Thus, Plato is all the more determined to highlight Socrates' Plato’s Meno introduces aspects of Socratic ethics and Platonic epistemology in a fictional dialogue that is set among important political events and cultural concerns in the last years of Socrates’ life. Isn’t Socrates trying to teach Meno, by leading him to a correct definition of virtue, as he led Meno’s slave to the correct answer in the geometry lesson? Plato's earliest surviving dialogues, set in about 402 BCE (by extension, In this dialogue, Plato imagines Meno encountering Socrates shortly before that disastrous Persian adventure, when he has not yet proved himself to be the “scoundrel” and “tyrant” that Socrates suspects and Xenophon later confirms. Sharples, R. W. Plato’s Meno, Edited with Translation and Notes. wants in Meno's mouth, and because Meno is not himself an accomplished He seeks definitions of virtues like courage, moderation, justice, and piety, and often he suggests that each virtue, or virtue as a whole, is really some kind of knowledge. Meno’s paradox does not consider the act of forgetting and so it is possible to search for something that one knows but has forgotten due to the lack of certain memories. But Meno does not learn this lesson. And Socrates finishes by emphasizing that real knowledge of the answer requires working out the explanation for oneself. as bold, grand, and presumptuous. Hackett Publishing, 1980. To understand what Plato intends with his sketchy theory, we should compare the initial statement of the idea (81a-e), the alleged illustration of it (82a-85b), and the restatement of it after the illustration (85b-86b). Eventually, Meno blames Socrates for his trouble, and insults Socrates by comparing him with the ugly, numbing stingray. Meno refuses to pursue knowledge of virtue the hard way, and he thinks that what he hears about virtue the easy way is knowledge. The basic In the meantime, Socrates’ notion of learning as “recollection” indicates that knowledge requires much more than verbal instruction. Socrates that it is necessary because now the interlocutor does not know what he thought he did and he KNOWS that he doesn't know. 3 translated by W.R.M. Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vol. Meno (/ˈmiːnoʊ/; Greek: Μένων, Menōn) is a Socratic dialogue by Plato. (Implicit true belief is another state of cognition between complete knowledge and pure ignorance.) 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). Correct belief can direct our behavior well, too, though not nearly as reliably as knowledge. “Meno’s Paradox and Socrates as a Teacher.” In Essays on the Philosophy of Socrates, edited by Hugh Benson. Socrates was then about sixty-seven years old, and had long been famous for his difficult questions about virtue and knowledge. But the geometry lesson with the slave clearly does not demonstrate the reminding of something that was learned in a previous life. Socrates himself prefers. Meno is in fact intrigued, and when he asks for a demonstration, Socrates illustrates by cleverly leading an uneducated slave to the correct answer to a geometrical problem—and doing so by “only asking questions” and eliciting the correct answer from the slave himself. So in a sense, Socrates’ conclusion that something of “the truth about reality” is “always in our minds” (86b) is even roughly compatible with modern science. 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. This reformulation of Meno’s objection has come to be known as “Meno’s Paradox.” It is Plato’s first occasion for introducing his notorious “theory of recollection,” which is an early example of what would later be called a theory of innate ideas. Then he makes a momentous objection to conducting such an inquiry at all. As Plato depicts Socrates, it was not easy to understand his position in either the politics or the controversial new teachings of the time. Cambridge University Press, 1994. Since neither virtue nor any other concept has yet been defined in the way Simons was a contemporary of the Protestant Reformers and it is from his name that his followers became known as Mennonites. 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. There is not a great deal of context that is crucial to understanding the He reminds Meno that even professional teachers and good men themselves disagree about whether virtue can be taught. Thousands of Athenians were killed or fled the city, and many who stayed acquiesced in fear for their lives. not quite a fair fight, of course, since Plato can put whatever words he That requires working out the explanation for oneself (82d, 83d, 84b-c, 85c-d; compare 98a). Plato emphasizes that Socrates respected common citizens more than the famous and powerful (Apology 21b-22e), and that he disobeyed direct orders from the Thirty, at risk to his own life (32cd). But Anytus may well have sincerely believed that Socrates corrupted young men like Critias and Charmides by teaching them to question good traditions. The failed attempt to define virtue as a whole in the Meno is much like the failed attempts in other dialogues to define particular virtues: piety in the Euthyphro, courage in the Laches, moderation in the Charmides, and justice in the first book of the Republic. And then Socrates introduces a reason for reconsidering even that: it seems that such wisdom is never taught. When Meno starts to recognize his difficulties, Socrates encourages him to practice with definitions about shape (75a) and gives him a series of paradigms or examples to practice with (73e-77a); later, he criticizes Meno for refusing to do