Wotton’s Society Professor Gail Fine (Merton College, Oxford) on Meno’s Paradox

On 23 February the Wotton’s Society was privileged to host Professor Gail Fine, of Merton College, Oxford, who spoke about Meno’s Paradox and the Socratic method. Socrates’s logical arguments, expressed in Plato’s Dialogues through the method known as ‘elenchus’, were challenged, in particular because they often assume some premises are true to show the falsehood of a statement, and this fails to tally with Socrates’ assertion that he knows nothing.

Meno’s paradox claims that a person cannot search either for what they know or for what they do not know: they cannot search for what they know (since they know it, there is no need to search) nor for what they do not know, for they do not know what to look for. With the help of the audience, Professor Fine suggested that this argument suffers from an incomplete definition of knowledge and could be defeated by showing that under any tighter definition, at most 2 of the 3 premises could be true.

Professor Fine’s talk was remarkable for the clarity with which it approached highly subtle logical points, and also because the audience were made engineers of the counterarguments, rather than mere observers. In particular, those who had sat the Newcastle prize 2011, the set text of which was Plato’s Phaedo, felt that the talk was a very fine demonstration of how to engage with Plato’s philosophy.

John Clark-Maxwell OS MS (GRP)