Socrates published nothing himself, but, probably soon after his death, the Socratic dialogue was born as a new genre of literature. There is not a great deal of context that is crucial to understanding the Plato wrote it probably about 385 B.C.E., and placed it dramatically in 402 B.C.E. The Meno takes up the familiar question of whether virtue can be taught, and, if so, why eminent men have not been able to bring up their sons to be virtuous. Summary of Arguments, in Three Main Stages, Relations of the Meno to Other Platonic Dialogues, Some Articles and Essays on the Major Themes. This inquiry exhibits typical features of the Socratic method of elenchus, or refutation by cross-examination, and it employs typical criteria for the notoriously difficult goal of Socratic definitions. Socrates’ efforts to guide Meno throughout the dialogue indicate that achieving the wisdom that is virtue would require both the right kind of natural abilities and the right kind of training or practice—so that teaching can help if it is not mere verbal instruction but discussions that help a learner to discover the knowledge for himself. And the combination of quotations from Theognis near the end of the dialogue suggest that virtue is learned not through verbal teaching alone, but through some kind of character-apprenticeship under the guidance of others who are already accomplished in virtue (95d ff.). All of that resembles what we see in early dialogues like the Euthyphro, Laches, Charmides, and Lysis. Like Meno, most of us think we already know what “being a good person” or “being a great person” is like, but we would be stumped if we had to define it. Thessalians do not have anyone who can clearly teach virtue, while the youth." working not so much in the context of previous philosophies as in the But we’ll be better men, braver and less lazy, if we believe that we must search for the things we don’t know, rather than if we believe that it’s not possible to find out what we don’t know, and that we must not search for it—this I would fight for very much, so long as I’m able, both in theory and in practice. any "gentleman" on the streets of Athens is a fine example of virtue. Since Socrates denies knowing the nature of virtue, while Meno confidently claims to know all about it, Socrates gets Meno to try defining it. Meno was a young man who was described in historical records as treacherous, eager for wealth and supremely self-confident. A surprising interpretation of knowledge occurs in the middle third of the Meno, when Socrates suggests that real learning is a special kind of remembering. questions of Meno, and only rarely offering points himself. Meno's semi-foreign status aids Socrates (and Plato) in the dialogue, allowing for … Sharples, R. W. Plato’s Meno, Edited with Translation and Notes. Socrates himself prefers. He too was wealthy, not in Meno’s old aristocratic way, but as heir to the successful tannery of a self-made businessman. This whole lesson was conducted in order to encourage Meno to try learning what virtue is, when he does not have a teacher to tell him what it is (81e-82a, 86c). When Meno resists yet again after the theory of recollection and the geometry lesson (86c), Socrates cleverly investigates this hypothesis, implicit in Meno’s behavior, to redirect Meno’s attention from his question about how virtue is acquired (Is it taught?) O Meno, there was a time when the Thessalians were famous among the other Hellenes only for their riches and their riding; but now, if I am not mistaken, they are equally famous for their wisdom, especially at Larisa, which is the native city of your friend Aristippus. The understanding requires active inquiry and discovery for oneself, based on innate mental resources and a genuine desire to learn. Meno, a pupil of Aristotle, specifically stated in his history of medicine the views of Hippocrates on the causation of diseases, namely, that undigested residues were produced by unsuitable diet and that these residues excreted vapours, which passed into the body generally and produced diseases.… About the historical Socrates, much of what we think we know is drawn from what Plato wrote about him. So it is important to notice that Socrates partly restates the “theory of recollection” after the geometry lesson. Socrates argues that only knowledge is necessarily good, and the goodness or badness of everything else depends on whether it is directed by knowledge. Cambridge University Press, 2006. kind of pompous, elaborately rhetorical, but largely vacuous Sophist “Inquiry in the Meno.” In The Cambridge Companion to Plato, edited by Richard Kraut, 200-226. Rawson, Glenn. “Meno”, v. 1.0, copyright John Holbo, 2002 PH1101E/GE1004M S: Therefore, since everyone’s virtue is the same, try to tell me – and try to remember what you and Gorgias said – that same thing is. But this dialogue gets no