The Meno, one of Plato’s dialogue, is one of the most studied Meno describes the excellence of humans as he answers Socrates with a list of virtues of a man. Socrates is looking an answer of the definition, but Meno is giving examples of virtue. Many Greek philosophers gave theories about the virtues of human beings; what comprises human excellence, in terms of virtues, of people. They believed that these theories were related to the final objective of human beings on this earth, as well as their intention and what incorporates the great life that everybody wants to have. This thesis will explain Meno’s words of philosophy on virtue of human beings, and attempt to defend them as well as refute what may not be correct. It will only concentrate on six lines, starting 70a to 71e.
[70a] Meno’s discussion with Socrates starts off with Meno posing a question, whether virtue can be taught. Plato and Bluck state that virtue can only be acquired through practice or it comes to humans through their personality (367). [70b] Socrates replies him, telling him that long ago, his people, Thessalians, were famous for their horse riding and wealth, but at that time they are famous for their wisdom. He continues to say that the fame has greatly been contributed by Gorgias, a sophist teacher. Gorgias advised the people of Aleuadae and Thessalians that they should answer every question given to them without fear and in a splendid manner, as a veteran is likely to answer. [70c]He gives out himself to any Greek, who wants to ask him a question as an example, and he answers all of them. [71a] Socrates says that wisdom has deserted them because he is not able to answer the question that Meno had asked him. He adds that not only does he not know the answer but also does not know what virtue is nor meeting one with virtue. He utters this after saying that wisdom has departed from his people and him to Meno, that if he asks anyone from his place that question, he will laugh and say that he thinks they are a super human.
[71b] On the fifth line of this assignment, Meno says that he is also in the same category with his people in terms of wisdom. He says he is going to do a self evaluation, making note that he does not know anything about virtue. He challenges himself that if he does not know what virtue is how he could then know its nature Bluck and Plato (394). [71c] Socrates engages into the dialogue saying that he has never met a person who knows what it comprises according to him. They indulge in a conversation when Meno disagrees with his claims that he has never met anyone, asking him whether he did not meet Gorgias. Socrates replies that he did, but he could not remember how he was at that time. He adds that, maybe he knew what it was and challenges Meno that he knows what Gorgias could have said.
[71d] Socrates asks Meno to tell him what Gorgias might have said or rather make his own statement concerning his views since he shared Gorgias views, Meno agrees to that. Socrates suggests that they pass him over since he is not present and asks Meno to say what he thinks the nature of virtue is and to do it frankly. He asks him this so that he proves to have met a person who has such knowledge as Gorgias and could have answered a question like that one. Meno accepts the challenge and answers without hesitation. [71e] He explains to him using examples of man, woman, child and elderly men. He does this by taking each one of them and stating their virtue. He starts with a man, where he states that his is to manage the affairs of the things around him and to do so in a way it helps his friends and hurts his foes Klein (153). The virtue of a woman, according to Meno, is to submit to his husband, take care of the property in the house while making sure it is in order. He continues define virtue from the angle of a child, differently for a male and female, from elderly men and also from freemen.
In the first line, Meno asks whether virtue can be taught. In their dialogue with Socrates, the answer to this question is more to the negative side; that it is difficult to be taught. However, to make it easier in answering this question, Plato might have framed in a different way, for example, “Can virtue be learned?” The two questions are different in the sense that, for something to be taught there has to be a student and a teacher, whereas, for something to be learned, only a student is required. In this case, virtue is the topic here, and I tend to think that it can more easily be learned; life or experience will be a teacher. So Plato’s question was narrow and difficult than whether virtue can be learned.
Rather than answering Socrates with a straight forward description of what he thinks of virtue, Meno uses examples instead. This leaves Socrates, not satisfied because examples of virtues cannot explain or give the definition of what it is Plato 12 (par 3). Socrates does not know how to relate what Meno says to what Gorgias would have said as he describes them to have the same views and wisdom. Socrates has not found the definition of virtue nor has Meno; hence Socrates cannot prove that he has met anyone with that knowledge.
The dialogue can be reconciled through redoing it, this time taking note of the issues discussed above; these include the rephrasing of the first question whether virtue can be taught. First having a clear knowledge of what virtue is before trying to give its qualities and Meno defining what virtue is in his own words instead of giving examples. The discussion in this thesis can provide us a moral lesson that virtue cannot be taught, so one should not expect anyone to help you memorize or understand the rules of virtues. One should learn them on their own, from what life comprises and be able to judge what is right or wrong, so as to make the virtues out of them.
Klein, Jacob. A Commentary On Plato's Meno (pg.153). Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1965.
Bluck R. S, Plato. Meno (pg. 367-394). London: Cambridge University Press, 2011.
Wians, William. "Virtue, Practice and Perplexity in Plato's Meno." 03 2013. Plato 12 (2012). 06 03 2014 <http://gramata.univ-paris1.fr/Plato/article117.html>.