so (79a). actually "recalling" the truths set out in the dialogues, rather than U. S. A. Other characters in Plato’s dialogues usually have difficulty understanding what Socrates is asking for; in fact, the historical Socrates may have been the first person to be rigorous about such definitions. Active Socratic inquiry requires humble hard work on the part of all learners: practice in the sense of the personal effort and training that properly develops natural ability. Cambridge University Press, 2011. If a mind could always be in a state of having learned something, then there would be no point at which it learned that thing. When Anytus enters the discussion, his father is praised as a man who, unlike Anytus himself, did not receive his prosperity as a gift from his father, but earned it “by his own skill and hard work” (90a). Socrates published nothing himself, but, probably soon after his death, the Socratic dialogue was born as a new genre of literature. A further reason for the inconclusiveness of the Meno is the inherent difficulty of providing the kind of definition that Socrates seeks. Meno raises an objection to the entire definitional search in the form of (what has been called) “Meno’s Paradox,” or “The Paradox of Inquiry” (Meno 80d-e). But for now, the recently restored democracy is anxious about continuing class conflict, and fearful of renewed civil war. Is it something that is taught, or acquired through training, or possessed by nature? 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. Concerned with method, the dialogue develops Meno’s problem: How is it possible to search either… The conclusion of this hypothetical investigation would be that virtue is taught because it is some kind of knowledge—and the argument to that effect requires the rejection of Meno’s constant preference for “good things” like wealth and power (78c-d, 87e-89a). The Meno’s geometry lesson with the slave, where success in learning some geometry is supposed to encourage serious inquiry about virtue, is one indication of Plato’s interest in relations between mathematical and moral education. Opens up for inquiry which is good. that custom. 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. therefore serves as a Sophist foil for Socrates' logical points. 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. Xenophon’s Apology of Socrates, which is rather different from Plato’s, suggests that Anytus had a personal grudge against Socrates, since Socrates had criticized Anytus’ education of his own son, and predicted that he would turn out to be no good. 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. The Meno adds another criterion: that something may not be defined in terms of itself, or in related terms that are still subject to dispute. He offers a theory that “there is no teaching but recollection” (82a). Moravcsik, Julius. Instead of desiring to inquire into the real nature of virtue, he asks instead to hear Socrates’ answer to his initial question about how virtue is acquired. Klein, Jacob. But again, Socrates’ position in the conflict is not obvious. 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? Platonic dialogue). Yes, Socrates had met him, but he has a bad memory, and has forgotten what Gorgias said. Or is he just throwing up an abstract, defensive obstacle, so that he does not have to keep trying? Socrates' student, has written a kind of play, re-enacting the way in (91a). Accordingly, many scholars believe that the Meno was written between those groups of dialogues, and probably about 385 B.C.E. Meno There are some who think … Anytus in the Meno will be one of the three men who prosecute Socrates, which is specifically foreshadowed in the Meno at 94e. Some democrats were suspicious of Socrates, and may have believed that he had sided with the extreme oligarchs, because of his prior relationships with some of them. 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. In the Phaedrus, recollection of such Forms is not argued for but asserted, in a rather suggestive and playful manner, as part of a myth-based story about the human soul’s journeys with gods, which is meant to convey the power of love in philosophical learning. His natural talents and his privileged but unphilosophical education are not guided by wisdom or even patience, and he prefers “good things” like money over genuine understanding and moral virtue. Near this point in the dialogue, Socrates also states that after employing such ideas to elicit the relevant true beliefs, more work is still required for converting them to knowledge (85c-d). Meno clearly prefers the Sophist-style definition of Socrates shows him these guidelines, and tries to get him to practice. and implicitly agrees to Socrates' characterization of Sophist arguments But if Meno forgets or deliberately avoids it, Socrates does not. As Socrates three times exposes the inadequacies of Meno’s attempted definitions, giving examples and guidelines for further practice, Meno’s enthusiasm gives way to reluctance and frustration. inherited, class-based customs as the vehicle for virtue--he suggests that Knowing what virtue is not will bring Meno closer to knowing what it is, in a kind of backward way. For generations, Athens had been an intellectual, economic, and military leader, especially after her crucial role—together with Sparta—in repelling the Persian invasions of Greece in 490 B.C.E. the sorry state of affairs in Athens. He asks again whether virtue is something that is taught, and once again he wants to be taught about this just by being told (86c-d; compare 70a, 