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Meno 96 End Notes

Classics Notes > Plato’s Meno and Euthyphro Notes

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Plato Essay: Meno 96- End This section of the dialogue deals with how knowledge differs from right opinion. It follows on closely from the previous stretch which seemed to prove that excellence was not, after all, knowledge because it is not teachable. Socrates argues that this conclusion failed to take into account an important distinction. It is true that virtuous people are beneficial and in order to be beneficial they must guide their affairs rightly; therefore there must be another way of giving right guidance. He notices that "they absurdly failed to realise that it is not only when knowledge guides them that men conduct their affairs rightly and well." This thing, he propositions, is right opinion, which he proceeds to show is just as useful in guiding right action as knowledge itself. The question that prompted all this came from Meno, who inferred from Socrates' previous argument that there appears to be no good men because it seems impossible for them to achieve that state. This is the problem Socrates is trying to get around by equating knowledge with right opinion. The main example he uses to prove the equal usefulness of right opinion and knowledge is the Road to Larissa. He says that a man can guide another there rightly only with a true opinion about the route, i.e. without the knowledge that comes from actually travelling along that road. Therefore, even without wisdom, he will be a no worse guide than a man with knowledge of the road, providing that his opinion about the route is true (something which is taken for granted to be the case for the sake of the argument). Therefore right opinion is just as good at guiding right action as wisdom, "so right opinion is no less beneficial than knowledge." This is because someone with either right opinion or knowledge would always get the right answer. The problem with this example is that Socrates appears to be saying that first hand experience is enough to cover knowledge, which is surely not an explanation of it. This implies a difference between two types of knowledge; one practical such as this example which requires only the knowledge that comes through experience and another which is more theoretical such as the slave boy maths example which requires true understanding and an ability to explain method in order to count as true knowledge. As he said earlier the boy will only get knowledge after repeated questioning on the matter and through this he will achieve understanding, but no amount of questioning about the road to Larissa will make a man who has travelled it any more knowledgeable about it. Furthermore in using an example such as the road to Larissa when he is talking about a theory of knowledge based upon some sort of recollection he is implying that every fact about absolutely everything must be and always have been in the soul, which starts to make the theory sound implausible. This is where the difference in vocabulary he uses starts to become important. The two words he uses are episteme and phronesis. The former is more theoretical knowledge of the sort like in the maths problem, but the latter, according to Aristotle, is more to do with practical right moral action. Plato has apparently confused these two ideas because he wants all knowledge to have the same form and to be found in the same way, with the result that there are some difficulties in his argument. He goes on to explain to Meno the difference between right opinion and knowledge, for which he uses the example of the statues of Daedalus. He says that, like these statues,

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