Meno’s Paradox and Everyday Lives

From Meno, we encounter towards the middle of the piece a point in which Meno is angry at Socrates because they have come to an impasse as to what “being good” really is. Meno proceeds to feel baffled and makes the claim that it cannot be possible to find out what it is to  “be good” because he has no idea what being good really is (80e). This is Meno’s paradox; he feels that he cannot find out “good” because he doesn’t even know what to look for.

Socrates puts things into perspective by making a claim that souls are immortal, and they cycle through life, therefore all the experiences of every person before you culminates in the soul, therefore it is possible that we have learned, in a past life, what being good is, and it is not so much a process of learning, but a process of remembering (81c).

In our own lives, this paradox is encountered. Whether it’s a student who tries to understand calculus, a musician trying to learn a song, or a sprinter who works to drop time in their events, there is a common feature among all these examples: the process of discovery. Just as Socrates put it with his example involving Meno’s slave (84a), it is not learning, because we already know what to do, in a sense. We just have to remember what to do, a process of trial-and-error, where the error makes us eager to discover how to get the task accomplished. Work problems in calculus until it sticks, find ways to move your fingers on the instrument smoothly so to make the music sound seamless, and focus on details in your races in order to grow.

We often are found in similar situations as Meno to which a solution is feasible, but it is something that requires some thought. Deep down, there’s a basic idea on how to accomplish the task, but it really requires a some failure in order to bring us to answers.

One response to “Meno’s Paradox and Everyday Lives

  1. You point to something really interesting here — the role of error in learning or accomplishing a goal. Error can be a motivating force in some instances. Failure is very important for some philosophers, especially for Hegel, which we will see in a few weeks. You also describe being very responsive to the moment and the inherent demands of the activity you are engaging in; instruments and our bodies while running are meant to operate in a particular way that we can pick up if we are attentive to “listening” to what is being “asked” of us from that engagement. The process of “trial and error” that you are describing however seems to be a little different from remembering or recollecting. Do we really already know how to do these things, or is there novelty in this process?

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