Recollection in Plato's Phaedo and Meno
As the earliest philosopher from whom we have written texts, Plato is often misrepresented as merely reproducing Socratic rhetoric. In Meno, one of the first Platonic dialogues, Plato offers his own unique philosophical theory, infused with his mentor's brilliant sophistry.
Amidst discussing whether or not virtue can be taught, Meno poses a difficult paradox: How can one be virtuous, or seek virtue, when one cannot know what it is? "How will you aim to search for something you do not know at all?" (Plato, Meno, 80d). From this question, Plato purposes a solution, that knowledge must be recollected from the soul. When the soul enters the world of space and time, Plato suggests, it carries some prior knowledge of forms; that is to say, the soul "remembers" its knowledge of unchangeable truths. (Meno, 81c-d).
Thus follows the conclusion that education cannot teach knowledge, but rather aids a student to recall what the soul already knows. Plato notes, however, that although the body is capable of recollecting knowledge (of forms), it is unable to recall contingent and temporary thoughts from the body (which he identifies as opinion). Knowledge, Plato suggests, is an innate understanding of things proven and eternal; of things for which reasons and explanations have been provided. Near the end of Meno, Socrates observes:
For true opinions, so long as they stick around, are a fine thing and do all sorts of good. But they are not willing to stick around for long. Rather, they escape from one's mind, so that they are not worth much until one ties them down by figuring out the cause. (97e-98e)
Thus true opinion, on the other hand, is of things circumstantial and conditional, and remains only temporarily in the soul's memory. Plato also uses the example of a journey to Larissa to illustrate this difference; for...