Meno Paradox Notes
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Meno's paradox Meno's paradox as stated by Meno comprises a mixture of worries about how inquiry and discovery are possible when you do not already know what the object of your inquiry is. The paradox as Socrates restates it - as proving that inquiry in particular is in fact impossible in these conditions - fails to establish its conclusion, and Socrates dismisses it as a sophist riddle. But if we take a deeper reading of the sophist paradox and Meno's worries as expressing an apparent problem that specifically affects conceptual analysis - which is what Socrates and Meno are up to - then we will see that the theory of recollection provides an answer to a problem of inquiry and discovery in this domain., though not to the faulty logic of the eristic paradox, which is easily dealt with. Interpreting Meno's worries The dialogues starts out with the question of whether virtue can be taught, but soon moves onto a quest for the definition of virtue, since Socrates says that one cannot know anything about a thing unless one knows what that thing is. After a couple of attempts at a definition of virtue, which Socrates rejects as either incomplete or circular, Meno revolts and protests: But how will you look for it, Socrates, when you do not know at all what it is? How
`will you aim to search for something you do not know at all? If you should meet with it, how will you know that this is the thing you did not know? (80d) Firstly, the term 'paradox' is not very apt here. One must note that Meno's protest is expressed in the form of questions, not assertions - so Meno is not baldly stating that either inquiry or discovery is impossible. But he is addressing a challenge to Socrates, and leaving it open to Socrates to claim that the challenge can be met, so we should examine what the challenge is. Meno's questions express a mixture of worries about inquiry and discovery. Let us examine each question in turn. But how will you look for it, Socrates, when you do not know at all what it is?
This question could be seen to ask either of two questions, one about inquiry and one about discovery. He asks 'how will you look for it', but this might mean 'how will you even begin the act of searching?', or it might mean 'what method of inquiry are you proposing, that will ensure our success?'. Both questions can be raised by the fact that they 'do not know at all' what the sought-for thing is, but to see how, we need to look at Meno's worries in context. The problem of inquiry: Socrates has said that one must know the definition of a thing before one can know anything about it, which means that Socrates must admit he does not know anything about virtue. Certainly not knowing anything about x seems to make it impossible to frame any questions about x, since one would have no footholds to start from at all. The problem of discovery: since Socrates and Meno know nothing about virtue now, how can there be hope of ever reaching knowledge? Is there some kind of reliable epistemic method for completing projects of the kind they are embarked on, somehow converting a bundle of true or false opinions about x into sure and certain knowledge of what x is?
How will you aim to search for something you do not know at all?
This question sounds more like it expresses the problem of inquiry. It concerns a necessary condition for even engaging in any inquiry in the first place: being able to
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