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Meno's Paradox

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Meno's Paradox

It is thought that Meno's paradox is of critical importance both within Plato's thought and within the whole history of ideas. It's major importance is that for the first time on record, the possibility of achieving knowledge from the mind's own resources rather than from experience is articulated, demonstrated and seen as raising important philosophical questions.

Meno's paradox states:

`Why on what lines will you look, Socrates, for a thing of whose nature you know nothing at all? Pray, what sort of a thing, amongst those things that you know will you treat us to as the object of your search? Or even supposing, at the best that you it upon it, how will you know it is the thing you did not know?'


The paradox arises due to a number of assumptions concerning knowledge, inquiry and definition made by both Socrates and Meno. The assumptions of Socrates are:

  1. If we do not know what F is, we do not know anything about F.
  2. If we cannot define F, we do not know what F is.

The assumptions of Meno are:

  1. If we do not know anything about F, we cannot distinguish F from other things we do not know
  2. If we cannot distinguish F from other things we do not know, we cannot inquire about F.
  3. Hence if we do not know what F is we cannot inquire about F.

If we take these assumptions and put them together we find ourselves with the paradox. We start with F, which we want to inquire about. According to Meno, if we want to inquire about F, we need to know what F is. Socrates says though, that in order to know what F is, we must be able to define it, and if we cannot define it, we wil...

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...ox could be proved wrong then he has demonstrated his point very well. This would mean accepting the `minimal sense' of the recollection theory - as Vlastos puts is, that demonstrative knowledge is independent of sense-experience, thus establishing that there can be non-empirical knowledge, but not that all knowledge is non-empirical. However, if in his demonstration, Socrates meant to show that Meno's paradox is completely wrong, and that the recollection theory applies to all forms of knowledge i.e. that all knowledge is non-empirical, which is the `full-strength' doctrine, then he was wrong. Thus we must conclude that the recollection theory is an answer to Meno's paradox, but by no means solves it entirely. Irwin writes that `to resolve Meno's paradox Socrates need only suggest that one have an initial belief about the object of inquiry rather than knowledge.'

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