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Meno's Paradox

Danielle
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9/20/2009 9:12:05 AM
Posted: 7 years ago
Meno's Paradox:

"A man cannot search for what he knows or for what he does not know."

This is a paradox of Epistemology (knowledge). Meno asks Socrates how a person can look for something when he has no idea what it is. How can he know when he has arrived at the truth when he does not already know what the truth is? Socrates avoids this sophistical paradox by pointing out that, by using this logic, man could neither search for what he does know, because he would already know it, nor for what he does not know, because he would not know for what he was looking.

Thoughts?
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Danielle
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9/20/2009 9:22:10 AM
Posted: 7 years ago
So say we try to define beauty, truth, virtue, etc. If we already know what these are, then there is no need to search for what these are. But we would have to be able to give a satisfactory account of them, and if we could not, this would prove that we in fact did not know. If we do not know what these are, then how will we recognize them when we find them?

Socrates (Plato) provides a theory of recollection: If the soul is immortal and has knowledge of the Forms from its existence apart from the body before birth, then our ignorance is more a matter of forgetting than of not knowing. This will allow us to squeeze in between the two hindrances to knowledge (knowing and not knowing). In one sense, we will not know what the Forms are because we have forgotten. But in another sense, we will know what the Forms are since the knowledge is just hidden in us and only needs to be drawn up. Thus Socrates gives us a third option in the search for knowledge. We cannot search for what we know, or for what we do not know, but we can search for what we have forgotten.

I reject this theory entirely because I don't believe in a soul. However, I cannot seem to figure out or answer the paradox either. We may be able to solve the problem by appealing to some innate ideas that we possess but are not really aware of. The analysis of these innate ideas may give us access to important knowledge. If we are willing to admit our ignorance, we are faced with the problem of recognizing the truth when we find it. How will we recognize it? Perhaps there are innate ideas that will tell us when we have found it...?
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Rezzealaux
Posts: 2,251
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9/20/2009 10:12:43 AM
Posted: 7 years ago
My initial response was a half-disagreeal, because I think people can search as long as they know what they are looking for. Your second post clarifiied it a little, saying
If we already know what these are, then there is no need to search for what these are.
which wasn't exactly how I approached the question. I think I have a slightly better view of what you're asking now, but I still don't really know ;)

Though I've never heard the question phrased as such, I have found a "solution" to it that has adequately satisfied by curiosity:

The first concepts learned (I don't buy Socrates' Forms either) are all physical and auditory. There is a vague definition by pointing or presenting an object, and then there is a person saying a sound, or the name of that object. After a (long) while of learning concepts based on physical/auditory, patterns can then be formed: "green" is something all these items have, there are "one" of each item, etc. The "higher" and more "conceptual" (intangible) concepts are all based on the physical/auditory. It's kind of like one of those web thingies.

There are certainly concepts that I can't track through those though. Morality and Justice would be two big ones. Every time someone employed (talking about when I first learned these two concepts) one of those words, each and every single instance would be at odds with every other. There's no pattern! How the hell do I figure anything out!?!!! I mean, people don't do that with the concepts "green " or "one". Hell, people don't even do that with "truth". Anyways.

Your mentioning of the Forms really made me realize something: people still have that kind of ideal. Like, I don't believe in them consciously and I say I reject them, but the more I think about how I approach truth, the more similar its approach looks in relation to the Forms. I'm pretty sure many other people do as well.

What I mean is, isn't asking the question of "how do we know when we get there" or "how do we know when we have it" assuming that such a thing does exist?

I believe, or at least I believe I believe, that all definitions are based off of experience, and since definitions are not only used to approach concepts but dictate their meaning as well (reason for language barriers), there's no real way to "know" when you have gotten to any particular concept, as each and every experience takes part in defining what you think is any and every particular concept.
: If you weren't new here, you'd know not to feed me such attention. This is like an orgasm in my brain right now. *hehe, my name is in a title, hehe* (http://www.debate.org...)

Just in case I get into some BS with FREEDO again about how he's NOT a narcissist.

"The law is there to destroy evil under the constitutional government."
So... what's there to destroy evil inside of and above the constitutional government?
Kleptin
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9/20/2009 10:23:27 AM
Posted: 7 years ago
It depends on what you are looking for.

Generally, our method of searching for things does encounter this paradox.

