I promised myself I would respect the argument purported to show the immortality of the soul, but I can't help being whimsical in explaining it's bogus.
Socrates' argument is like Abbot and Costello meet Frankenstein. The Baron is said to make the dead live. He needs Wilber's brain to get it done. Yet, going along with this plot device entails suspending our disbelief. Yeah, you can't sew moldy body parts together, add electric shocks, and get life. The presumption is presumed harmless, so we let it pass.
Going along with Socrates' plot device is not harmless. It runs roughshod over our objections, expressed by Meno, that the dead can't do anything, and buys our commitment to his dubious claim that the dead can walk with the promise of immortality and other sweets.
Look at the relevant portion from the Meno,
Socrates: ...As to my being a torpedo, if the torpedo is torpid as well as the cause of torpidity in others, then indeed I am a torpedo, but not otherwise; for I perplex others, not because I am clear, but because I am utterly perplexed myself. And now I know not what virtue is, and you seem to be in the same case, although you did once perhaps know before you touched me. However, I have no objection to join with you in the enquiry.
Meno: And how will you enquire, Socrates, into that which you do not know? What will you put forth as the subject of enquiry? And if you find what you want, how will you ever know that this is the thing which you did not know?
Soc. I know, Meno, what you mean; but just see what a tiresome dispute you are introducing. You argue that man cannot enquire either about that which he knows, or about that which he does not know; for if he knows, he has no need to enquire; and if not, he cannot; for he does not know the, very subject about which he is to enquire.
Men. Well, Socrates, and is not the argument sound?
Soc. I think not.
Men. Why not?
Soc. I will tell you why: I have heard from certain wise men and women who spoke of things divine that-
Men. What did they say?
Soc. They spoke of a glorious truth, as I conceive.
Men. What was it? and who were they?
Soc. Some of them were priests and priestesses, who had studied how they might be able to give a reason of their profession: there, have been poets also, who spoke of these things by inspiration, like Pindar, and many others who were inspired. And they say-mark, now, and see whether their words are true-they say that the soul of man is immortal, and at one time has an end, which is termed dying, and at another time is born again, but is never destroyed. And the moral is, that a man ought to live always in perfect holiness. "For in the ninth year Persephone sends the souls of those from whom she has received the penalty of ancient crime back again from beneath into the light of the sun above, and these are they who become noble kings and mighty men and great in wisdom and are called saintly heroes in after ages." The soul, then, as being immortal, and having been born again many times, and having seen all things that exist, whether in this world or in the world below, has knowledge of them all; and it is no wonder that she should be able to call to remembrance all that she ever knew about virtue, and about everything; for as all nature is akin, and the soul has learned all things; there is no difficulty in her eliciting or as men say learning, out of a single recollection -all the rest, if a man is strenuous and does not faint; for all enquiry and all learning is but recollection. And therefore we ought not to listen to this sophistical argument about the impossibility of enquiry: for it will make us idle; and is sweet only to the sluggard; but the other saying will make us active and inquisitive. In that confiding, I will gladly enquire with you into the nature of virtue.
The Meno offers Socrates' argument that, despite Meno's objections about the meaninglessness of logical arguments, they do have meaning. They can do their job. Socrates' argument has prevailed and most philosophers reject the thrust of Meno's Paradox. I want here to present what I take to be the Teacher's argument in Meno's favor.
The Teacher's support comes out of his concern for the effectiveness of words as a way to bring about the "Kingdom of God" on earth. Socrates rivaled the Teacher's efforts and was determined to destroy words as an effective tool that could be used against the powerful. Socrates saw words as impediments to the powerful getting what they need. In the hands of the weak, words can be used to keep the powerful from getting what they need to survive or be free from want and suffering.
The issue between the Teacher and Socrates has been what they offer as the correct account of knowledge and value. Conflicts can only be resolved, argues the Teacher, based on knowledge and values. Therefore, effective words are the only thing that can bring people together. Socrates believes words are a detriment to what he takes to be the meaning of life. Basically, Socrates believes that swords are more powerful than words in assuring these goals. The powerful rely, therefore, on violence, stealth, and deceit, instead of words.
To support the powerful, Socrates offers an account of knowledge and value that pretends to help people make decisions and resolve conflicts, but, like the Trojan Horse, is really a platform for the dismemberment of the weak and their words. That account claims knowledge and value are a matter of either logical or rhetorical argument, but not both, where for Socrates, it's about logic.
The Teacher and Socrates have divergent views about what they need to be doing, but their argument comes out of a controversy about the world. It is mysterious and dangerous place because people do not agree about how to divide it up, what's important, or what should be done.
