Overcoming the Unknown

In Plato’s dialogue Meno, a young, baffled Meno challenges Socrate’s logic and stance on knowledge by posing his famous paradox which describes the impracticality of searching for something you have no knowledge of as well as the issue of recognizing that you have found it when you do not even know what “it” is. Socrates simply dismisses this paradox as a quibbler’s argument, instead, offering up his theory on learning as “remembering” and something to do with our immortal souls(81d). Whether or not this is the case, Meno’s Paradox doesn’t seem to cause anyone any grief in the real-world pursuit of knowledge. Further into Plato’s Meno and Protagoras we are provided hints as to why this is.

“How silly of us not to realize that it isn’t always knowledge that’s guiding people when they do things well and succeed in their affairs”(96c).

Knowledge isn’t the be-all and end-all of education or learning, it can’t be. Knowledge, whether it is known or unknown, is just useless fact if you lack the skills to apply it. “Isn’t it clear that what we desperately need is, for a start, some kind of measuring ability?”(357b). Throughout Meno and Protagoras Plato refers to this ability to operate knowledge as “knowledge of measurement”, “opinion”, and just plain old “good sense”. What Plato describes is a discerning ability, the ability to say yes or no, to accept or question, and to piece the different components of knowledge into something functional— something similar to judgement. By exercising our judgement or “good sense” we are easily able to overcome Meno’s Paradox and fearlessly navigate the unknown.

“Even with a blindfold on, Meno, anyone could tell just from talking to you that you are beautiful.”(76b)

Even if we are just stumbling around in the dark as long as our feet remain firmly planted in what is familiar we can feel around for edges and use our judgement to piece together an outline of what we are searching for. Scientists do it all the time. They define something by defining its surroundings, where it will fit, then study it by studying its surroundings and how it fits(eg. Higgs Boson Particle). Using “good sense” and the trusty “guess and check method”(very much the same concept behind a baby’s shape sorter toy, see image below) you will often find what you were searching for, or didn’t even know you were searching for and then recognize “it”as what you were searching for because it fits.



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