September 4, 2009

On Thursday and Friday we continued reading Plato’s ‘Meno’. Thursday featured the slave boy’s geometry lesson, the theory of learning as ‘recollection’, the idea that learning is prompted by questioning, and Socrates’s passionate belief that we are better off if we act as if finding answers is possible, rather than believing the opposite and just giving up. On Friday Socrates and Meno explored the question of whether virtue can be taught, and reached a tentative conclusion that Socrates immediately cast doubt upon by questioning the premises of their reasoning. At that point Anytus joined them.

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11 comments to September 4, 2009

  • gregs

    Okay, I am really beginning to see the TOK side of this because every idea that I get seems to have a counter-argument to disagree with it, I mean, I begin to think of an idea, but as I build on this idea, so many other thoughts come to mind and the original idea gets lost.

    The story however, seems to be very contradicting. Socrates especially, part 2 of the story starts with Meno asking ‘how can I learn something that I don’t know’. So Socrates teaches a slave boy. Here is the ironic part i think, Socrates shares his theory of recollection, where a person is only thinking about what he learned already, so doesn’t this prove Meno’s statement that people cannot learn if they don’t know it already. However, I do believe that Socrates taught the slave, the part where he questioned the slave about the three sided square, he answers wrong, and Socrates explains, here the slave is not recollecting but rather learning. So I am really puzzled how Socrates tries to disprove Meno’s statement but ending up supporting it by what he says, and at the same time, he disproves it in my personal opinion as he did teach the slave boy new things.

    During the end of the lesson on Friday, we began to talk about the newborn, where they are born with sin and do not understand. Therefore, as they grow, they must learn and do good. However, a bit earlier in the story, Socrates says that we will continue to live after this life to the next with the knowledge that we have accumulated, which is the reason why Socrates even bothers to teach and learn. With this idea, then shouldn’t the newborn know atleast some things instead of being completely blur to the world?

    This story shows many contrasting ideas which is why it is so TOK, nevertheless it is still a interesting story.

  • Sarah

    I find Socrate’s and the Neo-classical view of humanity to give humans less credit than they deserve. On the one hand, I don’t know If I would go so far as to say that I share the Romantic view of humanity, being, as Mr. MacKnight said, that we’re born “good” and that this good is either cultivated or turned sour. I THINK (Socrates would be proud) that I believe that we’re all born neutral, and that the “goodness” or “badness” we exude are the results of our experiences as we develop and grow. Then again, the Romanticists’ thoughts on being born “good” holds up its arguments fairly well.

    I believe this topic, for me anyway, has a lot to do with being against the belief that we’re all born as sinners– that thought just doesn’t settle.

  • riccardoa

    Now that was confusing!
    I am referring to both the mathematical problems that we went through and the conversation that Socrates and Meno had to find out if virtue can be taught. I had some trouble following their argument, but I could clearly tell the TOK side of all of this, and it turns out to be quite fascinating. It really got me thinking if virtue can be taught; and I’m not sure what to think. Personally I don’t believe that you can actually teach to someone “virtue”; but perhaps you can give them advice on things that they can do in order to be more virtuous.

    I’m now very curious to see what that Anytus guy is going to say! After all, this dialogue has turned out to be quite interesting!

  • andrewt

    Once again Socrates’ musings does not fail. In this lesson I found the topic of teaching rather intriguing, for if Socrates is right then the only way for a person to learn is by questions.

    On one hand I agree entirely with this. Just picture yourself sitting is a classroom with the lecturer at the front, giving off one of the most boring lecture topics in the world in that drone, monotonous voice that puts you to sleep faster than you could say ‘R.E.M.’. In asking questions, you stimulate you own interest, sieve fact from fiction and hopefully obtain that piece of information you were supposed to learn/recollect. Thus it only makes sense to ask questions frequently in order to gain knowledge, as Socrates puts it. However as perfect as that might sound, I still react to Socrates’ method of learning with a bit of negativity. In my opinion there is bold line that separates the world of philosophy and the world of reality. Though philosophy does create bridges of similarity to reality, I still regard the two aspects as different things.

