The Acquisition of Knowledge

In Meno, Meno starts a conversation with Socrates about what it means to be “good,” which morphs into a discussion of larger themes pertaining to wisdom and the acquisition of knowledge. At one point Meno gets fed up with Socrates always refuting his points and turns to what Socrates refers to as the “quibbler’s argument,” “that it’s impossible to try to find out about anything – either what you know or what you don’t know. ‘You can’t try to find out about something you know about, because you know about it, in which case there’s no point trying to find out about it; and you can’t try to find out about something you don’t know about, either, because then you don’t even know what it is you’re trying to find out about” (pg. 100-101, 80e). This argument is more commonly known as “Meno’s Paradox,” and essentially states that you can’t acquire new knowledge either because you already know said information, or you don’t know enough information to know how to get more.

Socrates found this argument to simply be a way for lazy individuals to avoid working on their own and found that “as long as you’re adventurous and don’t get tired of trying to find out about things,” you will always be able to acquire new knowledge because he believes that the acquisition of new knowledge is actually just a form of “remembering” (102, 82d).

We encounter and overcome this paradox in our everyday life by doing exactly what Socrates says, we continue to be “adventurous,” and rather than assuming that we aren’t able to garner more information due to a lack of a place to start, we find a starting point and build from there.

For example, if we wanted to learn about the Transatlantic Slave Trade, we could begin by finding an introductory book on the Transatlantic Slave Trade, and build or research from there. Although it might be difficult to start finding information, there are always ways around the blockage.

A better example may be solving for a derivative or integral in calculus. Someone may hear the terms derivative or integral and really want to know what they are but neglect to try to find out because they have no idea where to start looking, however, if you took the time to learn algebra and geometry prior to learning calculus you would have a solid base and initial set of information that then allows you to learn about the derivative and the integral.

To overcome the challenge of not being able to acquire new knowledge we simply acquire general knowledge through reading, school, experience, or even just speaking with others, and from their we build our research around a targeted topic.

One response to “The Acquisition of Knowledge

  1. Interesting and helpful examples here! You gesture at the very end to the important role school and conversations with others in our daily lives have for opening us onto the general questions, topics, and places we may want to explore. If I have never heard of algebra, how do I know that I should (or even could) study it? Our environment is crucial to providing us with these initial building-blocks, it seems.

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