Many people attribute the proverb "All Learning is Remembering" to Plato. Are there any writings of Plato in which this statement can be found? Are there other philosophers that have expanded on this idea?

  • Meno has a better understanding of this concept. May 22, 2018 at 19:26

1 Answer 1


This is from Plato's Phaedo. See the list of occurrences of "learning" (click "More" for the full list). Some translations use "recollection" instead of "remembering".

The basic idea is that the soul comes from the world of ideas and everything we learn in this world is really remembering something from that ideal place. See also Wikipedia on pre-existence of the soul.

There is a fair summary of the Phaedo here which gives more context and explanation. From section IV:

As W. K. C. Guthrie notes in The Greek Philosophers: "The Heracliteans maintained that everything in the world of space and time was continually flowing, as they put it. Change never ceased to operate for a moment and nothing was ever the same for two instants together. The consequence of this doctrine appeared to be that there could be no knowledge of this world, since one cannot be said to have knowledge of something which is different at this moment from what it was a moment ago. (...)"

Plato accepts that material things are in a constant state of becoming, but he also takes it as obvious that we do have knowledge, a grasp of stable, unchanging realities. This is most evident in mathematics. We do in fact know that 2 + 2 = 4, and that it has always been true, and will always continue to be true. There is, in fact, some stable knowledge, but the problem is how we can have this stable knowledge when everything we sense is not stable.

E.g., if you observe two sticks, of (approximately) equal lengths, you know that they are equal, but by the same token, they are not the Equal-itself, since they are not perfectly equal. The Equal-itself is what all instances of equal things have in common in virtue of which we say that they are equal.

Recollection is the process by which, seeing one thing, you think of another (which you knew before).

  1. Seeing material things, one recognizing the unchanging realities, "things-in-themselves".
  2. Therefore, one recollects the knowledge one has already acquired of "things-themselves."
  3. Therefore, soul pre-existed this material life in which it acquired this knowledge.
  • 1
    I've always thought the remark came from Socrates and it seems more in line with his wisdom and world-view. It would be true in the Perennial philosophy because the world of individuation and space-time would be a process of veiling and forgetting.
    – user20253
    Aug 25, 2017 at 15:49
  • It seem so, in the Phaedo it is written: “And besides,” Cebes rejoined, “if it is true, Socrates, as you are fond of saying, that our learning is nothing else than recollection ...
    – ftl
    Aug 27, 2017 at 13:54

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