It Is Curiosity That Leads To Knowledge Philosophy Essay

Often have I noticed in my school compound, posters hung and stuck, of all si

Plato presents Socrates’ views on the question whether virtue is knowledge and whether it can be taught in several dialogues, most notably in Meno. In this dialogue, Socrates makes many different arguments on the subject of virtue. These arguments include how virtue is defined and whether or not people can acquire it. He examines the ways that virtue can be attained; whether or not one is born being virtuous, whether virtue can be taught or it is another factor for virtues people have. In this essay I will focus on the question of whether virtue can be taught. Plato’s answer is that virtue cannot be taught. In this essay I will suggest that Plato could have framed the questions a bit differently, which would have probably given him a different answer. In particular I will argue that Plato might have done better to ask whether virtue could be learned instead of asking whether virtue can be taught.

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The Meno begins with Meno asking Socrates whether virtue can be taught. The argument then is drifted then to another question, what is knowledge. Then Meno proposed an interesting paradox: one can never find out anything new: either one knows it already, in which case there is no need to find it out, or else one does not, and in that case there is no means of recognizing it when found (Plato 1997, 80d-e.). In other words if one does not already know what arête (virtue) is, he can’t even search for it, because if he does not know what it is already, then even h he searches, he won’t be able to know when one has found it. Socrates suggests a way to solve this dilemma which is based on the Pythagorean view of the immortal soul. According to that notion, the soul, after the physical body dies, is reincarnated and thus never destroyed. If one can never acquire any new knowledge and at the same time it is obvious we are always learning new things, then it is be concluded that learning must be a matter of recollection of past life experiences and knowledge. In other words there is no such thing as teaching, but only remembering.

In the Meno he demonstrated with a young slave boy who apparently didn’t have any knowledge of geometry. By asking the young boy questions he managed to show that the boy had knowledge of certain mathematical theorems.

Meno asks again his original question, that is whether one can be taught virtue, or one gets virtue by nature or in some other way. Socrates consents to proceed but argues that they need a common ground due to the fact that neither of them can say at this point what virtue is. Then Meno is made agree that if virtue is not knowledge then it cannot be taught, and if a knowledge then it can be taught. He points out that one can teach something only if one knows what it is that he is teaching. Someone who does not know himself how to drive a car seems unlikely to be able to teach someone else how to. Socrates and Meno much agree that there is no one that truly knows what is meant by “virtue” and because of this reason cannot be taught.

According to Socrates, If virtue could be taught, we should be able to know not only those who teach it but also those who learn from them, which in truth we cannot easily do (Plato 1997, 96c). Socrates claims that teachers for horsemanship, medicine, etc. exist and everybody recognizes these as genuine teachers, whereas people don’t agree about whether the Sophists really do teach virtue. Socrates goes one to speak of Thucydides, who had two sons, neither of which was considered to be virtuous. However, it is said that Thucydides educated his children in many different disciplines, but it seems that he could not find a teacher of virtue even though he found teachers for other aspects of life he found valuable. He could not teach it himself either, even though he himself was known to be virtuous. Therefore it seems virtue cannot be a form of knowledge. In order for something to be knowledge, someone must be able to teach it to others. Socrates concludes that virtue cannot be taught and that there is no means or method by which virtue can be acquired. Virtue is simply “shown as coming to us, whenever it comes, by divine dispensation” (reference?)

In my view, if Plato had framed the questions somewhat differently, he might have gotten a different answer. That is Plato could have better asked whether virtue could be learned instead of asking whether virtue can be taught. What I mean to say is that asking whether one can be taught something entails that the relationship of a student and a teacher, whereas asking whether something can be learned implies only that there is a student (whose life experiences might be said to be a “teacher.”) For example, to ask whether I was taught geometry is to ask whether a teacher taught me geometry. Whereas to ask whether I learned geometry is simply to ask whether I learned it, whether or not I was taught it by a geometry teacher or learned geometry myself either from (let’s say) a book or by some other means.

