72 D ARGUMENT FROM RECOLLECTION
Cebes uses the occasion to “remind” Socrates of something he had told C before, namely that “our learning is nothing other than ‘recollecting’(an-a-mnesia -> not-not-remembering, which logically parses to not forgetting r, more accurately, unforgetting, or the opposite of forgetting, which means remembering, but not simply remembering but doing so after one had forgotten.
Recollection does not work as well unless we assume that the soul preexisted to learn what it now remembers.
So, this argument supplements the recollection idea, but also stands on its own. Let’s look.
Humorously, Simmias says that he cannot remember the theory about memory.
First, Cebes offers what he calls a “really beautiful (but very brief) argument: When you ask people good questions they give you good answers, which they simply could not do unless they already had in them, or to them, some knowledge or other, and ‘right reason’, or literally ‘straight story’. This shows most clearly if you give these people access to diagrams or anything of that ilk.
If this doesn’t do it for you, Sim my boy, I have other ways to prove it. You are skeptical, or have no faith in, recollection, ain’t that so?
That’s not it, my man. The thing is, I just don’t remember the proofs. So, jog my memory and in so doing, and by the way, rove your point about learning as unforgetting. I am your perfect test case because because I once knew the proof and have now forgetted it.
What C said jogged his memory and half convinced him. Tell me more!
1. If A remembers X, then he must already have known X at t1?
2. But there is more to this simple story. It is also the case that when A sees X, he might also remember Y because X reminds him of Y, as the lyre and the lover.
3. Can we call this kind of indirect reminding recollection? Can we be reminded of, and recall, things that we have forgotten either through time or lack of attention?
4. And can we also therefore have a picture(a representation, image, copy) of X remind us, not of X, but of Y? Or, can a picture of S remind us, not of S, but of C?
Note the difference between this complex set of cases and the much easier one of mathematical diagrams – are these diagrams representations or images of the mathematical objects and relations that they represent? Are the diagrams images at all?
Second, why is Socrates so interested in these two indirect cases, in the first of which some X reminds us of some Y, in the second of which some image of X reminds us of some Y? How does this differ from the diagram case?
The conclusion: recollection can be caused by both like and unlike things, equally well.
And in the case when X reminds us of X, we want to know whether the recollection of X, X-R, = offers a “perfect likeness of the things recollected”.
Here’s the deal. X provokes memory (image) of X. Q: is X-R a “perfect likeness” of X, or of X remembered?
Let’s see if this is so.
Consider the case of Equality – Ison (This by the way is an adjective, a modifying word, not a noun, a name for a thing.)
We believe that , or we say that – “There is such a thing as equality.”
We do not mean that A is equal to A but Equality Itself (auto to ison).
We say that there is such a thing, namely that Ison is real.
And not only do we say it is real, but we also know it.
Q: how do we know it?
Do we know it from the pieces of wood?
Watch this argument closely. It is this: it is not that I derive a concept of perfect equality empirically from comparing the pieces of wood. It is that the pieces of wood lead me to remember a perfect equality of which they remind me. The key is this: Socrates says that the knowledge of perfect equality is “another thing”, and this connects to his claim that “unlike” things can spark memory, and also to his claim that we expect or look for a perfect representational fidelity between images of things and the things like them that rovoke the,m.
In the case of the perfect equality and the equality of the pieces of wood, there cannot be, nor is there expected to be, a perfect representational likeness between this level of equality and perfect equality because they are not the same thing, but we know that unlike things can remind us of unlike things.
Even bits of wood or stones that we consider “equal”, and which remain the same, that s, do not change, sometimes
‘appear as equal in ne respect and not in another?” Here he probably means that if they appear equal in length they might not appear equal in width or mass or weight or color or texture.
So, even though the bits of wood are equal in length, they are not equal to each other is the same way that equality not only is, but must be, equal to itself in every conceivable way. Absolute equality can therefore never APPEAR TO BE unequal to itself. The concept just does not work.
The conclusion of this part of the argument is that the “equality” shared by the two pieces of wood is not the same equality as that of equality itself.
The puzzle is that people who recognize that the two pieces of wood are equal are, by that equality, reminded of the reality of equality itself, which is for Socrates a different equality.
And this is advanced as an instance of one unlike things reminding me of another unlike thing!
Now we take another turn, a serious twist not really warranted by what has gone before:
When we see that this piece of wood is equal to that one, do we think that they are equal in the way Equality is equal to itself? No; even though they remind us, they are seen not to be this sort of equality.
We “see” that this thing – the wood equality – is “trying” to be like something else better than it but is failing. But how do we know that this instance of something is defective or less unless we always already know whatever it is that the thing we are thinking of falls short? We are saying two things: first that when we experience an inferior version of X we are led inevitably to think about what it is inferior to, which is different from it. Second we can only know that it is inferior and the degree to which it is so if we already know the other thing to which it is inferior.
His points are: seeing the inferior equality reminds us of its unlike, perfect equality but only because we always already knew AND COULD remember what perfect equality was. And the nonperfect equality could remind is because our knowledge of perfect equality was always already there as a standard of which to be reminded before we ever saw any two pieces of wood.
So, Socrates’ real point is that order to see the pieces of wood as “equal” we must always already have possessed an idea of perfect equality, at which all the equal pairs of things in the world are necessarily aiming. In a sense, the already-existing idea of equality reminded us that the pieces of wood were roughly equal; conversely, the already-existing idea of equality was what the woods’ lesser equality reminded us of. But no reminding could have taken place unless there was always already something to be reminded of.
Does this same rule apply to pictures of Simmias that remind one of Cebes?
Now, even though we gain knowledge of perfect equality only through the senses,and “it is impossible to gain this knowledge except by sight or touch”, what we learn is that all “sensible objects strive after absolute equality and fall short of it.
But for any of this to work, we must assume that prior to our ever sensing anything we had to have acquired a knowledge of “absolute equality”. Otherwise, the pieces of wood would not remind us of perfect equality because we would not even be rendering the rough judgment that the two pieces were equal in the first place.
And since we have had our senses since we were born we must necessarily have acquired our idea before birth. Therefore our souls, which are what knows and has such ideas, must necessarily have existed before we were born.
In addition, 75 C-D, this claim applies to all abstract ideas – in Greek, “to all such”(w/o specification of ‘abstract’; so, to all such ideas without specification as to their character.)
And we have to be born knowing all these things for we must be able to deploy them right away and besides there is no way to learn them in this world through the senses. By ‘absolute’ the Greek means “to o esti”, or the ‘it is’.
So, we always have a knowledge that we can temporarily forget and of which we must then be reminded which is why Socrates says that all serious learning is a form of remembering.
Things perceived trigger memories of other things, either like or unlike themselves, which we “remember” not in the sense of recalling something from our past in this current life but which we re-member from our soul’s “life”;we remember what we have never experienced.
So learning is either always already there, or remembered during life. In any case, and in both cases, learning = recollection.