Socrates and Meno: Learn More or Remembering?

In this short dialogue between Socrates and Meno, the main topic of discussion seems to be whether or not we, as humans, continue to “learn more,” as Meno puts it, or “remember,” as Socrates claims. Socrates is arguing that as humans go through life and are presented with certain questions and predicaments, we do not necessarily always “learn more,” but instead we solve these things by “remembering.” What Socrates means by this is this is that we are not constantly solving or overcoming obstacles in life by learning new methods of doing so, but rather we go back into what we know based on experience and solve them in that way. Socrates even takes it a step further and claims that “finding things out” and “learning” are one and the same with “remembering.”┬áTo illustrate the point that he is trying to make towards Meno, Socrates asks him to bring over one of his slaves to show a demonstration.

Socrates starts out his demonstration by asking the slave what a square is and the slave, being “home-bread,” as Meno puts it, understands easily what a square is. He then asks him if he knows that each side of the square and the angles have to be the same and the slave answers to this as well. Socrates then asks him what the area would be if the sides were both two feet long, and the slave does not understand at first. However, after Socrates further illustrates the area the slave fully understands. Socrates then asks him what the area of the square would be if it were twice as much, and the slave tells him eight square feet. After confirming the slaves answer, Socrates asks a seemingly obvious question being that if you wanted to double the area, wouldn’t you simply double the sides? The slave answers yes thinking that he is fully correct, but after Socrates further explains the outcome the slave then realizes once again that he is wrong and that the area would be four times the original square. Finally, Socrates asks the slave if it would be eight square feet if he drew lines connecting all of the midpoints of the sides making a square in the middle. After they both analyze the picture further, the slave realizes that it would in fact be eight square feet because if you take all four triangles that make up of half of the four squares that make up the sixteen square foot square, it equals half of that, being eight square feet.

Socrates demonstrates his point towards Meno throughout his illustration by showing him that he only ever asked the slave questions, and after thinking through the process of the squares and their areas, the slave was able to figure out the answers on his own, or as Socrates puts it, “his own opinions,” and without being “taught.”

 

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