Meno’s Paradox and Socrates

If true, “Meno’s paradox” is a frightening proposition. The paradox suggests that human inquiry is impossible: humans are incapable of finding truths. The paradox stems form a simple question, “how can you put before your mind a thing that you have no knowledge of, in order to try to find out about it?”(Page 100, 80e) Inquiring about something, as in trying to find a universal truth about it, requires imagination and thinking. However, if somebody is inquiring about a thing that he does not know then it is impossible for him to imagine and think about it. On the other hand, if the person knows about the subject of inquiry then the process of inquiry is futile.

After thorough inspection, “Meno’s paradox” seemed perfectly logical and valid. How then are humans able to make new discoveries every single day if the process of inquiry is either unnecessary or impossible? Socrates explains this through a bizarre idea. He asserts that discoveries of new knowledge are actually recollections of knowledge already possessed by the soul. To Socrates, humans are all born with the solutions to all of nature’s mysteries. To unleash these solutions, a person must undergo the process of “remembering”. Deep down, we all know how to compose music, write computer code, solve mathematical equations, and come up with scientific theories. Just like the slave that “remembers” what a diagonal is, we must go through the long and tedious process of “remembering” that involves hard work and making mistakes. The paradox should not be viewed as a sad limitation of human power but as motivation that everybody can “solve” the mysteries of the universe.

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