    Put Socrates’ method in a world of differing students: personalities, culture, discipline etc., and there are bound to be a few flaws. For example, not every student is willing to shoot questions, as there is a risk of embarrassment. Embarrassed, that the question might have an obvious answer, putting the student in a label of stupidity and ignorance. Or worse, that one question could result in a whole load of questions for you to answer, which catches the student off guard, leaving them flabbergasted. One might say that not asking questions puts you in that position of stupidity anyway, but different people have different views upon the term ‘losing face’. From experience, I have seen that Asians are more sensitive to this compared to Westerners.

    In terms of culture, we see the myriad of differences in teaching styles, especially Asian and Western. It is typical in Asian culture for the student to remain quiet and attentive when the teacher is in mid-lecture, which is not only a method to handle humongous classes but to also instill discipline and listening skills. On the other hand, it is encouraged in Western culture for the student to constantly ask questions, in order to speed up the process of learning independently. As seen, Socrates’ method of question and answer learning might come as an issue with different types of students.

    Questions as a form of learning is an important tool every student should be able to use, but unfortunately not everybody is willing or has the skill or the courage to pop the simple question, which concludes my rant for today. I am very tempted to talk about the ‘sin’ topic, but why should I have all the fun?

  • huezinl

    As I was introduced to Socrates in my first week of full TOK, it came to me as no surprise that Socrates is considered the founder of philosophy or the greatest philosopher ever. One of the beautiful things about Socrates is the method he conveys his teachings. He is on a road to discovery, never truly developing a biased opinion of his musings but conveying ideas that he has deduced through his conversations.

    One of my favourite ideas which Meno and Socrates discuss is the idea of recollection. To recap, the key idea was that somewhere, somehow, we have all the knowledge that we know in our minds, hidden in the depths but when we ‘learn’, it is in fact a recollection of the knowledge that was previously present before. I think this idea is wonderfully far-fetched yet plausible at the same time. There are so many ways to disprove this concept yet, most unfortunately, we are not able to truly disprove this and deem it false. Our understanding of the anatomy of the brain remains vague and insufficient to make judgments of this nature but the fact that in the year BC, a man could make a statement which still puzzles us millenniums later is astounding.

  • savannahh

    Like Andrew, I was thinking about the Socratic method of teaching. Only, I had an entirely different reaction. Personally, I think that the Socratic method is fantastic. With carefully phrased questioning, it is possible for the student to come across the answer by themselves. As exampled by the conversation with the slave-boy, nothing was being spoon fed. Learning/Recollecting was a journey for the slave-boy, not him being picked up and plopped in some random place. The slave boy wasn’t told: Here’s the fact! If you don’t like it, sucks for you! But instead, he got to see and explore the fact, why it is the way it is. Socrates helped the slave-boy see WHY a square does not have 3 sides. I think, figuring out why something is the way it is, is very important in the learning process.
    Although, saying a square has 3 sides can be somewhat embarrassing. I’ll concede that point to Andrew. Just last year, I wrote that on a test, 2+2=3.987. Seriously. However, I stopped blushing long enough to figure out how I messed up on my geometry problem and how to fix my error. Being embarrassed not only gave me a thicker skin, but it made me solve my problem and gain some academic independance. It’s all good.

  • luken

    I have a question about the learning/recollecting thing. What about new things? My previous incarnations could not possibly have known about sub-atomic particles, right? So how could I ‘recollect’ about quarks and such, if it wasn’t even known previously?
    Also I don’t like how Socrates makes the slave boy ‘recollect’. All he has to do is say ‘yes’ or ‘it must be’, then make a guess when a question comes his way. Socrates seems to shepherd him towards each conclusion instead of actually teaching.

  • Luke

    Savannah, how did we both manage to post at exactly the same time?

  • Albert

    I have problem fallowing the “Meno” this week….since I am absent on the longer block. But still, base on Friday’s Lesson, I guess Socrates will soon prove that the rulers of countries and cities usually have no idea on how to rule their people……Which is still basically ture now XD

  • savannahh

    Luke- I saw that!
    It was probably due to sheer, awesome amounts of brain power.

  • Mr. MacKnight

    If you don’t like the weird picture next to your name in the comments, you can get your own, for free, here:



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