Given such confusion, we appeal to argument to clarify the world. We do this because argumentation seems useful that way.
The debate between the Teacher and Socrates is about how we should understand argument. The Teacher's account intends to make our arguments open to inspection. Therefore, he makes argument a matter of contending points of view, where the claims made, the support offered by the arguer, and the claims that can be made about one's rivals must be stated to be effective. On the other hand, Socrates advocates the view that knowledge and value are a matter of logical argument because so much of how logical arguments work can be left unstated.
Socrates argues that the Teacher's arguments are themselves mysterious. They are tainted with rhetoric and the muddiness of wants and desires. So to do a better job of resolving the conflicts and getting things done that is so important to Socrates' audience, he argues we need to appeal to logical arguments. They are reasonable, where the Teacher's arguments are not.
The Teacher can argue that Socrates has never supported his position with an argument that could stand up to close scrutiny. For example, Socrates argued that Euthyphro had no reason to think that justice for his father would have been a matter of giving him a chance to defend himself from accusations of murder - except the claim that it was an act of piety. Socrates pretended that Euthyphro's action was based on hero worship. This mischaracterized both Euthyphro and the Teacher who argues that such an understanding of justice, as with knowledge and values, in general, is based on his account that they are a matter of contending points of view.
Meno raises the question whether anything can give the terms of logical arguments meaning. Meno takes Socrates to think that it is only with an understanding of what virtue itself is , or any other thing that Socrates has asked about, that one is capable of recognizing a particular instance of it. Without such an understanding, Socrates could go looking and not be able to recognize whatever it was even if he ran into it on the street.
Furthermore, if the terms of his logical arguments have no meaning, and it's by the reason of these logical arguments that we make clarifications, then Socrates' will have ruined anyone's effort to understand the world and resolve conflicts.
The issue between the Teacher, who argues on behalf of Meno, and Socrates, is what accounts for the meaning of the terms of logical arguments.
The Teacher argues that logical arguments can only be understood in relation to rhetorical arguments, in the same way that "up" cannot be understood without relating it to "down," or "right" without its relationship to "left." Given that Socrates argues that knowledge and value can only be understood in terms of logic, he has made what we are interested in completely confused and irretrievably meaningless.
Socrates supports his own position. To concede to Meno that the terms of logical arguments could never have meanings would risk exposing his entire argument as an effort to destroy words for the benefit of the powerful - and face his audience's rejection.
He supported his position with the claim that it only seems that the terms of logical arguments are meaningless because Meno and others consider them out of context.
In order to float the claim that the terms of his arguments are meaningful, Socrates insists are just words. Words that can be found in the Teacher's arguments get their meaning in context. And so, as the terms of logical arguments are words too, then we should allow that they too have meanings when we see them in their contexts. In this way, Socrates argues that we should appeal to the nature of words to clarify his logical arguments.
The Teacher would here point out that Socrates is arguing in a circle. He is trying thereby to make the point that if we care about argumentation, and maybe ourselves and our loved ones, we would want to reject an argument that runs rough shod over us.
After all, Socrates has argued The Teacher's arguments are not worth considering for the job of understanding because, as he claimed, they have no legitimate basis, or they are dirty with rhetorical impurities. Yet, when it is pointed out by Meno that the terms of his own arguments are meaningless, he comes running to The Teacher and the nature of words to save his butt.
Socrates has to show by some argument that Meno and the Teacher are wrong about the meaninglessness of the terms of his arguments. They may claim that "virtue" will never have meaning on his view because his account pretends that things like "men" can be understood without relating them to "women," but they are wrong, and logic can be meaningful, but only when they and their terms are considered in context. The Teacher has to show that it's Socrates who has ripped "logic" out of the context it has with "rhetoric" and no amount of fancy contextualizing without recognizing that fact will do.
The Teacher can gain support for his claim that it makes no sense to talk about the contexts of logical arguments and their terms by listening to advocates of the distinction between logic and rhetoric.
