Platonic Paradox

To research Plato\'s paradox in the Meno, we can first consult the definition of what platonism is. Websters defines platonism as "actual things are copies of transcendent ideas and that these ideas are the objects of true knowledge apprehended by reminiscence." For this essay, we will assume that trancendency is- "that which is beyond comprehension", and reminiscence as "past experience". The Meno is a dialogue between Socrates, a scholar and Meno, who eventually became an explorer. For this essay, however, we will assume that Meno is at the time of the dialogue, an upper-class citizen of average to better than average intelligence and superior stubbornness. The piece, according to the translation by G.M.A. Grube is thought to have taken place in approximately 402 B.C. in Athens, Greece. Late in the text, a third character, Anytus, a politician, who would eventually be an accuser of Socrates, joins in the dialogue. In the text, Meno in trying to define virtue accidentally slips in to a paradox or contradictory statement, which Socrates immediately refutes. It is the purpose of this paper to recognize the paradox, examine how Socrates disproves the paradox through argument and evidence. Socrates also brings up a key distinction between true opinion and knowledge, relating to the paradox, which will too be examined. Socrates then gives basis for more argument regarding the paradox, and why he does this will also be examined.

The initial argument takes place when Socrates challenges Meno to define virtue. Meno does not realize here what he has started. Meno has before inquired whether virtue is a quality that can be taught or if it is a natural trait, that men are born with. Socrates, in method true to form, twists the question and re-poses it to Meno to see if Meno can answer it all on his own. Meno lists what he thinks are virtuous qualities, and is content at that simple definition. Socrates then says:

"I seem to be in luck, Meno, while I am looking for one virtue, I have found you to have a whole swarm of them."

Meno\'s frustration begins to set in. He tries theatrical metaphor to define virtue, as well as relating to physical philosophy and philosophers such as Empedocles.

Meno at this point gives up and hands the philosophy to Socrates. Socrates presents Meno with a paradox:

"....He cannot search for what (a debater) knows- since he knows it, there is no need to search- nor for what he does not know, for he does not know what to look for."

In an obscure manner, Socrates points out that sometimes, we accidentally stumble on to the unknown. The paradox exists here: One can search and search for something all of their existence and never find it, and another can never even be searching for the same thing and come across it in a flash. If one does look for and find, they may be severely disappointed. The other may find what the first was looking for and not even care, and the inverse is also true. To sum up in modern layman\'s terms, "You are darned if you do and you are darned if you do not." The paradox can appear to be quite obscure but has an undertone for the rest of the text. As the argument ends in doubt, in a sense, so does the question of the paradox; it is left to the reader to ponder on his own.

To refute the paradox, Socrates pulls aside a common slave boy of Meno\'s to show that in even complicated matters, there is always some form of wisdom. He draws a square and divides it in to four equal smaller squares, each side of the larger square we are told is two feet, making it an eight foot figure total, or so the boy believes. What we are told is that

"the eight foot square is double the four foot square and half the sixteen foot square, double the square based on a line two feet long, and half the square based on a four-foot side, so it must be based on a line between two and four feet in length. The slave naturally suggests three feet, but that gives a nine foot square and is still wrong"

Another paradox has been created. That which