1. The existence of something is discovered, but the characteristics unknown.
2. The thing is studied, and new information is gathered.

In this situation, we don't have to search for anything that we know the answer to, because the discoveries will be novel.

The problems occur when the existence of something is questionable to begin with.

For example: God, fairies, ghosts, spirits, vampires, etc.

We "know" characteristics of these things, but we're unsure as to the actual existence of them. Meno's paradox applies to this situation well. It indicates that we should not be searching for things if we are even 1% unsure of the existence of them.

The only other possible condition of learning in which Meno's Paradox exists, is when the characteristics of something are debatable. In this situation, we can say that for all intents and purposes, the existence is called into question as well.

Examples are Beauty, morality, justice, etc.

I don't buy into the crap about a world of ideals. That's a cop out for not being able to explain things.

Beauty, Morality, and Justice do not inherently exist, but we experience them as if though they do. They are illusions of the human species, because our senses don't always dictate that something is objectively real. In thinking of beauty, each individual person has a different picture in his head. It is subjective, and has no objective, physical correlation in the real world.

Thus, we encounter Meno's paradox when we try to search for an objective truth where an objective truth does not exist. Another illustration that this Meno guy was pretty smart.

In short, the only times in which we should focus on searching out information, is when we are positive of the existence of something, because in that situation, we can study its characteristics without the prior knowledge of what characteristics it may have.
: At 5/2/2010 2:43:54 PM, innomen wrote:
It isn't about finding a theory, philosophy or doctrine and thinking it's the answer, but a practical application of one's experiences that is the answer.

: At 10/28/2010 2:40:07 PM, jharry wrote: I have already been given the greatest Gift that anyone could ever hope for [Life], I would consider myself selfish if I expected anything more.
Kleptin
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9/20/2009 10:24:52 AM
Posted: 7 years ago
Edit:

Generally, our method of searching for things does NOT encounter this paradox.
: At 5/2/2010 2:43:54 PM, innomen wrote:
It isn't about finding a theory, philosophy or doctrine and thinking it's the answer, but a practical application of one's experiences that is the answer.

: At 10/28/2010 2:40:07 PM, jharry wrote: I have already been given the greatest Gift that anyone could ever hope for [Life], I would consider myself selfish if I expected anything more.
Danielle
Posts: 21,330
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9/20/2009 11:12:54 AM
Posted: 7 years ago
I don't reject the idea that evolution alone has allowed for us to have
some sort of internal knowledge. For instance, we have the basic
instinct for survival and our bodies do great things for us, i.e. nerve
receptors to alert us via pain when we touch something hot, etc. As far
as answering the paradox goes, JBlake came up with something good:

We must first locate a problem, then seek the answers of it through
research (and the scientific method). The problem is, how do we find the
question to be asked? Well, one way is by simply observing our
surroundings. Another way that I believe is by contemplation. Socrates'
own example provides evidence for this. How would Socrates have the
knowledge of the question but for contemplation? His curiosity on the
matter shows that we are indeed capable of finding questions through
contemplation. Once we have located a question we move to answering it
as outlined before, using logic and reason.

Obviously I am against any way of thinking that attributes absolute
answers to the paranormal, deities, etc. I agree with JBlake that through
contemplation (wonder) or noticing problems we can begin to find practical
solutions using the scientific method. I am also obviously against using only
the empiricist way of thinking: That all of our knowledge comes from experience.
That is simply BS.

To conclude, I really appreciate this Ayn Rand quote about Virtue
(since that's what Socrates was trying to understand in the play) --> Man has
a single basic choice: to think or not, and that is the gauge of his virtue. Moral
perfection is an unbreached rationality—not the degree of your
intelligence, but the full and relentless use of your mind, not the
extent of your knowledge, but the acceptance of reason as an absolute.
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Ragnar_Rahl
Posts: 19,297
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9/20/2009 1:07:53 PM
Posted: 7 years ago
The paradox is the fallacy of equivocation. Knowledge that tells you what subject field seems to have a pattern that relates to what you're looking for is not necessarily sufficient knowledge to no longer need to look for it. "I know x" or "I do not know x" is not a binary choice. "I know some attributes of x but not others."
It came to be at its height. It was commanded to command. It was a capital before its first stone was laid. It was a monument to the spirit of man.