Plato's Meno: On Virtue

How can virtue be learned?

This is Meno's Paradox: what a man knows he cannot seek, since he knows it; and what he does not know he cannot seek, since he does not even know what to look for.

Socrates and Meno work through a number of possible definitions of virtue, each suggested by Meno and dismantled by Socrates. By the end of the dialogue they still seem not to know exactly what virtue is.

Then what is it to follow after virtue as Socrates encourages us to do?  

 Much light is shed on this question in what is perhaps the greatest dialogue written by Plato.









 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read in advance:

 http://www.gutenberg.org/files/1643/1643-h/1643-h.htm


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  • Mike B.

    At 81a, Plato seems to signal a shift in tone and focus. To Meno's "trick argument" and
    his asking if the argument is "good," Socrates responds with an uncharacteristic and definitive "no."
    At this point Socrates seems to cease trying to pursue an argument and points the exchange in the direction of men and women, priests and priestesses, and what they have to say. Should we take this as an admission that Socrates feels that Meno can no longer be moved by argument? Have we moved from a philosophical argument to religious story or narrative?

    1 · August 9

    • Brian

      Yeah, we'll need to look closely at Socrates' tact

      August 9

  • Mike B.

    Given all the concern Plato's Socrates shows for correct definition, can we come to any generalization about the value or worth of definitions in Plato's works? In the Meno it appears pretty clear what Socrates is demanding of a definition, yet can anyone point to a definition of an abstract quality or virtue that can pass muster with Socrates?

    1 · August 7

    • Chad B.

      I don't doubt that Socrates would have continued to press the question had Meno been willing. Of course we can't know if they would have found an answer, but presumably if they had then they would have been able to answer the teachableness question. My questions really are (1) how to interpret Socrates' apparent emphasis on definitions? Is it crucial to understanding the dialogue? and (2) is such an emphasis defensible?

      1 · August 9

    • Poe

      That's a very fair question. I am finding it a bit hard to answer because it is reliant upon method and interpretation. I am not as concerned with the definitions, so I took the reading in a different light, but I can see someone else's need to define virtue in order to answer the question. I think that is okay too. I think both could be defensible in their own right.

      1 · August 9

  • Mike B.

    By having a slave "learn," has Plato shown himself as something of a democrat? It seems that it is easier to label Plato an elitist. How does the group feel about Plato's treatment of social class?

    1 · August 7

  • Brian

    First pass: Virtue is connected to knowledge. Second pass: Virtue is connected to correct opinion

    We got work to do, folks

    July 24

    • Brian

      The simple argument is this: If virtue is knowledge, then it must be teachable. Virtue cannot be teachable if there are no teachers of virtue. There are no teachers of virtue. Therefore virtue cannot be knowledge. What is Meno to do? What can it mean to be virtous without knowledge?

      August 4

    • Brian

      They come to see that, ​as far as actions go, correct opinion is as useful as knowledge. And ​since, as we had just observed​, virtue as accruing th​r​ough knowledge isn't possible ​(​since no teachers of virtue​)​ ​perhaps​ virtue is only possible thr​ough​ correct opinion​. However, if correct opinion is merely memory (of others) or hearsay​ this leaves Meno with the exact posture with which he started: ​ as as student-rememberer of Gorgias

      August 4

  • Mike B.

    Brian, how should we gloss the Delphian mandate to know oneself? Are we learning anything if we try to investigate ourselves? Are we all our own teachers?

    2 · August 4

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