Kim Slawson

19990518 1700

Philosophy of Mind

Assignment #1

**A Separatist Piece**
In *Meno*, Plato implies a separation between the soul and
the body. His argument revolves around a slave boy whose lack of
having been taught geometry does not hinder him from deducing the
Pythagorean Theorem. His reasoning is that since the boy had
never had instruction in geometry or heard of the Pythagorean
Theorem, and yet was able to conclude that the hypotenuse of a
right triangle is equal to the sum of the squares of the two
sides (*i.e.*, a^{2}+b^{2}=c^{2}), the boy must
have *always* known the Pythagorean Theorem and everything
else that is supposedly "taught" as well.

I question not the proposed separation of body and soul, but
rather the proposition of knowledge that is innate and not
learned or realized through experience. It does, however, follow
that if the existence of such knowledge is disproved, Plato's
use of it to hypothesize the disjunction of body and soul is
challenged. I invite the motivated reader to extend my precepts
to respond to Plato's view that the body and soul are necessarily
separate.

It is my belief that the processes we call teaching and learning
are inextricably tied to each other. Where there is learning
there must be teaching. Furthermore, teaching can be done by a
third party "giving" the learner knowledge, by the learner
himself reasoning through a problem based on prior knowledge, or
by the learner's environment providing the learner new insight or
perspective. Thus, while it may appear that a student who gains
knowledge by reading a book does not have a teacher, the book has
presented new ideas (which incidentally, if they are to be
understood, must be somewhat based upon the reader's past
experiences) that enabled the student to reevaluate his view of
the world, incorporating new knowledge. In this manner, the book
has "taught" the student something new, and the student has
"learned" information that gives him a new world-view.

In the case of Socrates and the slave boy, the slave boy does not
(as Plato insists) intuitively know that the Pythagorean Theorem
is true; Socrates has instead cleverly taught it to him by
leading him with a series of directed questions. Therefore,
Socrates stimulated the boy with questions that led him to deduce
the Pythagorean Theorem (assuming prior knowledge of squares,
triangles, and the property of length). Had Socrates not done so,
it is unlikely that the boy would know of the Theorem's existence.
Socrates might argue that the boy would not *realize* he
knew the Theorem; I say this is functionally equivalent to the
boy not knowing the Theorem.

Given enough time and experience, one could discover everything
currently known to mankind by reasoning from first principles. As
impractical as this may be, it illustrates that what appears to
Plato to be innate knowledge "discovered" at the appropriate
time is in fact knowledge gained by deduction, experience, or
another's teachings.

There is nothing mysterious going on behind the scenes here.
Everything we know is based on things we learned earlier. There
is no innate knowledge present in our souls before we are born, no
learning without teaching. Plato's attempt to convince us
otherwise ignores Socrates' role as the slave boy's teacher and is
only an attempt at smoke-and-mirrors trickery.

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