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Plato, Leibniz, and the Furnished Soul' GRAEME HUNTER and BRAD INWOOD IT IS A TRADITIONAL and perennially important question whether there are truths which the soul already has when a human being is born. Plato and Leibniz have given two of the most influential affirmative answers. ~ Characteristically , Leibniz's version is not a rote assimilation of the Platonic doctrine , but a critical reaction to it. A comparative examination of their approaches to the question, whether man is born with knowledge in the soul, recommends itself. We look first at Plato's theory of recollection, its motivations and the arguments for it. Leibniz's doctrine of innate ideas is then considered with particular attention to his disagreements with Plato. The discussion isolates enduring features of this type of theory as well as shedding light on the contrasting philosophical methods of Plato and Leibniz. PART 1 Plato's best-known discussion of learning as recollection is in the Meno (8od-86c), where he argues against a famous paradox which purports to Plato will be cited according to Stephanus pages, from the Oxford ClassicalText, Leibniz according to the following key: A: G. W. Leibniz: SaemtlicheSchriften und Briefe. Berlin: AkademieVerlag . Series began publishing 1923. C: G. W. Leibniz: Opuscules et fragments in~dits, ed. L. Couturat. Hildesheim: Olms, 1966. Reprint of Paris, ]9o3 . DM: Discours de Metaphysique in GP IV, 427-63. F de C: G. W. Leibniz: Nouvelles lettreset opuscules in~ditsdeLeibniz, ed. A. Foucher de Careil. Paris: Durand, 1857. GM: G. W. Leibniz: Die mathematischen Schriften, 7 vols. ed. C. I. Gerhardt. Hildesheim: Olms, 1971. Reprint of Halle, 1848-65. GP: G. W. Leibniz: Diephilosophischen Schriften, 7 vols., ed. C. I. Gerhardt. Hildesheim: Olms, 196o-61. Reprint of Berlin, 1875-189o . NE: Nouveaux essaissur l'entendement humain in A VI, vi. 2 A more complete survey of the doctrine of innate ideas would of course have to deal with Descartes in particular. However, it is clear that Leibniz derived his inspiration primarily from Plato, not Descartes, whose doctrine of innate ideas he regarded as ill-conceivedand misleading (NEII, xxi, 73; A. Robinet, "Grundprobleme der 'Nouveaux Essais' " in Studia Leibnitiana Supplementa vol. 3 (1969) 2o-33, esp 95). [423] 424 JOURNAL OF THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY 22:4 OCT i984 show that one cannot learn anything. "Meno's Paradox," as it is now known, states that one cannot learn what one does not already know (for one would not recognize it even if one found it) and that one cannot learn what one does know (for that would not count as learning). Socrates begins his argument with a reference to the traditional religious doctrine that the soul is immortal, has been born many times and has learned everything there is to learn during its sojourns in the underworld and during its previous corporeal existences. The philosophical core of his position, however, is revealed in his examination of the slave-boy. Socrates elicits a geometrical theorem from an untutored slave, claiming that it was drawn from the slave's own intellectual resources and was not taught to him, but only "stirred up" by Socratic questioning. The geometry lesson itself is well-known. At the end of it Meno admits that the slave-boy had in his soul true opinions about geometry all along and that his soul acquired these before he was born (85b-86b). Socrates himself does not endorse these conclusions unequivocally, for he concludes this part of the discussion with a remarkable disclaimer. "There are other points about the argument which I would not assert with complete confidence. But that we would be better men and more courageous and less slothful if we believed that one must seek for what one does not know than if we believed that it is neither possible to discover nor necessary to seek for what we do not understand, this I would fight for, if I were able, both in word and in deed." Socrates's disclaimer correctly suggests that one should consider carefully how strong a conclusion can be drawn from the slave-boy experiment and the ensuing discussion with Meno. The strongest claim would be that (1) All knowledge is acquired before this birth...


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