Welcome to week four of Reason and Persuasion. This is our second week thinking through Plato's Meno. By now, I hope you've taken note that the dialogue gets weird a third of the way through. I talked about it last lesson. And if you did your reading, you can't miss it. First, it's all about virtue, which is weird enough. Who uses that word these days? Then, there's a geometry lesson, and that's strange. What does geometry have to do with virtue? Then we get another dose of virtue, and we're done. And a lot of readers probably don't get that far. This lesson, we're going to talk about all the stuff that happens after you probably sort of gave up shortly after reading that confusing Pindar poetry bit. Persephone, the kings and heroes with lighting like strength. But, like always, I want to start with something more general, but Meno relevant. This time I'm going to split these preliminaries into two videos. It may take up a bit of extra warm up to get us into the spirit of the game this time. Anyway, here goes, a quiz. Do you think that ethics is pretty much just like math? That is, figuring out the solution to some, how should I live type problem, it's probably just like solving a math problem. A, yes. B, no. A is obviously wrong, and B is obviously right. Right? Or, let me qualify that a bit. Either B is obviously right, or the question is just, I don't know, meaningless? Because, what does it mean to say that these questions are the same, in what sense the same? Ethics is the same as math or not the same? That's just an weird and unclear thought. Right? Let me underscore this by means of a graphic I used a couple years back when I taught a version of this course and posed this very question to my students: is Ethics like Math? The graphic, as you can plainly see, nudges you towards the no column, as if anyone needs a nudge to see such an obvious truth. To make matters worse, I exploit crude gender stereotypes to do the redundant deed. The guy does math, he's a nerd, yes, but manly, all hard angles. The girl in the background, typical place to put the girl relative to the guy, she's more soft and curvy. She does ethics. Girl stuff. Girls and guys, they're different, math and ethics, they're different. What the hell did I think I was doing encouraging such sloppy associational thinking. I'll try to atone before this lesson is over. But really, the problem is that question. The cartoon is just a symptom. Is ethics like math? Ask an ill-formed question get an unjustified answer. But what's the answer to the quiz, you ask. Did I pass? Is ethics like math? Yes or no? In the end, I'm giving credit for both answers, because, and even though this seems totally wrong, Plato somehow, kind of seems to think that we should think ethics is like math. That seems to be where Meno is heading somehow. And it would be embarrassing if my own text book flunked my own quiz. So like I said, credit for both answers. Okay, I've made a mess, haven't I? And we're not even five minutes in. Let me start picking up the pieces. Remember, at the start of the dialogue, Meno asks a question, how do you acquire virtue? Can you be taught it, or do you practice it? Are some people just born with it, or what? The geometry stuff, the geometry lesson, that comes in the middle, isn't so much about what's true geometrically as it is about how you acquire geometry. The boy has never studied geometry before. But he starts learning before our very eyes. We want to learn about that. Let me say it again. It might seem that we're studying the geometrical figure Socrates scratches in the sand for the boy to see. But no. We're not really ultimately interested in what the length of side of the figure that has double the area is. Really, we're studying the study of geometry. That is, part two of the dialog isn't about geometry, it's about the psychology of learning. So really you could say that Meno, the whole dialog, isn't about virtue or geometry. It's all about learning. And what the character of learning says about the character of our knowledge, and vice versa. So keep hold of that thematic thread, and the weird virtue, geometry, virtue twists and turns, just straighten themselves out. What a relief. The dialogue, it's starting to make sense. But wait. It's still almost completely crazy. Because now it turns out Plato's heavy hint by means of the geometry lesson, is that we learn ethics the same way the boy learns geometry. Geometrical learning is being put forward as a paradigm of learning generally. At the end of the geometry lesson, when the boy's made some progress, Socrates turns and says to Meno, that the boy will do, quote, just as well with all of geometry, and every other subject. Unquote. That last step, as logicians like to say, is a doozy. And every other subject? It looks like Socrates is just assuming, without any argument, that all learning is going to go the way this little lesson just went. Think about how many different kinds of things you can learn and know. The alphabet song, a series of natural numbers. Who your mom is, the way home from school, how to ride a bike. How to breathe. Harry Potter trivia. Facts you crammed for that exam. The taste of pineapple. How to do geometry. How to conduct a proper experiment in the lab. How far to stand from other people at the bus stop, so they don't think you're standing, you know, too close. That's a lot of ways to learn and know. And I can go on like this for hours, in front of large crowds, too. How many of you are out there anyway? Remember what Meno says about virtue, there's all sorts of different sorts of virtues, Socrates and Socrates turns around and says, no, that's not how we define things. We seek the common element, not all the possible points of diversity. Remember the bee example. You don't define bee by saying that there are fat ones and skinny ones and big ones and little ones and so forth. Maybe every bee is a unique snowflake, yes maybe even those clones, but a unique snowflake is a really lousy definition of bee. Yes, that seems right. But now the worm has turned. Socrates has shown his cards, and the shoe is on the other foot. And it doesn't fit. That is to say, at the conclusion of the geometry lesson, he seems to propose geometrical learning, hence geometrical knowledge, as a template. A paradigm. A schema for all knowledge. Meanwhile, back on earth, there's just all sorts of different kinds of ways of knowing Plato's thought, what goes for geometry goes for every kind of knowledge just seems flat out refuted by a ton of obvious counter examples. But wait, here's a way to salvage the situation. Maybe Socrates is just messing with Meno. He's telling him some kind of colorful mythic lie for his own good. That sneaky little. Well, we'll get to it later. For now, in the next video. More reflections on whether there's any sense to this ethics like math stuff.