further than arguing that virtue is some sort of wisdom, “in whole or in part” (89a). So what sort of thing is this aretê that they are trying to understand? In this whole inconclusive conversation, the most important Socratic proposal is that “virtue” (aretê in Greek) must be some kind of knowledge. Meno’s assumption that knowledge must be taught, and taught by mere verbal instruction, prevents a fuller investigation in this dialogue of Socrates’ hope that virtue is a kind of knowledge. Nonetheless, in order to understand the aims and Anytus in the Meno will be one of the three men who prosecute Socrates, which is specifically foreshadowed in the Meno at 94e. Use up and down arrows to review and enter to select. A successful definition in Socrates’ sense does not just state how a given word is used, or identify examples, or stipulate a special meaning for a given context. not quite a fair fight, of course, since Plato can put whatever words he So Socrates could be quite serious in his lengthy argument that virtue must be some kind of knowledge (87c-89a), while reluctantly making use of the unsupported hypothesis that knowledge must be taught because, in effect, Meno insists upon it. It attempts to define virtue and uses Socratic dialogue made famous by Plato’s mentor, Socrates, to determine what virtue is and what it is not. 'Then he cannot have met Gorgias when he was at Athens.' But what about his practice? It begins as an abrupt, prepackaged debater’s challenge from Meno about whether virtue can be taught, and quickly becomes an open and inconclusive search for the essence of this elusive “virtue,” or human goodness in general. Eventually, Meno blames Socrates for his trouble, and insults Socrates by comparing him with the ugly, numbing stingray. The dialogue begins with Meno asking Socrates whether virtue can be taught, and this question (along with the more fundamental question of what virtue is) occupies the two men for the entirety of the text. Weiss, Roslyn. Woodruff, Paul. Scott, Dominic. the sorry state of affairs in Athens. Clearly, what Socrates is looking for would be not just theoretical knowledge but some kind of practical wisdom, a knowledge that can properly direct our behavior and our use of material things. We should note briefly the basic form of the Platonic dialogues: Plato, Santas, Gerasimos. In the Gorgias (named after a sophist or orator who is mentioned early in the Meno as one of Meno’s teachers), Socrates debates an ambitious young orator-politician who is drawn to a crass hedonism, and claims that his soul lacks good order because he neglects geometry, and so does not appreciate the ratios or proportions exhibited in the good order of nature. He prefers the more traditional assumption that good gentlemen learn goodness not from professional teachers but by association with the previous generation of good gentlemen. In this final portion of the dialogue, Socrates twice again asks Meno whether “if there are no teachers, there are no learners.” And Meno keeps affirming it, though no longer with full confidence: “I think … So it seems … if we have examined this correctly” (96c-d). According to Socrates, the practical purpose of the theory of recollection is to make Meno eager to learn without a teacher (81e-82a, 86b-c). So even if a “teacher” can show the answer, he cannot give the understanding. In the dialogue, Meno believes he is virtuous because he has given several discourses about it in the past: and Socrates proves that he can't know whether he's virtuous or not because he doesn't know what virtue is. In this sense, Meno is something of a Routledge, 1998. Plato: Protagoras and Meno. In it, Socrates tries to determine the definition of virtue, or rather arete, meaning virtue in general, rather than particular virtues, such as justice or temperance.The first part of the work is written in the Socratic dialectical style, and depicts Meno as being reduced to confusion or aporia. An actual historical politician The general amnesty did not allow prosecuting such allegations. The examination of Meno's slave is an Or is it neither learned nor trained…). Plato’s Meno. In just a few years, he would be convicted and executed for the crime of corrupting the youth of Athens. of the time, he's grumpy, largely closed to new ideas, and insistent on He asks Meno to join him again in a search for the definition of virtue. While Socrates and Meno discuss the nature of virtue, this young man stands by and watches. Eventually, Socrates seems to persuade him that the essence of aretê must be some kind of knowledge, but then this provisional conclusion gives way under the observation that what they are looking for is apparently never actually taught. He simply argued on the streets). Here Socrates leads Meno to two opposed conclusions. This paradoxical phrasing turns the initial statement of the theory of