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Socrates: "I have heard from wise men and women who told of things divine..."

Mar 22, 2009 12:54 PM
by Bill Meredith

    Socrates:  I understand the point you would make, Meno.  Do you see what a captious argument you are introducing--that, forsooth, a man cannot inquire either about what he knows or about what he does not know?  For he cannot inquire about what he knows, because he knows it, and in that case is in no need of inquiry; nor again can he inquire about what he does not know, since he does not know about what he is to inquire.
    Meno:  Now does it seem to you to be a good argument, Socrates?
    Socrates:  It does not.
    Meno:  Can you explain how not?
    Socrates:  I can;  for I have heard from wise men and women who told of things divine that--
    Meno:  What was it they said?
    Socrates:  Something true, as I thought, and admirable.
    Meno:  What was it?  And who were the speakers?
    Socrates:  They were certain priests and priestesses who have studied so as to be able to give a reasoned account of their ministry; and Pindar also and many another poet of heavenly gifts.  As to their words, they are these:  mark now, if you judge them to be true.  They say that the soul of man is immortal, and at one time comes to an end, which is called dying, and at another is born again, but never perishes.  Consequently one ought to live all one's life in the utmost holiness.

            For from whomsoever Persephone shall accept
            requital for ancient wrong, the souls of these she
            restores in the ninth year to the upper sun again;
            from them arise glorious kings and men of splendid
            might and surpassing wisdom, and for all remaining
            time are they called holy heroes amongst mankind.

     Seeing then that the soul is immortal and has been born many times, and has beheld all things both in this world and in the nether realms, she has acquired knowledge of all and everything;  so that it is no wonder that she would be able to recollect all that she knew before about virtue and other things.  For as all nature is akin, and the soul has learned all things, there is no reason why we should not, by remembering but one single thing--an act which men call learning--discover everything else, if we have courage and faint not in the search; since it would seem, research and learning are wholly recollection.  So we must not hearken to that captious argument: it would make us idle, and is pleasing only to the indolent ear, whereas the other makes us energetic and inquiring.  [...]

from MENO by PLATO; THE PHILOSOPHER'S HANDBOOK, Edited by Stanley Rosen, Random House, 2000; pp416-417


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