The Power of Definitons

The passage by Plato about the conversation between Meno and Socrates commences with a sentence that distinguishes teaching from practice and experience. Although these have different meanings, they are not contrary ideas as the passage seems to suggest. That’s not to say that these are the same or always used together. Both teaching and experience can serve the purpose of learning independently of one another. For example, a child’s mother may tell him that the skinny limbs on a tree will break easily. This is one way for the child to learn this fact. Another way, of course, would be to physically snap the thin branch of a tree and learn from experience. In this case, experience is different from practice and the two words are not interchangeable.

Sometimes, the two methods are used in congruence with one another, and often in these situations practice and experience are closely related. An example of this would be learning to shoot a soccer ball.  The coach teaches the players to strike the ball with their laces, how to aim, and how to exert the proper amount of power. The players then practice applying these skills, and in this way, gain experience.

All of this is also assuming that teaching involves a third party. A person could teach themselves the notes and keys on a piano and practice reading music and playing songs to gain experience and through that teach, practice, experience, and learn to play piano all at once.

Overall Socrates offers a very narrow definition of the words teaching, practice, and experience and then treats them as true and factual and applies them to his arguments. Looking at wider or more flexible definitions for his words calls into question Socrates’ proceeding arguments.

2 responses to “The Power of Definitons

  1. I like how you recognized Socrates’ narrow definition of teaching, practice, and experience. Socrates makes lots of arguments but sometimes it’s a little dubious, for example I also found it hard to believe when he used the “recollection” of memories as a legitimate foundation to his argument on whether virtue is knowledge. Because according to him, since our past lives have learned and our souls are eternal, that is the reason why we know what we’re looking for when we’re searching for something we don’t know.

    However, I think it’s a little unfair to call his arguments all narrow, because even though you did argue that his arguments require a third party, I am pretty sure that Socrates didn’t forget the abilities that people can self-teach himself. I think in his argument, he’s trying to say that practice and experience are fundamental concepts that both make up as possible responses to his questions on defining what virtue is, rather than what virtues can be. He just involved a third person because the dialogue is basically about teaching someone (not oneself) about virtues, and whether this is at all possible.

    • I agree that it makes sense for Socrates to use examples involving a third person because of the situation in which he was explaining, and he may not have neglected to consider self-teaching, and instead, chose to omit it for clarity. I also agree that Socrates’ argument includes experience and practice as elements of virtue as well as elements of learning.

      To clarify, I don’t believe Socrates’ arguments themselves are narrow, however he accepts a singular definition and bases his arguments off of that. The responses and counterarguments would employ a different definition of “teaching” or “remembering” etc. Therefore, his arguments can be called into question when questioning the definitions that Socrates established as fact.

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