Keshav's Reviews > Meno
by Plato, G.M.A. Grube
by Plato, G.M.A. Grube
Jun 18, 2009
Recommended for: Anyone interested in philosophy
read count: 1
This is the first dialogue of Plato I ever read, which is very fitting because it contains many of the best elements from the dialogues. I won't deny the fact that it is a challenging read, but it is well worth the time and effort. For those unfamiliar with Plato, all his works takes the form of dialogues between Plato's teacher Socrates and a Sophist. In ancient Greece, sophists were well-known philosophers and orators to whom much of the populace would often turn for guidance. Socrates in contrast thought that the words of the sophists were just empty rhetoric, and that they did not really have any deep philosophical knowledge. To expose what he perceived as their fraud, he spent his life debating with them, asking piercing and fundamental questions they were not able to answer. He was largely successful in changing popular opinion; in modern usage the word "sophistry" refers to the art of lying! In this dialogue Socrates discusses with the respected sophist Meno the question "what is virtue?". When they are unable to resolve this issue satisfactorily, they turn to the broader issue of the very nature of knowledge. Where does knowledge come from, and how do we come to learn it? Socrates comes up with a rather unorthodox answer: humans, before they are even born, already have an enormous amount of knowledge, but they have forgotten most of it. Learning, then, consists not of acquiring new information, but simply of remembering existing knowledge. I do not agree with this conclusion. Although I do believe that every human being's soul is omniscient and that humans forget all that knowledge, I still believe that learning a new piece of information is different from remembering it from the soul. This is because to remember is to not only realize a fact one knew before, but also to realize that one knew it before. When you learn something knew, you don't usually realize that you already knew it. So to me, learning and recollection are different processes. None of this detracts from the fact that this is a superb piece of lierature and, like all works of Plato, a testament to the greatness of which humanity is capable.
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