The Platonic Theory of Anamnesis

The concept of anamnesis emerges in Plato’s philosophical works, Meno, Phaedo and Phaedrus. The idea is that humans possess innate knowledge, and learning entails recovery of forgotten knowledge rather than acquisition of new information. This has sometimes been known as the Doctrine of Recollection and Doctrine of Reminiscence. In the Meno, Socrates is portrayed as arguing that the soul is immortal and repeatedly incarnated, and the knowledge within the soul is eternity. However, the trauma of birth causes loss of knowledge with each incarnation, and learning is thus a recovery of what has been forgotten. In this respect, Socrates sees himself as a midwife rather than a genuine teacher, since there is nothing he can teach his omniscient students.

The Platonic Theory of Forms is articulated within the context of his concept of anamnesis in his Phaedo. The body and its senses are understood as the source of error and it is only through purely abstract reason, which involves participation of the immaterial mind with the immaterial Forms, the source of all knowledge, that forgotten knowledge can be recovered. Only eternal truths can be known, since they are the only truths that have existed in the soul from eternity.

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