Monday, October 16, 2006

Spoonus: Conclusion

Spoonus: But I still doubt that our souls exist prior to birth. We could be given the knowledge at the moment of birth, as Simmias said.

Socrates: But at what other time do we lose it? Do we lose it at the very time we acquire it, or can you mention any other time? If those realities which my friends and I were always talking about exist (and we know with certainty here in the afterlife that they do), the Beautiful and the Good and all that kind of reality, and we referred all the things we perceived in the body to that reality, so the soul must exist before we are born.

Spoonus: But what if we do not forget our knowledge in the first place? Let us consider those things which are absolutely knowable: Justice, Beauty, Goodness, and the like. When does a person recollect what Justice is? When he is mature? Or does not even a child know? If children did not know what Justice was, would they be forever tattling on each other? And are not children drawn to that which we call Beautiful, and attempt to exemplify beauty in their artwork? And do not even infants know what is Good? Immediately after birth, a baby knows that his mother’s milk is good.

Socrates: What you say might be true, but can an infant demonstrate any knowledge of mathematics? Of course he cannot, because he has forgotten it, and has furthermore forgotten how to speak!

Spoonus: He might not know anything about the higher orders of mathematics, but he certainly knows what “more” and “less” are when he is fed. The difference between his knowledge and that of Pythagoras is in his ability to articulate his knowledge, or perhaps in the extent of the potential of his knowledge. By potential, I mean that which can come about, but which has not yet.

Socrates: Which is it? According to you, either he has full knowledge, and cannot articulate it, or he has potential knowledge, which seems to be no knowledge at all, but I am not sure which you mean.

Spoonus: I say it is both. I hope you are not weary of hearing about Meno’s servant, because I would like to refer to him once more. I submit to you that he, being given the knowledge at birth, was given full potential knowledge, contained somewhat like a full oak is contained in an acorn. However, he could not articulate it. As he grew up, he acquired the means of articulation. When you questioned him, the potential knowledge was realized in his mind, and became actual, verifiable knowledge which he articulated in response to your inquiries. So he had not forgotten it; it had merely not been actualized. Therefore, the articulation of his knowledge does not prove that he knew anything before birth, only that he had knowledge at birth. Therefore, one cannot prove that the soul is eternal.

Socrates: On the contrary, in this case you have only argued that the soul does not exist before birth, and have said nothing about the state of the soul after death. Have you read my other excellent proofs of the existence of the soul after death, such as the Argument from Opposites or the Argument of the Form? Look at it another way: if the soul does not exist after death as you have stated, how then is it that you are here in Elysium talking to me?

Spoonus: By Zeus, I don’t know! However, I have read your proofs, and it seems that since our souls will never perish, we should have adequate time to discuss them. We must also inquire as to how something could have a beginning, but no end, and furthermore, if the soul is given knowledge at its beginning, what or who gives that knowledge. What is rent like at the Tower of Cronos? Do you need a roommate?

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Spoonus, Part I

The Spoonus, also known as The Socratic Soul, is the most recently discovered Socratic dialogue. Spoonus was a student of Socrates (via Plato’s writings), and has recently died; his soul transmitted to the underworld. He wishes to question Socrates regarding the philosophy of the soul that Socrates maintained in life. Spoonus’s soul arrives in Elysium, where the soul of Socrates has resided since his execution, although he plans to move into the Tower of Cronos as soon as the Form of his Credit Check is processed (although in his case it is probably just a formality). Spoonus arranges to meet with Socrates before he leaves Elysium. Scholars disagree as to whether this is an account of the historical Socrates, or whether the writer, possibly Spoonus himself (or his reincarnated soul) is putting words in Socrates’ mouth.

SPOONUS: Hello, Socrates. It is indeed an honor to have an audience with you. I am sorry I am late; Charon did not have change for a drachma.

SOCRATES: You are outrageous, Spoonus. Have you come to converse with me about the journey hither? Or have you come to inquire of me, as Meno, Crito, and others did in life? Surely, as a soul freed from the body, you know everything, and there is no knowledge which I can impart to you.

SPOONUS: Perhaps there is. You once said that “we must at some previous time have learned what we now recollect.” If we learned before life what we recollect in life, we must have lacked knowledge before we learned it as souls, for to learn is to acquire knowledge, and how can one acquire what one already has? So perhaps there remains something I can learn even now. At the very least, help me to recollect the words you spoke in life.

SOCRATES: I will certainly attempt to do so.

SPOONUS: I am interested in your ideas about the soul. As I understand it, you once proved that the soul is eternal by demonstrating that a servant boy, who had no apparent knowledge of geometry, could arrive at a correct mathematical conclusion without any instruction at all. That is to say, the boy had knowledge which he had not been taught. If he had this knowledge, he must have known it before birth and forgotten it, but you helped him “recollect” it.

SOCRATES: What you say is true. In fact, all knowledge obtained in the body is recollection. For when men are interrogated in the right manner, they always give the right answer of their own accord, and they could not do this if they did not possess the knowledge and the right explanation inside them.

SPOONUS: So then, if men are not interrogated in the right manner, they might not give the correct answer?

SOCRATES: To speak of a right manner implies a wrong manner, so what you say might be true.

SPOONUS: Let us explore, then, the correct manner of interrogation. In questioning the boy, you asked him what the dimensions would be of a square with an area of eight feet, based on the knowledge of the dimensions of a square with an area of four. You said, “The side of this is two feet. What about each side of the one which is its double?” He replied, “Obviously, Socrates, it will be twice the length.” Clearly, he was incorrect. You questioned him further, he saw his error, and he arrived at the correct dimensions.

SOCRATES: It happened exactly as you say. I did not teach the boy anything, but all I did was question him.

SPOONUS: But as to the “correct” way of interrogation, you knew the correct answer, and so were able to ask him questions that aided his “recollection.” Did you not lead him in your questioning? Would you not say that the “correct manner” is merely that by which the knowledgeable leads the unknowledgeable, and is that not teaching?

SOCRATES: I did not lead him; I only asked him questions about what was true. He merely recollected things in order, from the more simple principles of linear doubling to the more complex principles of two-dimensional doubling.

SPOONUS: Yet if you had not known, or recollected, the answer yourself, would you not have been unable to interrogate him correctly? If someone who lacked knowledge, like Euthyphro, had questioned him, would it not have become apparent that the boy could not recollect the truth, and at best could recollect only part of it? And does it not seem that he “recollected” both truth and falsehood? As a student of Euthyphro he would have learned or recollected nothing wholly true. Therefore, you did teach him.

SOCRATES: On the contrary, whether I had continued questioning him or not, if the boy was philosophically inclined, he would have questioned himself, and demonstrated to himself the correct answer. He would have recollected it on his own without my influence, although it might have taken him some time. Therefore, all learning, whether under a tutor or on one’s own, is recollection. And if it is recollection, then knowledge exists in the soul before birth, and the soul is eternal. We must recollect what our souls know, however, because we forget it when we are born.