Learning can come in various forms. In order to learn something, one does not require a teacher in the strict sense. For instance, learning can be achieved from studying people who have virtue and yet the latter may not be aware that they are studied. So a man may be learning virtue, and his “teachers” may be virtuous, even though the teachers might not even be alive. Another form of learning is experience. Virtue may be learned through personal experience. In this example, the “teacher” would be both life experiences and the reflective nature of the learner. There is still another form of learning. A man can learn, even if he cannot offer an explanation of how he learned or of what he exactly knows. For instance, after someone has been through a particular problem in his life, he can then detect that a relative of his is going through the same problem. And although he can know it, he cannot give an explanation of how he recognized it. Another example is that of the musicians or painters who have learned their craft and are able to perform well, but find it almost impossible to give an explanation of what they have learned.

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So the question whether virtue can be taught is a much different, and narrower, than whether virtue can be learned. Plato is right in suggesting that virtue cannot be taught. I believe that we all know or have heard of people who recite “rules” of virtue (such us ‘be compassionate’ or be ‘honest’,) but find it impossible to put them into practice. Certainly in this sense virtue cannot be taught. A mentioned above, having the ability to be virtuous is like having the ability to be musical, which is to some extent instinctual. So, for example, it could be argued that knowing when, for example, to offer help to a friend when he needs it, is a matter of instinct or judgment.

All of this means that although virtue may not be taught, this is not to say that virtue can’t be learned. Plato suggests the notion that virtue is inborn. Certainly this is to some degree true. There are some people with an exceptional capacity for virtues like compassion, etc. since they were born. Yet others look as if they are born with little to no moral conscience, which seems to be necessary for virtue to exist. However what this means is just that the foundation of virtue is inborn, not that it can’t be learned.

In the same way that we comprehend the fact that one can be preached how to be virtuous but fail to be virtuous in practice, the converse is also possible: people can refine the ways they understand virtue, they may become more virtuous by reflective practice, and their views of how to act in a virtuous way changes significantly as they grow up. In my view, if Plato put his questions in a different way (that is if he had asked whether virtue can be learned, instead of whether virtue can be taught) he might have found a much more affirmative answer.



zes shouting out “Never be afraid to ask questions” followed by a fully fledged song about the importance of asking questions in class. It is obvious that we wouldn’t bother even remember having seen the poster, hadn’t the principal of our school taken the initiative of announcing that there is such a poster put in every class…

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But my point here is not about our initiative to read the poster, but to understand why it has been put. Rather why it has been posted in every grade of the school, starting from nursery itself? What is so special about asking questions day in and day out without reason?

I asked my teachers, of every stream and subject, my parents, and they had just one final baseline for and answer… ‘Without questioning, you will never learn. It is curiosity that leads to knowledge.’ ‘Now, how would curiosity lead to knowledge?’- I asked myself. I did get an answer immediately saying-‘why it shouldn’t? What happens when you get stuck in a question which is a little wayward from your syllabus course? If you had the courage to question in class without feeling embarrassed about it, the teacher would surely have found a way of combining two or more formulas which would solve it, and a barrier would be broken, for now you would have gained the knowledge if tackling such sums and they are of no stress anymore…’

Now if we look at it at the example through the theory of knowledge point of view, we would now be discussing the area of knowledge of human sciences, as relating the typical human behavior of curiosity and doubt, with the relationship of gaining knowledge by breaking this psychological barrier of doubt, or sometimes, realizing the wrong results that might have protruded with the same mannerisms of doubt. In other words we would be dealing with the following knowledge issue:

“How does our approach towards knowledge affect the enhancement of knowledge?

Taking the example discussed in the previous page for instance. I DOUBTED the problem, in other words I couldn’t relate my knowledge to the problem, which is a common human behavior. Whilst I would never ask to the teachers or in class due to sheer concern about my status among my environment being snatched away from me; this being my APPROACH towards my doubt. Hence if my approach towards the doubt is negative and conserved in nature form the very first step, how am I supposed to gain knowledge to tackle the doubt? ….

