demonstration that stirs up different opinions in a slave boy. Socrates asks the boy different questions and because of the questions asked the boy actually gets the questions correct without any knowledge of the answers. This example from the text shows two things regarding knowledge. First, this example shows that opinion precedes knowledge.

The slave boy had true opinions about the questions Socrates was asking because he was answering correctly, but he did not have knowledge yet. Secondly, this example shows how teachers, in this case Socrates, help the pursuit of knowledge. By asking the proper questions opinions can be stirred up and start to become knowledge. When opinions are true they can become knowledge through an account of reason or proof that the opinion is indeed the truth. Once this happens the opinion turns into knowledge and that knowledge will now remain with no threat of being lost.

Acquiring knowledge is essential in life and the pursuit of knowledge is in human nature. Throughout our entire lives knowledge is constantly pursued. Understanding knowledge and opinion’s relationship allows this to be reasoned. With knowledge being distinguished from true opinion by being recallable teachers play an important role. Teachers help by asking the right questions which then speeds up the knowledge gaining process. So with these three relationships it is more understood as why knowledge is beneficial and constantly pursued through life.


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