Literature Study GuidesDialogues Of PlatoInquiry And Recollection Summary 80d 81e Summary

Dialogues of Plato | Study Guide


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Dialogues of Plato | Inquiry and Recollection Summary (80d–81e) | Summary



At this point, Meno declares there is no point in inquiring any further. After all, if one is utterly ignorant of that which one seeks, then one is hard pressed to set it up as an object of inquiry in the first place. Moreover, if one does happen to run into it, one won't know it is the very thing one seeks.

Socrates responds that Meno's eristical (verbally combative) trick doesn't hold together. He reformulates Meno's paradox of inquiry as follows: One can't inquire either into what one knows or what one does not know. For if one already knows, there is no inquiry. If one does not know, then one lacks an object of inquiry.

Socrates's solution is to propose that one already knows. He tells Meno that he has heard from priests and priestesses—and from poets, too—that the soul is immortal. It has been reincarnated so many times that it already knows everything in this world, and knows what is beyond it, too. Therefore, learning is a matter of recollecting what one already knows. Socrates is now ready to return to the investigation, but Meno demands proof of the claim that learning is recollecting.


The Meno paradox presses the reader to think about the foundation of knowledge. Is it purely rational, independent of, or prior to, experience? Or is it derived from experience? If one begins life in a state of ignorance, how is it possible to even get started on the process of knowing? Inquiry is problematic because it assumes that there are things about which the inquirer is ignorant. But how does the inquirer know anything at all in the first place?

Socrates does not attempt to resolve the problem, but instead effectively preempts it by proposing that there is no start, per se. The reference to "the world beyond" introduces the reader to Socrates's first grounding of ethical concepts in a metaphysical framework: the forms. The immortal soul learns the true nature of all things before it is born. Knowledge reflects the interconnectedness of what there is to learn, since in recollecting one thing, by rightly using one's reasoning, one can get to the rest.

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