Socratic Aporia: the Knowledge Behind Truth
While reading Five Dialogues by Plato, I came to a lot of dead ends in deciphering the conversations Socrates had with Meno and Euthyphro. Each conversation seemed like it was running in circles but I realized they were running in circles because the conclusion was difficult to define. Socrates counters statements that Euthyphro and Meno make with more questions and eventually they both give up. In Lecture 2, you wrote, “active interpretation of the cultural system into which we are flung by fate opens up new horizons of human possibility. The idea of active interpretation is what Socrates asks of Euthyphro and Meno. I believe that Socrates was born into a period when language and beliefs were questioned which is why he searched for the truth behind their knowledge. In the dialogue of Euthyphro, Euthyphro and Socrates debate over what it means to be holy. Euthyphro starts out with a basic definition by saying, “I say that the pious is to do what I am doing now, to prosecute the wrongdoer…not to prosecute is impious”. However, Socrates is unsatisfied with this definition because there are so many ways to be holy.
The discussion gets deeper when Euthypho tells him that what is holy is what is agreeable to the gods or what is approved by the gods. Socrates challenges these two questions by stating that the gods don’t agree or approve of the same things. I agree with Socrates on disagreeing with Euthyphro because he does not know what the gods agree or approve of. In fact, he believes those things because they were written down by poets or writers. No one actually knows what the gods agree on or approve of because no one has ever experienced it.
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In Lecture 6, you discuss the vast stories of Greek mythology and it is here that ideas of what the gods believe in are born. In the end, Euthyphro suggests that we give the gods sacrifices and they answer our prayers so being holy means to satisfy the gods. However, Socrates counters with saying that satisfying the gods means that you know what they approve of at which the conversation runs in a full circle. Previous to reading this section, I would say that being holy is listening to my parents and not doing anything illegal.
Now when I think of being holy, I cannot think of a good definition because my previous definition is in fact not being holy, it’s just conforming to society. Euthyphro and I have similar ignorance when it comes to what it truly means to be holy because our definition is simply repeating what someone else thinks. Socrates comes to the decision that nobody truly knows what it is to be holy. In the Meno dialogue, Socrates and Meno discuss the meaning of virtue and whether or not it can be taught.
For obvious reasons you cannot teach something you do not have knowledge of and it is at this point that Meno is compelled to give a definition. “If you want the virtue of a man, it is easy to say that a man’s virtue consists of being able to manage public affairs and in so doing to benefit his friends and harm his enemies and to be careful that no harm comes to himself; if you want the virtue of a woman, it is not difficult to describe: she must manage the home well, preserve its possessions, and be submissive to her husband. ” To start, Meno’s description of virtue is very one-sided and favors society’s idea of the male role.
I understand that the time of this dialogue is nothing like the times we are living in now but it is difficult to read that the virtue of a woman is so shallow. I believe virtue is conducting yourself in a moral and ethical way and to be moral and ethical by your own standards. Socrates denies Meno’s description and would deny mine because he thinks that justice is a virtue and as such you cannot use it to define the word. The dialogue concludes with Meno and Socrates stating that the world is confident in what it knows, but really, it doesn’t know anything about what it is so certain about.
The idea of Socratic aporia is that “moment where a misconception has been exposed, stripped away, and where a clean terrain now exists for the reconstruction of true knowledge” (Aporias, Webs, and Passages by Nicholas Burbules). Socrates challenges Meno and Euthyphro’s ideas on their previous notions of virtue and being holy so much that they realize there is no truth behind their knowledge. The idea of questioning the world’s most certain ideas make me realize that society goes through motions the same as the individuals before them without wondering why.