chapter  1
24 Pages

Meno’s Paradox and Inostensible Conceptualization

As we have seen in the previous chapter the philosophy literature has little to off er on even the most basic philosophical issues related to curiosity. Not only has there been very little discussion, but some of the basic philosophical questions on the topic have never been posed explicitly to motivate the discussion in the fi rst place. Oddly enough one of the central philosophical questions on curiosity is buried in a famous passage in a text that is more than two millennia old. This short intriguing passage is in Plato’s Meno and has gone down in history as “Meno’s Paradox”. It implicitly addresses what I take to be one of the most fundamental questions on curiosity: What are the necessary conditions for a being to become curious? Giving an account of this will enable us to understand the nature of curiosity better, and, most importantly, it will reveal how curiosity requires a certain way in which we use language. It will also shed light on other issues, such as why some beings are curious and others are not, why some are more curious than others, and why some can develop curiosity in matters that others have never thought about and perhaps even could not think about without extending their language. Exploratory behavior and novelty seeking or sensation seeking behavior are possible symptoms of curiosity, if curiosity is taken to be a mental state. So the question just posed is not merely a question of how it becomes possible for a being to exhibit such behavior. Non-human animals and pre-language children too exhibit such behavior at times, but that alone is not suffi cient to attribute to them a mental state of curiosity that fi nds its expression in language in the form of a question. A normal adult who speaks a language, no matter how uneducated he or she is, has the ability to become aware of his or her ignorance, be curious of it, and express this in the form of an interrogative sentence and pose a question. How is this possible? This is the way in which the issue before us ought to be interpreted, and it is the question that I will concentrate on in this chapter in relation to the so-called Meno’s Paradox. Before we get into a discussion of it, I should note that I take the question not to be a purely philosophical one. No doubt there are certain empirical conditions for a member of a species to become curious; cognitive and evolutionary psychology, neuro-science, cognitive science, and biology could and should attempt to reveal those conditions.