Fast forward almost two centuries from Aristotle’s time to that of John Locke’s, we approach Locke’s profoundly titled work “An Essay Concerning Human Understanding” (or more like, “Four Books Concerning Human Understanding”). Continue reading
In “Book II” of Plato’s, Republic, Socrates discusses what it means to be “just” with Adeimantus using the analogy of a city to create a powerful image of being “just.” As the analogy of the city begins to grow, Socrates discusses what it takes to create a “just” and well functioning city beginning with the jobs Continue reading
Book II of Plato’s Republic includes a conversation between Glaucon and Socrates, in an attempt to the get to the heart of what justice/injustice is. To accomplish this, Socrates leads Glaucon down the concept of a city, and tangents off into explaining things that a city needs not only to be healthy, but luxurious as well(373b).
On explaining the role of guardians in a city, Socrates go Continue reading
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.
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.
Throughout the dialogue, Meno and Socrates talk about a certain problem: how can you look for virtue when you don’t know what it is? This paradox is later broadly expanded so it asks, “How can you try to find about something if you don’t know what it is, and if you did happen to come across it, how would you know that it’s the thing you’re looking for if you didn’t know what it was in the beginning?”