Notes on what I'm reading

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

HoPwaG: Plato III (Meno)

How is it that people get virtuous? Is it 'natural'? Is it taught? Meno suggests that we don't learn! When we think we are learning, we are recollecting--from a time, before we were born, when we knew everything. But ends in aporia, as usual.

  • presented as dialogue about virtue;
  • Meno, student of Gorgias, kicks off dialogue by asking whether virtue taught;
  • Socrates' response: need to know what virtue is, then can decide the original question;
  • Meno's response: each kind of person has own virtue (polis for man, oikos for woman);
  • Socrates' response: this a list of kinds of virtue, not a definition;
  • Now get a conversation about what it is to have a definition--a list? non-circular? etc?
  • But Socrates gives us a model definition of a geometric concept;
  • Central part--Meno challenges inquiry into ethics, epistemology, or anything as follows:
Meno's paradox:
  • either you know x or you don't; if you know x, don't need to do inquiry; but if don't know x, how can you know how to inquire about x, or recognize it when you find it?
  • reply options: (1) escape between horns: there are plenty of things we know enough about to engage in inquiry about it (HoPwaG eg: Bustor Keaton movies, having seen some but not all);
  • problem: How did we get to this partial knowledge? The dilemma applies to that knowledge too--seems we can't get started on knowledge [Note: this has a 'Zeno's paradox' air--for epistemology.]
  • reply option (2) (Socrates): our souls have always existed, and over that time have learned everything, so we're never in the know-nothing position, have just forgotten most of what we know--so really we're just been reminded of what we already know when we learn;
  • then get a theatrical demonstration of the 'religious myth' theory--Socrates just asks the slave boy questions, never asserts anything, and even if the questions leading, the boy has to figure things out, hence the knowledge doesn't come from without but from within;
  • question of how strongly Plato is committed to the theory of recollection;
  • doctrine can be modified to avoid the religious part of the myth, just by making the knowledge innate rather than soul-derived; 
  • problem: immortality of soul seems an extravagant solution to the problem of knowledge;
  • motivates reply option (3): partial knowledge doesn't help, but what if there's a third state between ignorance and knowledge, s.t. it's greater than ignorance but less than knowledge--the answer is yes, there are true beliefs without knowledge;
  • thus Socrates says that his questions to the slave boy have brought out true beliefs, not knowledge--that much more questioning would be required for knowledge
  • so get this very important distinction between true belief and knowledge.
 Knowledge and true belief:
  • So what is this distinction? And if have true belief, why care about knowledge? 
  • e.g.: if have true belief about horse race winner, will win my bet about the race, so why care about knowledge about the winner? answer: with knowledge, would bet more!
  • true beliefs inferior to knowledge: true beliefs not grounded in a good reason for belief; ability to give reasons, not our degree of confidence, that makes for knowledge;
  • so, like Socrates' 'magical statues' that can run away, true beliefs are unreliable until they are 'tied down' by finding the reason for their truth;
  • a test for whether x has true belief or knowledge: if x can impart the beliefs to others;
  • so virtue would be teachable if it were a kind of knowledge (back to that Socratic idea).
Teaching of virtue:
  • a puzzle: if virtue is knowledge, and x having knowledge entails that x can impart what he knows, why are there no teachers of virtue?
  • solution: since there are no teachers, seems that some (e.g. Pericles) that seem virtuous might have just true beliefs about what to do, not knowledge (e.g. by divine dispensation, rather than whatever work is needed to turn true beliefs into knowledge--don't get an account of that in Meno).
So have this very important distinction: true belief certainly isn't knowledge, we agree, but certainly necessary for knowledge; so the question is what has to be added to true belief to get knowledge.

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