recollection, which stretched a common-sense notion of learning from experience over a number of successive lifetimes, into the beginnings of a theory of innate ideas, because the geometrical beliefs or concepts somehow belong to the mind at all times. For the time… read analysis of Meno. Most of this third of the dialogue is then an extended series of arguments against Meno’s three attempts to define virtue. After the geometry lesson, Socrates briefly reinterprets the alleged “recollection” in a way that can be taken as the discovery of some kind of innate knowledge, or innate ideas or beliefs. In this task, his primary foe is Greek U. S. A. These teachers were independent entrepreneurs, competing with each other and providing an early form of higher education. And then Socrates introduces a reason for reconsidering even that: it seems that such wisdom is never taught. But there is something wrong with the hypothesis that all and only knowledge is taught. The democracy would continue for most of the next century, and even a semblance of the empire would be revived. “Socratic Education.” In Philosophers on Education, edited by Amelie Rorty, 13-29. Cambridge University Press, 1961. Much of their influence came through their expensive courses in public speaking, which in Athens prepared young men of old aristocratic families for success in democratic politics. 3 translated by W.R.M. This line is pursued with the further “firm hypothesis” that virtue must always be a good thing. Plato: Meno and Phaedo. But the last of the extreme oligarchs would soon massacre the nearby town of Eleusis and take power there, and then attempt another takeover at Athens in 401 B.C.E., before they are finally put down for good. The Meno seems to be philosophically transitional between rough groupings of dialogues that are often associated in allegedly chronological terms, though these groupings have been qualified and questioned in various ways. When the conversation returns to Meno’s initial question of whether virtue can be taught, Socrates introduces another manner of investigation, a method of “hypotheses,” by which he argues that virtue must be some kind of knowledge, and so it must be something that’s taught. At least he gets Meno to follow him in a self-consciously “hypothetical” approach—a kind of method that he claims to borrow from mathematicians, who use it when they cannot prove more securely what they want to prove. Conclusion 1 of geometry lesson. The Meno is related by its dramatic setting to the famous series of dialogues that center on the historical indictment, trial, imprisonment, and death of Socrates (Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, and Phaedo). [77d] Meno Yes; what else could it be? Socrates quickly points out that it is impossible to answer this question without knowing what virtue is. Burnet, John. Or is it neither trained nor learned, but people get it by nature, or in some other way? “Socratic Definitions.” In Gerasimos Santas, Socrates: Philosophy in Plato’s Early Dialogues, 97-135. But then he argues, from the fact that no one does seem to teach virtue, that virtue is not after all something that is taught, and therefore must not be knowledge. Shortly before this dialogue takes place, some leading Spartans and allies considered killing all the Athenian men and enslaving the women and children. As Meno and Socrates discuss the nature of virtue and how it might be acquired, the Athenian success story is not over. And Socrates emphatically alleges that when the slave becomes aware of his own ignorance, he properly desires to overcome it by learning; this too is supposed to be an object lesson for Meno (84a-d). Thousands of Athenians were killed or fled the city, and many who stayed acquiesced in fear for their lives. Socrates asks one if meno's servants a geometry question and after a few attempts, he realizes he does not know. to the idea of anamnesis--the interlocutors are thought to be He illustrates with a geometrical hypothesis that is notoriously obscure, but the corresponding hypothesis about virtue seems to be this: if virtue is something that is taught, then it is a kind of knowledge, and if it is a kind of knowledge, then it is something that is taught (87b-c). The contemporary historian Xenophon (who also wrote Socratic dialogues) survived Cyrus’ failed campaign, and he wrote an account whose description of Meno resonates with Plato’s portrait here: ambitious yet lazy for the hard work of doing things properly, and motivated by desire for wealth and power while easily forgetting friendship and justice. But the geometry lesson with the slave clearly does not demonstrate the reminding of something that was learned in a previous life. But in the third stage of the dialogue, Meno nonetheless resists, and asks Socrates instead to answer his initial question: is virtue something that is