Learning can be accomplished in a variety of ways, but according to Plato, the most common method is through recollections that arise from previous experiences, both real and imaginary, and are linked to the current state of affairs. According to the participants in the conversation, learning can take the form of connecting events or items to form a picture or a conclusion (Plato 1911, 73c). “Is that kind of thing a kind of recollection?” Socrates asks, implying that learning happens through recollections. Particularly when it involves items that have already been forgotten as a result of time and inattention?” (Plato, 73e, 1911). The work exposes the articulations put forward by Plato as he explains through the conversation on how learning occurs as supported by recollections of previous experiences and connections to the current situations.
Statement of the Argument
The argument put forward by Socrates and the friends is that learning occurs through recollections occurring at an incident when previous, probably forgotten, excerpts and images re-appear and are connected to the present images and happenings creating a new set of knowledge. The argument is supported throughout the conversation with premises that further incline towards the assertion fronted by Plato.
Support for Each Premises of the Argument
One of the premises set by Plato, and expressed by Socrates is that recollections are conducted through linking one incident with another to create a new frontier of knowledge. It is thus in order to accept that previous knowledge is an integral part on leaning. For instance, Socrates addresses the issue of equality across statements 73-76 (Plato 1911), where Socrates argues that it is through seeing a thing that a person thinks that, “this thing that I see aims at being like some other thing that exists, but falls short and is unable to be like that thing, but is inferior to it (Plato 1911, 74e).” The statement acknowledges the existence of previous knowledge through other learning experiences, either seeing, doing or even relating to other passive images/actions. In the example given of equality, Simmias in 74b (Plato 1911) indicates that previous knowledge should be derived from some source. Socrates questions his partners, “Whence did we derive the knowledge of it? Is it not from the things we were just speaking of (and earlier knowledge of the knowledge)?” The question is thus answered by insisting that knowledge is shared or gained from an existing source.
Another premise of learning through recollection is having perception and internalization of previous experience of learned items. Socrates indicates that, “Whenever the sight of one thing brings you a perception of another, whether they are like or unlike, that must necessarily be recollection (Plato 1911, 74d).” Perception is important in understanding the context of information and thus consequently leading to creation of new knowledge. Learning through creating perception encompasses regaining forgotten information that has an association with the perceived thing. Socrates also quotes in the paragraph (Plato 1911, 73d) that those human beings “recollect the thing of which they have their perception of.”
Another premise greatly advocated for in the process of learning is through the use of all the senses. Simmias in the paragraph 75a (Plato 1911) argues that actions like seeing (sight), touching (touch) and using other forms of sense facilitates gaining of knowledge. Socrates indicates, “… and we agree, also, that we have not gained knowledge of it, and that it is impossible to gain this knowledge, except by sight or touch or some other of the senses? I consider that all the senses are alike (Plato 1911, 75a).” Knowledge is not only gained through recollections, but also by engaging the senses that facilitates the initial acquisition of knowledge. The approach is that learning must be through the senses. Simmias also suggests that all senses developed before and after birth aid in acquiring knowledge where he quotes, “and we saw and heard and had the other senses as soon as we were born?” (Plato 1911, 75b).
The knowledge acquisition process is also supported by the premise of having knowledge passed through generations (inherited) and expanded through newer experiences. Socrates talks to Simmias of the human souls having knowledge that was then passed to the newer generations. The human souls acquired knowledge and intelligence previously before they changed to human form (Plato 1911, 76c). Simmias, after arguing with Socrates comes to a conclusion that, “soul existed before they were born and the beautiful, the good, and all the others of which you were speaking just now, have a most real existence (Plato 1911, 77a).” The conclusion is that previous experiences of the soul, before being born, and after death, inform the passing of knowledge. Existence of the information is thus an integral part in learning and is aided by the recollection of past experiences, either previously encountered or perceived by the soul. The other participant in the conversation, Cebes, supports the assertion that “the soul existed before the birth” (Plato 1911, 77c) and that the soul, in using its senses, facilitates the transfer of knowledge through the processes of recollections and perceptions.
Objection to the Argument
An objection to the argument that knowledge is accumulated through recollections is that knowledge comes through the birth. Itnt is best presented by Socrates, when he challenges Simmias to choose between two options stating, “were we born with the knowledge, or do we recollect afterwards things of which we had acquired knowledge before our birth?” (Plato 1911, 76b). The argument is that human beings have the knowledge as they are born and the knowledge is continuously developed through experiences and perceptions created by the senses. The argument does not indicate why the newborns lack the knowledge but instead learning from the others and recollecting from what they had heard, seen, touched or interacted with through other senses.
Reply to the Objection
The response to the argument that one was born with the knowledge without losing it is explained through 75e (Plato 1911), where Socrates claims that the knowledge was lost during birth and later regained through recollections. Existence of previous knowledge is explained by Socrates in 75e (Plato 1911), where he observes that before people were born, they had the knowledge, which was lost during the birth and then regained as one grew. The regaining of the previous knowledge was through using the senses thus the learning process qualifying to be termed as “recovering knowledg.” (Plato 1911, 75e).
In conclusion, the conversation is backed by the feeling that learning process is a recollection process associated with information previously encountered. Socrates encourages Simmias through asserting that “men know these things” that they, “then recollect the things they once learned” (Plato 1911, 76c). The conversers also agree that the souls acquire knowledge and intelligence of the things before they come into earth as human beings. The summary of the conversation is that learning or knowledge acquisition is through recollecting former knowledge, as facilitated by the use of senses, perceptions, and interactions with the human environment where the senses are put to work.
Plato (1911). Phaedon. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company.