An analysis of Plato’s logic in the Socratic dialog called the Meno

by Michael Kelly, H.W.

  The following is an analysis of Plato’s reasoning in “The Meno.” It’s the bare bones of a 30 min. lecture on this topic from a course I purchased from The Teaching Co. called Tools of Thinking, by Prof. James Hall. To be clear, the lecture was not about the Meno itself, but about how Plato used the basic tools of memory, reasoning, and intuition. And further, this is part one; in part two Prof. Hall discusses some problems with Plato’s thinking in the full scope of the tools we have available.

          As I listened to Prof. Hall, I became more and more amazed at the syllogistic quality of Plato’s reasoning because on the surface Plato’s basic theory of how we know anything about reality sounds absurd to me. The very short version is that all knowledge (by definition, of reality, or the Forms, or, e.g., virtue, which is what the Meno is about) is remembering. The soul is the source, and what we remember is the knowledge of the soul as it existed in a non-corporeal form prior to birth. In short, the soul has access to Forms and the body doesn’t. This is illustrated in Plato’s “Cave” allegory: all we corporeal beings (in the cave) have direct access to are the shadows of reality (on the walls of the cave).

          One aspect of the analysis, and the reason for posting it to students of The Prosperos, is how it struck me as being similar to but not the same as Thane’s reasoning in Translation class. I feel that it is instructive for a student of Translation to notice what is different about Translation in comparison with Plato’s reasoning as presented by Prof. Hall. I think that this could almost be a class in itself!

          Here are the terms of an argument:

A. Premise: The appearances of things do change.

B. Premise: The essences of things don’t change.

C. Inference: Therefore, the essences and the appearances of things are not the same.

D. Premise: The reality of things resides in their essences, not in their appearances.

E. Inference: Therefore, reality is unchanging, or what does change is not reality.

F. Premise: Appearances are all that we have sensory access to.

G. Inference: Therefore, we do not have sensory access to reality.

H. Inference: Therefore, the senses cannot supply the content for our thoughts about reality.

I.   Inference: Therefore, the content of our thoughts about reality must be supplied in some other way.

J.   Metaphysical proposal or inference: Perhaps reality lies in a world independent of the world of appearances—a world of the Forms or a world of ideas—a world that is directly and intuitively accessible to the mind, to cognitive souls that are free of bodily encumbrances and distractions such as sensory experience.

K. Inference: Therefore, given the metaphysical proposal in J., and, if there is a preexisting, non-embodied intellect, then it could acquire knowledge of reality.

L. Inference: If that is the case, then embodied humans’ thoughts about reality, when and if they occur, could rely on their memory of being a non-embodied intellect, and thus use what their minds already know.

In anyone is interested, the text of the Meno can be downloaded from:  http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/meno.html.

–Michael Kelly, H.W.

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