taught, or is it acquired in some other way? (However, that second group of dialogues remains rather tentative and exploratory in its theories, and there is also (c) a presumably “late” group of dialogues that seems critical of the middle-period metaphysics, adopting somewhat different logical and linguistic methods in treating similar philosophical issues.) The notion of learning as recollection is revisited most conspicuously in Plato’s Phaedo (72e-76e) and Phaedrus (246a ff. The slave is better off that he does not know because he isn't under a false impression, and now wants to know the truth. Next, Socrates offers an independent argument (based on a different hypothesis) that virtue must in fact be some kind of knowledge, because virtue is necessarily good and beneficial, and only knowledge could be necessarily good and beneficial. Socrates' student, has written a kind of play, re-enacting the way in Book VII of the Republic describes a system of higher education designed for ideal rulers, which uses a graduated series of mathematical studies to prepare such rulers for philosophical dialectic and for eventually understanding the Form of Goodness itself. The questions in the Meno about teaching virtue are directly related to longstanding tensions between oligarchic and democratic factions. The closing pages argue that if their earlier hypothesis was true, and “people are taught nothing but knowledge,” then since virtue is not taught, virtue would not be knowledge. Anytus is one of three men who will bring Socrates to trial in 399 B.C.E. But then Anytus cannot explain Socrates’ long list of counterexamples: famous Athenians who were widely considered virtuous, but who did not teach their virtue even to their own sons. Is it something that is taught, or acquired through training, or possessed by nature? Many of his contemporaries, like Meno and Anytus in this dialogue, probably could not distinguish his kinds of questions from other “arts of words” practiced by other intellectuals or “sophists.” But Plato often has Socrates criticizing sophists for claiming to teach more than they knew, and he emphasizes that, by contrast, Socrates never claimed to be a teacher, never accepted fees for his conversations, never sought wealth or political power, and always pursued subjects related to seeking the real nature of virtue. So why would Socrates use the faulty hypothesis that knowledge and only knowledge is taught, when it contradicts his notion of recollection and his model geometry lesson? The Meno is a philosophical fiction, based on real people who took part in important historical events. And it includes a tense confrontation with one of the men who will bring Socrates to trial on charges of corrupting young minds with dangerous teachings about morality and religion. (86b-c). At one point, Socrates calls him over and asks if he knows anything about geometry. Translated by Alex Long and David Sedley. The larger setting is the political and social crisis at the end of the long Peloponnesian War. But again, Socrates’ position in the conflict is not obvious. Socrates criticizes Meno for still wanting to know how virtue is acquired without first understanding what it is. Is Meno here honestly identifying a practical difficulty with this particular kind of inquiry, where the participants now seem not to know even what they are looking for? Moravcsik, Julius. (after Anytus’ return from exile in 403 B.C.E., before Meno’s departure for Persia by early 401 B.C.E., and shortly before annual rites of initiation to the religious Mysteries, which are mentioned at Meno 76e). perception will eventually lead to his trial and execution for "corrupting (93a-b). Woodruff, Paul. form of this kind of Socratic interview (the elenchus) is for Much of the best Greek art still familiar to us today—the sculpture and architecture, the tragedy and comedy—comes from the Athens of that time. Here, Socrates clearly asks “leading questions,” and eventually even shows the slave the answer in the form of a question (84e). But Anytus may well have sincerely believed that Socrates corrupted young men like Critias and Charmides by teaching them to question good traditions. this lack of previous philosophies. Socrates does not object to this theory of moral education (instead he objects to other parts of Protagoras’ account), and elements of it are included in the system of education outlined by Socrates in Plato’s Republic. The passage about recollection in the Phaedo even begins by alluding to the one in the Meno, but then it discusses recollection not of specific beliefs or propositions (like the theorem about doubling the square in the Meno), but of basic general concepts like Equality and Beauty, which Socrates argues cannot be learned from our experiences in this life. Or what kind of wisdom? Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vol. The practical side of learning as recollection applies no less in Socrates’ interactions with Meno. Even these Platonic portraits vary somewhat across his many dialogues, but all are similar in one way or another to what we see in the Meno. Vlastos, Gregory. Oxford University Press, 1992. He couldn’t seek what he knows, because he knows it, and there’s no need for him to seek it. A Commentary on Plato’s Meno. Yes, Socrates had met him, but he has a bad memory, and has forgotten what Gorgias said. ); and that this kind of explanation must apply to all relevant cases (73d) and only to relevant cases (78d-e); and that something cannot be so explained in terms of itself or related terms that are still matters of dispute (79a-e). In the context, that “always” does seem to include many lifetimes, though it could in principle refer just to however long the mind has existed, perhaps since some point of development in the womb. Meno readily admits to being an enthusiastic follower of Gorgias At any rate, Socrates’ questions about education in the Meno upset Anytus enough to warn Socrates to desist, or risk getting hurt—thus foreshadowing Anytus’ role in Socrates’ trial. One of Socrates’ arguments late in the Meno, that virtue probably cannot be taught because men who are widely considered virtuous have not taught it even to their own sons, is also used near the beginning of Plato’s Protagoras. While the theory that learning is recollection suggests that an essential basis for wisdom and virtue is innate, Socrates also reminds Meno that any such basis in nature would still require development through experience (89b). Meno is one of Plato’s shortest but most influential dialogues. But what interests most people about Socrates today comes from Plato’s philosophical portraits. Yes, Socrates had met him, but he has a bad memory, and has forgotten what Gorgias said. Glenn Rawson That is enough to refute Meno’s Paradox, which inferred the impossibility of learning from a false dichotomy between complete knowledge and pure ignorance. The Meno does not end up specifying just what kind of innate resources enable genuine learning about geometry or virtue: Socrates infers from the geometry lesson both that the slave had innate knowledge (85d), and that he had innate beliefs that can be converted to knowledge (85c, 86a), but the dialogue ends with an agreement that “men have neither of these by nature, neither knowledge nor true belief” (98c-d). Simons was a contemporary of the Protestant Reformers and it is from his name that his followers became known as Mennonites. We cannot be precise or certain about much in Plato’s writing career. III. Socrates replies that he does not as yet know what virtue is, and has never known anyone who did. (71a-b) Meno first attempts to define virtue by specifying its different types–that of a … But they decided instead to support a takeover by a brutal, narrow oligarchy, led by thirty members of aristocratic Athenian families who were unhappy with the democracy. In reading the summary contained on this He reminds Meno that even professional teachers and good men themselves disagree about whether virtue can be taught. Thus, Plato is all the more determined to highlight Socrates' cultural custom and the political aristocracy that most strongly embodies In closing, Socrates reminds Meno that their confusion about whether aretê is taught is a result of their confusion about the nature of aretê itself. Meno refuses to pursue knowledge of virtue the hard way, and he thinks that what he hears about virtue the easy way is knowledge. As Socrates says to Anytus: For some time we have been examining … whether virtue is something that’s taught. Through many reversals of fortune, Athens both suffered greatly and flourished culturally, using some of that tribute for her own development and adornment. It seems that Meno is used to thinking of learning as just hearing and remembering what others say, and he objects to continuing the inquiry into the nature of virtue with Socrates precisely because neither of them already knows what it is (80d). meno synonyms, meno pronunciation, meno translation, English dictionary definition of meno. Some philosophers and experimental psychologists today agree that basic mathematical concepts, and the beliefs implicit in them (along with many others), are innate—not as an eternal possession of an immortal soul, but as a universal and specialized human capacity determined in part by biological evolution. According to the initial statement, all souls have already learned everything in many former lives, and learning in this life is therefore a matter of remembering what was once known but is now forgotten. Oxford University Press, 2001. Socrates shows him these guidelines, and tries to get him to practice. Cambridge University Press, 1992. 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