Don Levi in Critical Thinking and Logic tells us Logic is traditionally thought to be averse to considerations of context. So, in his summary he says,
...to determine whether an argument has been given, you are told to consider whether the speaker or writer is engaged in an argument. By contrast, Logic has nothing to say about the need to consider whether any arguing is being done, whether the position taken is on a controversial issue. To properly read an argument, you need to take into account the audience being addressed, the point of view of the arguer, the issues that divide the arguer from his or her opposition. Nothing was said about the need to consider these aspects of the rhetorical context in the lessons of Logic. (Page 426)
The real issue between Logic and Rhetoric is over what is involved in appraising an argument. The rhetorical context may be important in reading an argument, but how is it important in appraising it? Take the question of the audience for the argument. For Logic, an argument is directed to someone whose only question is, "Given the premises, does the conclusion follow?" So there is no need to identify the audience. Or consider the question of point of view. For Logic, it does not matter why someone argues as he does, all that matters is whether his argument is any good. Or take the question of what is at issue between the parties to the controversy. For Logic, it does not matter whether there is any fight. All that matters is whether sufficient support is offered by the premises for the conclusion. So, rhetorical context does not seem to be relevant to the appraisal of an argument. (Page 427)
From Levi's discussion, we learn that context is not relevant to the consideration of a logical argument. Levi thinks logic has limitations, so he proposes that these problems of Logic might be solved by having arguers consider the contexts of logical arguments. So, he says,
A conflict between the two approaches can be avoided by having Logic take these rhetorical considerations into account. First, give a reading based on a study of the rhetorical context, then take that reading and restate it as an argument in strict form. By taking advantage of what Rhetoric has to offer, Logic would be in a position to combine the advantages of each approach. (Page 426)
Levi's discussion reflects his understanding of argument as provided by Socrates where knowledge and value are a matter of logical argument or rhetorical argument, but not both. By committing oneself to this argument, so that one has the dubious advantages of working with Logic, one agrees that "never the twain shall meet." Prof. Levi would like to have arguers consider the contexts of logical arguments. However, he provides no way to understand how an argument based on considering the rhetorical context could be restated as a logical argument. He too provides no way of pasting together what he has agreed with Socrates, according to the Teacher, we must tear asunder.
The Teacher can understand that people are driven to adopt the Socratic view of knowledge and value. We can look at the story of Gyges, and see for ourselves that opposing Gyges' rule would be risky. The weak would be pressured to go along with the claim that Gyges was only reasonable in what he did to assure his own survival and prosperity. We could see the wisdom of agreeing, considering how one could get killed or put one's family at risk for lifting one's lips up off his boots.
However, his sympathy will be limited by what one is committed to by going along with Socrates. So, we buy into his claim about knowledge and value being a matter of logic. We thereby agree to what follows along with it, including that knowledge and value would be impossible, argument would be futile, the terms of arguments would be meaningless, and life conceived as a matter of words would not be worth living. Given the temptation to commit oneself to the beginning of Socrates' argument, he could see the compelling argument to buy the end of it. But the end of it involves just those prospects most people cannot face and do not want.
Meno tries to point out that Socrates' argument ruins words. If Socrates argument is about words like "virtue," and we are to understand them on Socrates' account, that they are matters of logical argument, then they can have no meaning. They are dead, and there's no way that Socrates is going to make them walk again. If Socrates doesn't know the meaning of terms like "virtue," then he won't be able to look for their meanings. This argument has been called "Meno's Paradox," or the "Paradox of Inquiry."
S. Marc Cohen believes Meno's Paradox is a flawed argument. He tries to save Socrates from his just comeuppance. In order to undermine Meno, he reformulates his argument in the following way:
1. If you know what you're looking for, inquiry is unnecessary.
2. If you don't know what you're looking for, inquiry is impossible.
3. Therefore, inquiry is either unnecessary or impossible.
Cohen argues there is an unstated premise in Meno's argument, which is,
4. Either you know what you're looking for or you don't know what you're looking for.
He argues that Meno's argument, as presented by the writer of this dialogue, is flawed. He doesn't mean the same thing by "you know what you're looking for" in the two instances of it in the unstated premise number 4. Cohen thinks this phrase could mean either,
A. You know the question you wish to answer.
B. You know the answer to that question.
Meno means the first at one time and the second at another. Hence, he is guilty of equivocation.
Cohen claims Meno believes Socrates is looking for questions at one time and answers the next, and so Meno's Paradox has no credibility to affect Socrates. Cohen thinks Socrates would argue that he is not looking for questions one minute and answers the next. Socrates' argument should not be subject to Meno's paradox because Meno's argument itself is guilty of equivocation.
We should reject the way Cohen finds fault with Meno's Paradox .
First, if Meno was simply mistaking Socrates to be talking about questions at one point and answers at another, Socrates himself would have been in a position to point this out as the fault with Meno's attack. Socrates doesn't want to defend his argument by going into exactly what it says. This would raise the issue that Meno's complaint isn't about inquiry in general, but about whether Socrates can look for the meaning to the terms of his logical arguments. Meno is asking whether it's at all possible for him to find the meaning of "virtue."
