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Theory of Recollection

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According to Socrates, the theory of recollection is that all knowledge is known from previous experience. His belief is that we already know everything and have known it since we were born, we simply recall these facts from memory when we re-learn them. It begins when Socrates seeks the true definition of virtue, and Meno wonders whether or not it is a trait that can be taught. Meno and Socrates have trouble getting to the root of the definition when Meno presents Socrates with a paradox. Meno asks Socrates, how can you search for something when you don’t know at all what the thing is? In such a situation how do you know even what to look for? Meno continues by saying that there is also no way to search for something that you already know, since you already have that knowledge. Socrates’ reply becomes known as the theory of recollection. Knowledge, he says, is innate, and what we call learning is really the recollection of facts once known but forgotten. To prove his point, Socrates questions an uneducated slave boy about a geometrical problems. Through further questioning the slave boy eventually answers correctly.

After questioning the boy, Socrates distinguishes between knowledge and true belief. He says inquiry without knowledge is possible if true belief is present. Recollection, as defined by Socrates, suggests the immortality of the soul and claims that we have all existed previously. Through previous being, our souls have learned everything there is to know. Without the idea the soul is immortal we can not have knowledge. Socrates also believes he has a disavowal of knowledge, meaning that he believes he has wisdom, but does not actually claim to know anything.

Socrates’ questioning of the slave boy shows that it is possible to discover without being taught, as in the example of the geometry proof that he didn’t already know. On the other hand, one can not conclude from this information that the theory applies to other sorts of knowledge, such as history or chemistry. Socrates would argue that he simply questioned the boy and never taught him, and although the slave boy does eventually get the right answer, Socrates, in a way, draws him closer to the correct answer through his questioning tactics each time the boy answers incorrectly. Ultimately, it can’t be said that virtue is an unteachable value because Socrates failed to prove his Theory of Recollection.



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