Recollection and Guessing

Plato, in his Meno and Phaedo, presents an interesting idea about learning. He says that our soul (which was created before we were born, and is in fact immortal – I’m using the singular because it seems to me that Plato’s view implies everyone shares the same soul) already knew everything, but forgot it when we were born, and so when we learn something we are actually “recollecting” it, rather than discovering it.

This seems somewhat arbitrary, but he does have a reason for it – it solves the paradox of learning. Basically, if we already know about X, we can’t learn about X, and if we don’t already know about X, how can we begin to learn about it, since we don’t know what it is? This wouldn’t be a problem if everything we know came from someone telling it to us, but clearly we discover things on our own, so… anyway, the idea of recollection solves this.

But I wonder if this idea of recollection is actually valid. After all, we don’t learn about something on our own by suddenly saying, “oh, I just remembered X is the case”. Instead, we will say, “I wonder if X is the case?”. Then we will investigate the matter, and either say “X is indeed the case”, or “X is not the case”. In other words, we learn by guessing and then investigating our guesses and determining whether they’re true. In Plato’s terminology, we move from ignorance, to opinion, then either to knowledge, or back to opinion (if our guess was false)…

Really, this seems like a somewhat obvious objection. Why doesn’t Plato consider this?

Anyway, I don’t have a guess, just thought I’d throw this out there. This also does a decent job of explaining why I write “speculation” posts – I’m guessing, and I don’t yet know whether I’m right or not. That’s how we come to knowledge.


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