Socrates demonstrates his method of questioning and recollection by questioning a slave boy who works in Meno's house. This house slave is ignorant of geometry. The subsequent discussion shows the slave capable of learning a complicated geometry problem. In this way, Socrates shows Meno that learning is possible. Indeed, the dialogue earlier demonstrated Meno's failure to benefit from Socratic teaching.
The discussion of Socrates and the house slave
By drawing geometric figures in the ground Socrates demonstrates that the slave is initially unaware of how to find twice the area of a square.
Socrates then said that before he got hold of him the slave, who had been picked haphazardly from Meno's entourage, had spoken "well and fluently" on the subject of a square double the size of a given square. Socrates comments that this "numbing" he caused in the slave did him no harm.
Socrates then draws a second square figure on the diagonal so that the slave can see that by adding vertical and horizontal lines touching the corners of the square, the double of its area is created. He gets the slave to agree that this is twice the size of the original square and says that he has "spontaneously recovered" knowledge he knew from a past life without having been taught. Socrates is satisfied that new beliefs were "newly aroused" in the slave.
- Plato, Meno, 84c
- Plato, Meno, 84b
- Plato, Meno, 85d