There’s a mind-blowing paradox that says you can’t ever learn anything new at all.

The Factionary is all about learning. So when we learned about such a paradox it really freaked us out. Learning is our priority. As a matter of fact, those of us who already knew about the paradox were not learning anything new by reading about it; whereas those of us who didn’t know about it had no certainty if what we were reading was true. Wait a second, doesn’t it mean that even if you don’t know about it, you haven’t learned anything yet? Since you can’t be sure, you don’t know.

Related media: Meno’s Paradox

Do I Know Anything?

Have you ever had a date? Probably (or certainly) yes, you have. You’ve had or seen countless dates, and maybe you’re having one right now as you read this article. Dates are really awesome, right? But do you know what we meant by “date?” We got you confused, huh? You thought you knew, but later realized what is it, then you thought again, and you couldn’t be sure that you knew what you thought you know. That’s ambiguity.

Now, considering the question, you were looking for what you thought you knew, then later realized you have to be looking for what you do not know. This is Meno’s Paradox — either you already know what you’re looking for, or you don’t know what you’re looking for. This paradox was first analyze in Ancient Greece by the philosophers Socrates and Plato in an argument. Socrates phrased it like:

“A man cannot search either for what he knows or for what he does not know. He cannot search for what he knows — since he knows it, there is no need to search — nor for what he does not know, for he does not know what to look for.”

His argument really makes sense. But does it mean we don’t learn anything?

I Learn; Therefore I Know

Our worldview of knowing is spiraled around a void of all that we don’t know, and we’d have to say: we learn from known to unknown, basic to abstract, simple to complex, beliefs to facts. So we can safely say that you have to know before you know what you learn. We’ve learn a lot throughout life but the Meno’s Paradox presents a dilemma; but don’t worry, there is a loophole to it. Think of the paradox as a deductive argument: a type of philosophical argument where, if all the premises are true, then the conclusion has to be true as well.

Premise 1: If you know what you’re looking for, inquiry is unnecessary.

Premise 2: If you don’t know what you’re looking for, inquiry is impossible.

Conclusion: Therefore, inquiry is unnecessary or impossible.

“What you’re looking for” in this case can have more than one meaning, and it’s being used in two different cases in the two premises. If “what you’re looking for” means “the solution to your problem,” then Premise 1 is true but Premise 2 is false. And if “what you’re looking for” means “the problem you need to solve,” then Premise 2 is true but Premise 1 is false. But there is a catch here.

Image: Shutterstock / iStock / Getty Images Plus

I Think That’s Fall-A-See

With such an argument at hand, it presents the fallacy of equivocation, wherein the same term is used for two different concepts; it creates a flawed philosophical reasoning. Here’s a hypothetical scenario to help you understand it better:

Let’s assume that you want to go to a party, but you don’t know what time it begins. Furthermore, you don’t even know anyone who does know. So you ask Bob, who doesn’t know when the party begins, but he does know that Mary knows. So Bob tells you that Mary knows when the party begins. Now you knows something, too — that Mary knows when the party begins. So you know what Mary knows (you know that she knows when the party begins).

Now consider the following argument:

Premise 1: You know what Mary knows.

Premise 2: What Mary knows is when the party begins.

Conclusion: Therefore, you know when the party begins.

Spoiler Alert: you still really don’t know what Mary knows; because you think you know what Mary knows, has led us to conclude that you know when the party starts, of which Mary knows, but you don’t. That’s a fallacy of equivocation. Alas!, you can be certain that you know what you’ve read about. It turns out you can learn all sorts of things after all.

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Written by: Nana Kwadwo, Tue, Jan 08, 2019.


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