Meno: Epistemology and Socrates

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 5 November 2016

Meno: Epistemology and Socrates

A paradox is a true statement or group of statements that leads to a contradiction or situation, which defies intuition (Wikipedia). In Plato’s Meno, Meno and Socrates engage in the typical Socratic elenctic method of examination pertaining to the topic of virtue. Socrates helps Meno reach a state of learned ignorance. After reaching this state, Meno presents his paradox to Socrates. Socrates, in philosophical fashion, examines the statement using epistemological evidence to understand how the soul and mind acquire knowledge.

Through this examination, Socrates produces the recollection theory to explain the acquisition of knowledge and refute Meno’s paradox. Socrates does not solve Meno’s paradox by presenting the recollection theory fully. This paper will explore Plato’s Meno through Meno’s paradox, Socrates’ refutation of the paradox, the recollection theory, and the evidence Socrates uses to present his theory. Socrates never explores how one can learn something that is not previously known. Meno’s paradox states that knowledge is either present or not present.

Meno believes that there is no gray area in the black and white realm of knowledge. If the answer is known, it can not be sought because it is already known and therefore futile to search for it. If the answer is not known, it can not be sought because it is unclear what the search is for due to the lack of knowledge in question. Meno claims a person can not transition from a state of not knowing to a state of knowing. Therefore, it can be derived from Meno’s paradox that the acquisition of knowledge is impossible. This paradox is false because it is based on the false premise that learning never takes place.

The false premise is present because Meno argues that a person either knows something or does not. Contrary to that belief, Socrates reveals something may not be known in full capacity but can be known in some capacity. With the false statement, Meno’s paradox is void. The paradox also rules out learning because knowledge can not be acquired. There is potential to gain knowledge through learning. Socrates explores the epistemology of knowledge. He states the soul is eternal and therefore has a vast knowledge base of past experiences.

“as the soul is immortal, has been born often and has seen all things here and in the underworld, there is nothing which it has not learned; so it is in no way surprising that it can recollect things it knew before… “!!!!! However when the soul is born, it forgets that it knows such things. Socrates believes that because the soul has this knowledge it can be recalled upon through rational questioning. Through this, Socrates reveals the knowledge is not cut and dry. Knowledge has more than one form. According to Socrates, there are two forms of knowledge: potential knowledge and actual knowledge.

Here, Socrates refutes only a part of Meno’s paradox, knowledge is either known or not known. Next, Socrates explores the relationship between epistemic states: belief and knowledge. Belief can be true or false. Knowledge is universally true by necessity and can not be false. Belief and knowledge are different in the way in which they relate to the truth. However, the content of beliefs and knowledge can be the same. The difference lies in how the mind apprehends them. For example, one with a belief will change their mind but a person with knowledge will not.

Socrates’ recollection theory states: knowledge can be spoken of as latent knowledge or actual knowledge. Latent knowledge is the potential for knowledge; a person knows something without actually knowing it. Socrates demonstrates his recollection theory with his experiment. In the experiment, Socrates get child to discard false beliefs and convert true beliefs to knowledge. Socrates gets the boy to grasp the area of the square through knowledge not belief. He shoes that the child has latent knowledge if he did not he could not grasp the material. Socrates uses the mental connections the child has already formed.

Connections associated with false belief did not measure up to cross-examination but those tied to true beliefs did. Socrates never refutes the claims of the second or third claims of Meno’s paradox. The second claim, which states that you can not search for something that you already know because you already know it is a true claim. But the third claim which states you can not search for something you do not know because you do not know of what you search was never explored by Socrates. Socrates does not fully address Meno’s paradox because he also does not address the matter of learning.

He only addresses that of recollection, which does not refute the false premise Meno states. Socrates does not fully refute Meno’s paradox by forming the recollection theory and backing it up with evidence from the experiment with the boy and defining the nature of knowledge because he never addresses the issue of learning. I’ve covered Meno’s paradox and why the paradox is false, the recollection theory and the evidence pertaining to it along with the information Socrates does not address. Socrates does not solve Meno’s paradox by creating the recollection theory because he does not fully solve it.


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  • University/College: University of California

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 5 November 2016

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