Volume 47, Issue 4, Winter 2009
Meno’s Paradox, the Slave-Boy Interrogation, and the Unity of Platonic Recollection
Plato invokes the Theory of Recollection to explain both ordinary and philosophical learning. In a new reading of Meno’s Paradox and the Slave-Boy Interrogation, I explain why these two levels are linked in a single theory of learning. Since, for Plato, philosophical inquiry starts in ordinary discourse, the possibility of success in inquiry is tied to the character of the ordinary comprehension we bring to it. Through the claim that all learning is recollection, Plato traces the knowledge achievable through inquiry back to our pretheoretical comprehension, showing not just that knowledge is in us, but that it is inchoate in the grasp of a property—akin to a concept—that enables us to speak and think about it ordinarily. Plato acknowledges in the Meno that a second step of argument, and a second application of Recollection, is needed to explain how knowledge comes to be inchoate in our ordinary grasp of a property. Though this second argument is provided most fully in the Phaedo, the evidence of the Meno is sufficient to outline Recollection as a two-stage theory of learning, beginning in ordinary speech and thought and extending, through philosophical reflection, to knowledge.