27 August 2008

Platonic Issues

Today's discussion clarified a few things for me, though it also gave me a headache. We read an excerpt from The Meno. It's supposed to show that learning must be "remembering" things we already know. To understand this requires knowing a critical assumption made by Plato. Without that assumption, it just looks like a string of leading questions that mean nothing of the kind.

The critical assumption is that one cannot recognize a perfect form from an imperfect one. So the discussion is about an abstract, perfect square, but the visual aid is an imperfect diagram scratched into the sand. Since one cannot possibly abstract to a perfect square from such an imperfect aid, it must be that the imperfect square prompts one to remember the ideal form of a perfect square. Thus all learning is really remembering things forgotten from the world of forms.

Another example (and I can't remember right now if it was in the excerpt from the Phaedo or from the Republic) is of perfect equality. That we never actually observe two things that are perfectly equal or identical, so the notion must have been there already, waiting to be remembered. But it wouldn't take a whole lot to stumble onto that one. I mean, take two things that are almost alike (say off of an assembly line), note the minor differences and think, "Huh. Except for those, these things are alike." It's not too hard a step from there to think that if the minor differences are removed, they would be exactly alike.

But there's a much simpler idea: a thing is identical with itself. Also, think reflections. Especially if someone can't tell that there's a reflective surface and sees something with its reflection, he's going to think that he's seeing two identical things. Of course, Plato has issues with reflections as well... *sighs*

*stops rambling*

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