Plato’s Meno Throughout history, philosophers have sought to understand the nature of true knowledge and how to achieve it. Most believe that true knowledge is acquired empirically, and not latent in our minds from birth. In Platos Meno, Socrates argues in favour of the pre-natal existence of knowledge, the opposite of this proposal: that knowledge is essentially latent, and is brought to light through questioning. The erisitic paradox, which stems from this view of knowledge, states that if you know what it is you are inquiring about, you need not inquire, for you already know. If, however, you do not know what it is you are inquiring about, you are unable to inquire, for you do not know what it is into which you are inquiring. One consequence of this view is Platos rejection of empiricism, the claim that knowledge is derived from sense experience.However, when one examines the scene in the Meno between Socrates and the slave boy in greater depth, one can see the flaws in this paradox.
Plato uses Socrates experiment, in which he draws one of Menos slaves out from the gathered crowd and proceeds to demonstrate the theory of recollection using geometry; however, this experiments purpose tests the credulity of the reader; and in some cases Socrates questions are blatantly leading. Socrates merely places obvious propositions in front of the boy that can be immediately recognised. Also, contrary to what Plato asserts, knowledge can be obtained by other means, and not exclusively through intellectual inquiry and questioning. It is far too difficult to dismiss, as Plato does, any and all claims or assertions about the physical or visible world, including both common-sense observations and the propositions of science, as mere opinions. Furthermore, the interpretation of the experiment with the slave boy can be expanded to suggest yet another position: that Plato is demonstrating the flawed nature of sophistry by showing that what on the surface appears to be Socratic dialectic is really Sophistic practice. In light of all of these factors, it becomes clear that the eristic paradox is, in fact, flawed.In the experiment, Socrates guides a slave through a series of geometric proofs in an effort to illustrate that the slave already possessed this knowledge and, therefore, that “learning” is not acquisition but recollection. Plato maintains that the slave is simply recalling knowledge learned in a former incarnation.
The main question that enters the readers mind regarding the experiment with the slave boy is the role of Socrates, and how he facilitates the slave boys production of the answer; that is, how he teaches him. Among the myriad of different possibilities by which Socrates achieved this teaching, only four are plausible, and of these only two appear realistic enough to be considered in the scope of this essay. The first possibility is that Socrates played no role at all in helping the slave boy produce the answer.This possibility must be rejected because there is no way the series of questions and answers, both correct and incorrect, could not have been of importance in helping the boy find the correct answers. The second possibility is that Socrates merely engaged in “mental midwifery,” bringing to light the knowledge which was latent in the boys mind. This is what Plato would like us to believe.
However, this would also mean believing in the ante-natal existence of the human psyche, meaning the boy had already learned this information in another life. This would also mean that the erisitic paradox would have been a problem in the other life; if learning is not possible for us now, it would not have been possible in a previous life. The third possibility, however, is one that most tend to believe: that Socrates taught the boy the answers, and that the boy believed him due to Socrates authority.This possibility appears plausible because the boy seems to be inclined to accept Socrates every word. Even though we can see that the boy does not agree simply because Socrates presents him with a proposition, the logical and visual nature of geometry allows it to be understood without prior knowledge of the subject. If, say, biology were used instead of geometry, the slave boy would have had little chance in recognising the correct answer.
He also would not have been able to see why any incorrect answers were incorrect, and therefore would have been forced to rely on authority. In the case of geometry, though, this is not true: correct answers can be recognised by someone who had not previously been exposed to them. This brings us to the fourth possibility explaining Socrates role: that Socrates placed obvious truths before the boy, which he could recognise on sight.In this case, though, one must ask how the boy, who did not have any prior familiarity with the matter, was able to recognise these geometric proofs.
We must believe that the slave boy, in a way, already possessed the answers somewhere in his mind, otherwise the boy could not have confidently realised that the suggested answer is right and the others wrong. Even though Socrates questions are indeed blatantly leading, we must believe that the boy says yes to the correct answers not merely to please Socrates, but because he sees that it is the obvious answer. It is easier to believe this when recognising the right answers requires only ordinary intelligence, as in this case.
Furthermore, what aids the boy in seeing the right answers and realising his incorrect answers are incorrect are Socrates diagrams. As such, though not geometrically accurate, they accurately represent the ideas and concepts Socrates tries to put forth.The process of Socratic refutation or elenchus is a method of teaching that, according to Socrates, is supposed to clear away the arrogance of false knowledge and instil the urge to learn as a consequence of recognising ones own ignorance. This method came about as the result of Socrates belief that knowledge cannot be obtained by empirical means: that knowledge essentially comes only from logical deduction. According to Plato, “knowledge will not come from teaching but from questioning.
” (85d) Though it is Plato that discovers the existence of a priori knowledge: essentially, any knowledge that has not been acquired by experience and is latent in ones mind. However, he makes the oversight of applying this concept to all knowledge in general. This means the dismissal of any and all propositions made concerning the physical or visible world, including both common-sense observations and scientific data, as opinions only. Science, naturally, has long si …