Curiosity, Perplexity, and the Wisdom of Socrates

dobetterwithdan, philosophy, Socrates, Plato, Wisdom

“I know that I know nothing.”

Socrates

Plato begins his dialogue, Meno, abruptly. Meno poses the following question to Socrates right at the outset: “Can you tell me, Socrates, can virtue be taught?” Meno believes he understands virtue and what it entails. He admits as much to Socrates: “I have made many speeches about virtue before large audiences on a thousand occasions, very good speeches I thought.”

After a relatively short debate with Socrates, however, Meno begins to doubt his own knowledge. He doubts whether he actually knows what he thought he knew.

“Socrates, before I even met you I used to hear that you are always in a state of perplexity and that you bring others to the same state, and now I think you are bewitching and beguiling me…so that I am quite perplexed…now I cannot even say what [virtue] is.”

Plato

In Meno, like so many of Plato’s early dialogues, Socrates is able to demonstrate to someone that they don’t possess the knowledge they thought they possessed.

(See my related article, Belief as a Noble Risk)

Plato reminds us that all learning, all growth begins when we admit that we don’t know everything. 

dobetterwithdan, philosophy, perplexity, curiosity, Socrates

Socrates readily admits his own ignorance in Plato’s dialogues. I’ve always found this interesting and appealing. Socrates is not some divine authority with all the answers; rather, he is portrayed, as he is—a man who is curious, who wants to know the truth and who has committed himself to the search, but who by no means knows everything. (See my related article, The Importance of Exploration and Experimentation, here.)

If Socrates did know everything, what would be the point of pursuing truth, of engaging in all the interesting debates he gets himself involved in? He admits to Meno that he doesn’t know what virtue is and hasn’t met anyone who does. (Check out my article, What is Virtue?, here.)

“Not only [do I not know what virtue is], my friend, but also that, as I believe, I have never yet met anyone else who did know.”

Plato

All learning, all growth begins when we admit that we don’t know everything.

We take for granted that the world is a certain way, or that we understand how things are, and yet when we are pushed to give a clear account we fail to explain what we claim to know. Why do we so often refuse to admit that we don’t know something or that what we know is perhaps not the whole story?

Plato’s dialogues demonstrate the importance of admitting what we don’t know. They demonstrate the role curiosity and perplexity play in fostering a desire to know, to understand, and to explore the world around us. Learning, growth—really any sort of advancement or development—requires being open to new possibilities, new ideas, and a willingness to explore the world around you.

(To learn more, see my related article, Are Hobbies Important?, here.)

Our world expands when we admit we don’t know something. Conviction creates a narrow world, one where only one interpretation is permitted.

The road to truth is paved in trial and error, in experimentation, and requires an open mind to navigate it effectively. We should all learn to be a little less certain, to cultivate the wonder and curiosity that expands our world, and to rediscover the love of knowledge and learning that permits self-growth and development.

We should learn to get comfortable in a state of perplexity.

Thanks for reading!

Please like and share this article.

What to learn more? Check out these related articles and posts: Philosophy Teaches Us, The Cave, What we can Learn Living Underground, How to Develop Patience, the Stoic’s Way, The Importance of Exploration and Experimentation, Creating Clear Goals, Developing a Positive Mindset – Discovering Small Delights, and How to Change Your Thinking and Change Yourself.

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