A MARGINAL NOTE ON THE MENO 'EXPERIMENT'
In many of my writings I strongly opposed the commonly sanctioned view (which we have Aristotle to thank for in the first place) that Socrates in his elenctic discourses aimed at reaching definitions. I have expounded and defended my unorthodox position throughout my writings but particularly in “The Socratic Elenchus” (Chapter Three of Plato: An Interpretation) and in “The Euthyphro as a Philosophical Work” http://www.philosophos.com/philosophy_article_101.html (also to be found on this blog). Here I wish merely to add the following marginal note:
Although in the Meno ‘experiment’ the boy in the end reaches a positive, true, answer, this does not contradict Socrates’ usual elenctic procedure. Up to 83e10 we have the common elenchus, leading to aporia, and at 84a2 the boy confesses: alla ma ton Dia, o Socrates, egôge ouk oida. But at this point Socrates had already moved from refuting to showing. He says to the boy: peirô hêmin eipein akribôs· kai ei mê boulei arithmein, alla deixon apo poias. — The significant phrase here is mê arithmein, alla deixon and Socrates goes on to help the boy to ‘show’ or rather to see. For, as Kant insisted, geometry rests on intuition, and I will venture – although here I am uncomfortably conscious that I am swimming out of my depth – that when mathematicians calculate (arithmein) for such a problem, they work backwards from intuition. So the boy in the ‘experiment’ is helped to look and see just as in the properly elenctic discourses the interlocutor is led to look within her/his own mind to behold the meaning sought after in the immediacy of active intelligence (nous, phronêsis) and realize that there is no other explanation than “It is by Beauty that all that is beautiful is beautiful” and that it is in vain to seek understanding in the objects of the phenomenal world.
D. R. Khashaba
Cairo, Egypt, August 1, 2007