This is similarly applicable to not only a personal level but also in the wider perspective of the real world. If we look through the pages of past events, happenings, whether the event be a cause for social reform, or the evaluation of more knowledge towards understanding the physics of the world, both have evolved from some approach towards existing knowledge. It is a very general point for observation, that no knowledge is evolved until the existing knowledge isn’t questioned. We never understood the formula of E = mc2 in grade six, until and unless when we get the chance to studying the chapter of detailed radioactivity in grade twelve, where we learn that ‘m’ stands for mass defect and ‘c’ stands for speed of light. This leads to another question of the derivation of the formula, which we learn about in college…and so on…

What I meant to say through the first example is that when we approach an elementary knowledge and bring it to analysis, is when we start to learn more about the knowledge, which we perhaps never dreamt of learning, and then again another approach to the same knowledge, and another enhancement; this chain is endless…

If we learn about the milestones in sciences, such as foundation of Newtonian physics and the evolution of gravity, have all rise from the fact that Newton doubted the apple that fell over his head, and wondered how objects jerk forward, when stopped from motion.

Scientists like Nicolas Copernicus and Galileo too, doubted the system of the Earth, reason being that their processed knowledge form their environment that time went against their ethics. Thanks to them that we do not consider Earth as flat anymore…

Even looking into the field of human sociology, it has always described humans as “the only way a human differentiates itself from the animal kingdom, is their ability to think and reason”. The only reason we see the world to accept changes, and change form evolution to evolution, is because of the human ability to question each and every action of what we do.

To describe the previous paragraph more clearly, would give us the answer of the second question. Taking concrete examples from analysis by branches of social sciences, one of the most appropriate instances would be the revolutions that have taken place resulting in change of the political viewpoint of people around the world. The first example would be the renaissance, where the people doubted the church, gained knowledge about the real existence of humans, hence the result of the evolution of science as the second form of God.

A second instance would be the political changeover form monarchy to democracy, where revolutionists like Jean-Jac-Rousseau of the French revolution, Lenin of the Russian revolution, even personalities like Mohandas Karmachand Gandhi, or Martin Luther King Jr., are all equal examples of humans who doubted the environment around them, judged the facts which went against their ethics, not necessarily for the purpose of gaining knowledge. But in the process of doubt, have opened doors of knowledge of more people -oriented politics, a knowledge which the world resides today…

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But it must be noted that it also doesn’t narrow down to such specifications that doubt is the only way of enhancing knowledge. There are many instances where knowledge was found either by coincidence, or accidentally, such as taking the discovery of the first dinosaur fossil fuel, leading to a whole new dimension of the occurrence of a prehistoric age, or the occurrence of the first democracy, that is, in Rome, which was sure not through the occurrence of any doubt, it was just a sheer necessity.

In other words, we can’t declare that all the great inventions as any approach or a doubt towards knowledge. It is just a finding. Similarly we can’t declare all the possible revolutions of the world to occur form sheer hostile approach to an existing government.

Equally it doesn’t really mean that approach of knowledge is the only possible way to attain knowledge. Never. There are numerous instances, which human science itself proves that doubt is NOT the only nesseccary behavior for approaching knowledge. For umpteen, years, around recently in mid 90’s, scientists started to doubt the existence of God itself, and went on so far, as to publish in THE TIMES cover page, saying God doesn’t exist, and a new knowledge of the existence of the higher being is to be obtained. It was not long until one month onwards; the same magazine published another cover page, saying “GOD IS BACK”. Nothing less than mere mockery in the name of God, just for the sake of showing a common man that a scientist has doubted a theory, meaning a new knowledge to spring up. Well, it ultimately led to nothing else but ill-respect of the declarer.

Hence it would be very important to understand that our approach to knowledge is responsible for the enhancement of knowledge. But it is not the only way to enhance knowledge. Doubt is a method, but this method will lead to limited enhancement of knowledge, not a deep-root of the knowledge which humans want to possess.



“Chariot of the gods?” by Enrik Von Daniken

“The Prince” by Machiavelli


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