When I was born, I did not know the difference between right and wrong. Now, I do. The word philosophy means
the love of knowledge. One type of knowledge is propter quid, which ask the question why or how. In this paper, I
will demonstrate how Socrates, Hume and Aristotle, three well known philosophers, would explain how I acquired
this knowledge in relation to the principles of right and wrong.
Socrates is the first philosopher, I will discuss. Since Socrates did not write anything down, Socrates thinking is told
through his student, Plato, who wrote his teachers’ thoughts. Socrates is an idealist who believes that things are in
born. Therefor he believed that before we are born our soul knows everything, but when we are born our mind is a
tabular rasa (blank slate). As we grow day by day, we recollect the knowledge from our soul.
… the soul, that is, the human mind, before it is united with the body, is aquatinted with the intelligible world or the
world of Forms. In this prior existence, the true knowledge. After its union with a human body, a person’s mind
contains its knowledge deep in its memory. True knowledge in this world consists of remembering, in reminiscence
or recollection. What the mind or soul once knew is raised to present awareness by a process of recollection aided by
the technique of dialect or the Socratic method. (Stumpf 260)
This is known as the theory of recollection. The theory of recollection is told through Plato in the Phaedo and the
In the theory of recollection "Socrates’ answer to the paradox is that knowledge is recollection. This thesis allows a
man to have ideas of which he later becomes conscious by recollection; thereby overcoming the sharp division
between not-knowing and knowing, and justifying inquiry." (Sternfeld, 35) Socrates states in the Meno " A man
cannot inquire about what he knows, because he knows it, and in that case he is in no need of inquiry, nor again can
he inquire about what he does not know, since he does not know what he is to inquire." (Plato 80E) This theory of
recollection may explain why we often say that we had certain knowledge before we leaned it or heard it for the first
time. It is often said that we are born with concepts and it is these concepts that structure our minds, beliefs, and
"In his dialogue entitled the Meno, Plato illustrates how Socrates is able to show that even a young uneducated slave
boy knows some truths of geometry not because somebody taught him that subject but because be naturally knows
the relationship of various ideas to each other." (Stumpf 260) This quote illustrates how Socrates thought that the
uneducated boy knew geometry. He recollected it from his soul. In the Meno, Socrates states that the boy is
"recovering by oneself knowledge within oneself." (Plato 85D) Knowledge in the Meno is perceived as having an
acquaintance with the object, but not knowing how it functions. Socrates states here that true knowledge is that is
learned. Once learned, we remember that knowledge and apply it when needed. This can be done through
recollection or memory. As an occasion arises that requires the use of this knowledge, we can use the abilities of our
mind and recollect the knowledge for the circumstance.
I interpret Socrates to mean that I was born with a knowledge of right and wrong, but I needed to experience
situations where I needed to recall this knowledge. He makes reference to the initial knowledge being in the soul.
Hume is the second philosopher I will discuss. Hume’s beliefs are different from Socrates. Hume believes that we
were born knowing nothing, and everything is learned. He feels that as we grow, we learn the difference between
right and wrong from our experiences. The present comes from the senses and the past is in our memory. Hume
shows how knowledge begins form the experiences we encounter through our five senses.
It is said of Hume "…it is the use he makes of the principle or the association of ideas, which enters into most of his
philosophy. The principle of association helped the empiricists to explain our powers of thinking consistently with