The following is the shitty paper I’m writing. I’m stuck… its suppose to be five pages but I’ve run out of interesting things to say on the topic of knowledge vs. correct opinion. FML.
Plato’s Meno acts as an important dialogue that illuminates our understanding of Socrates as a philosopher. With a reputation of the wisest man alive, Socrates continually asserted that his only wisdom was that he knew nothing. The dialogue taking place between Socrates and an aristocratic orator named Meno involves whether virtue can be taught, or whether it is something naturally innate in man. A pivotal point in the dialogue is reached when they try to determine if virtue is knowledge, or correct opinion. As one who claims to know nothing, Socrates goes out of his way to say there is a difference between right opinion and knowledge.
According to Socrates, correct opinion is something that is recollected and innate within people. As a demonstration of this recollection he gives Meno’s slave a geometry lesson. After an unsuccessful attempt to rely on his own opinion, the slave, with no formal education, was able to arrive at a correct opinion of the answer through the aid of Socrates questions. Socrates initially claims that “true opinion is in no way a worse guide for correct action than knowledge”. However, correct or true opinion does not require any reason why it is right, only that it is accurate. It only provides fleeting answers for right action and thought. Socrates compared correct opinion to that of runaway slaves. Because they are not tied down, they do not remain long. As long as they remain they serve their function, but as soon as they escape the man’s mind, they are not of much value. According to Socrates, these correct opinions are useless unless they are reinforced through repetition and anchored within the mind through experience (85). This is because knowledge retains justification, while opinion does not. In order to have knowledge, you must know why it is true and be able to relate it to experience.
After his demonstration with the slave boy to prove that correct opinion is within everyone, he immediately refutes that virtue is innate like correct opinion. He gives an example that if people were innately virtuous they would be rounded up and sold like slaves (89). In the end, Socrates asserts that knowledge can be taught, but that there are no teachers of virtue, so knowledge must not be virtue. As readers we are left in a puzzled.
When examining this dialog what struck me was the definitive distinction Socrates made between correct opinion and knowledge. As I read the passage it became obvious in why this was an important distinction. According to Socrates, virtue is a form, as described in the particular versus universal conversation with Meno (72). By examining a multitude of objects containing that form one is able to understand more fully that nature of the form. Correct opinion does not offer this inquiry to forms. Only knowledge does.
These passages regarding knowledge must have been important to Socrates for this reason alone. Critical opinion, while accurate and true, is only as good as long as it is correct and in your possession. Socrates stresses that these correct opinions are indeed fleeting. They are no good to a person if they are not tied down. Furthermore, correct opinion cannot explain itself. It has no means to reference itself. It is singular and stands alone. Knowledge, on the other hand, knows where it stands and is backed by logic and experience. However, as Socrates pointed out, all knowledge began as correct opinion that is repeated and reinforced through experience.
Perhaps what Plato intended to illustrate with this dialogue was the process of arriving at knowledge. To Plato, there was no higher form of truth than forms. These forms represented a quality that transcended the material world by imbuing a universal and recognizable essence in the most unrelated objects. Using Socrates, Plato’s intention was to show the necessary process that brought man from a state of recollecting correct opinions, to a place of knowledge.