Second, Cohen claims Meno's Paradox depends on the equivocating what he means by whatever it is he knows he's looking for. He claims premise (1) can only be true when we adopt sense (B). That is, If we know the answers then inquiry is unnecessary. Premise (2) can only be true when we adopt sense (A). That is, if we don't know the questions, then inquiry is impossible. Cohen claims that these premises do not lead to the conclusion because there is no one sense of "knowing what one is looking for" that will make both premises true at the same time.
Neither Cohen nor the writer of this dialogue formulated Meno's argument correctly. They made Meno's argument vague about Socrates project. According to the Teacher, Meno was pointing out that on Socrates' view, we do not know the meaning to the terms of his logical arguments. Socrates himself was following out the implications of his view by challenging everyone to give an account of things like "virtue."
Cohen makes Meno's argument into a statement about the broad issue of inquiry, in general, or just looking for things. Instead, his argument is about the specific problem of how anyone could look for the meaning of terms that, on Socrates' account of logical arguments, can have no meanings.
The Teacher might show that when we consider what Meno's argument would be if we allowed him to specify what it was we were inquiring about, Cohen's reformulation would not seem at all plausible. Meno's Paradox might go like this,
x. If you know the meaning of the terms of logical arguments, then looking for them is unnecessary.
y. If you don't know the meaning of the terms of logical arguments, then looking for them is impossible.
z. Therefore, looking for the meaning of the terms of logical arguments is either unnecessary or impossible.
The fact is, Meno does not imagine that Socrates has any concern based upon not knowing the question he wishes to answer, or the answer to some question. Meno imagines Socrates knows exactly what question he's asking, it's about the meaning to terms of his logical arguments, or what answers he's looking for, they would be the meanings to terms like "virtue."
The fact that neither Cohen or the writer of the Meno challenge the substance of Meno's Paradox reflects the fact that the issue between Meno and Socrates is just whether the terms of his logical arguments could have meaning. And Socrates, at least, doesn't want to examine that question.
Instead, he will argue that Meno has only considered the terms to his arguments out of context. Yes, the terms of logical arguments may seem to not have meaning, but only if one considered them out of context as Meno has done. When you consider their context, however, then you will see they do have meanings and how knowledge and value are, in fact, a matter of logical argument.
For Socrates, in the Meno, the context involved an account of the immortal soul and how learning about the terms of his arguments was really a matter of recollection.
Socrates chooses not to belabor his point about context because he was forced to speak of it to salvage his argument. According to the Teacher, Meno was correct to point out that when we understand what the nature of logical arguments entail, we see their terms could have no meaning. In the same way, the makers of Abbot and Costello meet Frankenstein want their audience to forget what being dead entails, so they can make the claim about the Baron's experiments plausible.
It's a desperate move argumentatively, because Socrates originally argued that we should use logical arguments to clarify stuff and things instead of appealing to what the Teacher had to offer. Socrates' account was so much more reasonable, precise, and clean of rhetorical impurities. To then confess that the Teacher was right all along about which account clarified things would have been giving up too much.
Socrates can make Meno quietly concede that he was wrong. His challenge is not seriously pursued. What is more important to Socrates, come to find out, is not reason and the pursuit of truth, but bribery and understanding the weaknesses of one's audience.
The implications of his claims involve all kinds of things which would make the lives of the powerful easier. They want nothing more than their subjects to themselves be committed to the idea that they could not know better than their rulers, or have better values, because, as Socrates teaches them, knowledge and values are impossible. It is to be wished that the mob believes arguments are futile, because then they cannot band together on the basis of arguments. And without being able to recognize the difference between something they care for and what they care nothing for, their lives aren't worth living to them, and they would have no reason to resist. So much for dissent.
In this context, the offer of a life after this one would seem the best one could ever hope for. The lives Socratics lead can be contrasted with lives they can hope for in a reality beyond their present horrid existences. And the powerful need not worry about revolt.
To this end Socrates offers his allegory of the cave and theory of forms to explain the relationship between what we experience and what really exists. It's the immortality and the promise of a world beyond that attracts people, after they have bought the part about logic that made everything rotten in the first place.
We can step away from Abbot and Costello meet Frankenstein and assure ourselves and our children that the plot point involved, that the dead can walk given dazzling science, is really implausible. The whole idea floats because we are made to forget about what "dead" means, and encouraged by the appearance of a complex scientific theory.
Socrates' audience doesn't step away from the Meno with the same assurance that dead words can't walk. They are made to forget what being a term of a logical argument really means. They are encouraged to buy the whole package leading to this offer of immortality because people don't want to understand complex philosophical arguments .
The Teacher tells us words may get their meaning in contexts, but the terms of logical arguments are not words, and were never meant to be.