75b, 76a-b, 76d). The general amnesty did not allow prosecuting such allegations. First, he introduces a notion that the human soul has learned in previous lives, and suggests that learning is therefore possible by remembering what has been known but forgotten. At the time of his dialogue with Socrates, Meno is soon to begin his career as an important politician. The stylized heroes of Homer’s legendary Trojan war and the real soldiers of their own contemporary campaigns, the athletes at the Olympic games and the orators in political debates—all of these, whether they fought for survival or retribution or the common good, were also seeking honor from their peers for aretê. A Socratic definition is supposed to reveal the essence of a unitary concept or a type of real thing. But more important is the fact that he legitimately helps the slave to work out the reasoning, and thereby see the way in which the unexpected answer was implied by other true beliefs that he already had. Here, Socrates clearly asks “leading questions,” and eventually even shows the slave the answer in the form of a question (84e). straw man set up by Plato to highlight the kind of philosophy Socrates Anytus departs in annoyance at Socrates’ seemingly dismissive treatment of Athens’ political heroes, so Socrates continues the issue with Meno. Shortly before this dialogue takes place, some leading Spartans and allies considered killing all the Athenian men and enslaving the women and children. 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. Second Edition. Or is it trained? But what interests most people about Socrates today comes from Plato’s philosophical portraits. He too was wealthy, not in Meno’s old aristocratic way, but as heir to the successful tannery of a self-made businessman. Sophist (like Gorgias, who is the central figure in a much lengthier People born under this sign are energetic and excitable. Socrates quickly turns the discussion into an investigation of something more basic, namely, what such virtue is. Their executions, expropriations, and expulsions earned them the hatred of most Athenians; later “the Thirty” became known as “the Thirty Tyrants.” The extremists among them first purged their more obvious enemies, then turned to the moderates who resisted their cruelty and wanted a broader oligarchy or restricted democracy that included the thousands in the middle class. Fine, Gail. “Three Aspects of Plato’s Philosophy of Learning and Instruction.” Paideia Special Plato Issue (1976): 50-62. Or what kind of wisdom? In each case, since Meno accepts these claims that contradict his proposed definitions, he is shown not to know what he thought he knew about virtue. Such a definition would specify not just any qualities that are common to that kind of thing, but the qualities that make them be the kind of thing they are. 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). This cluster of Platonic concerns is variously developed in the Phaedo, Symposium, Republic, and Phaedrus, but in those dialogues, these concerns are combined with arguments concerning imperceptible, immaterial Forms, which are never mentioned in the Meno. First, he argues, on the hypothesis that virtue is necessarily good, that it must be some kind of knowledge, and therefore must be something that is taught. Chinese Zodiac: Meno Lugo was born in the Year of the Rat. 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. He 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. SOCRATES: 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. But he agrees, reluctantly, to examine whether virtue is something that is taught by way of “hypotheses” about what sorts of things are taught, and about what sorts of things are good. Penguin Classics, 2006. perception will eventually lead to his trial and execution for "corrupting The Meno is a philosophical fiction, based on real people who took part in important historical events. Meno readily admits to being an enthusiastic follower of Gorgias 54]. For Meno, at the beginning of the discussion, was sure in his knowledge of virtue. to questions (although, in practical terms, these answers are often just And Meno’s definition of virtue as the ability to rule over others (73d) is incompatible with his agreements that a successful definition of virtue must apply to all cases of virtue (so including those of children and slaves) and only to cases of virtue (so excluding cases of unjust rule). “Anamnesis in the Meno.” Dialogue IV (1965): 143-167. 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. which Socrates practiced his philosophy (he did not write it down, but And “excellence” is rather weak and abstract for the focus of these Socratic dialogues, which is something people spent a lot of time thinking and worrying about. 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. Later, he supported the moderate faction among the Thirty Tyrants, and was banished by the extremists. Translated by Alex Long and David Sedley. Or is it neither learned nor trained…). Thus, Meno is able to say with authority that the “Socratic Education.” In Philosophers on Education, edited by Amelie Rorty, 13-29. 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. The dilemma is that we cannot learn either what we know or what we do not know, because there is no need to learn what we already know, and we cannot recognize what we do not yet know. 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. Summary of Arguments, in Three Main Stages, Relations of the Meno to Other Platonic Dialogues, Some Articles and Essays on the Major Themes. Platonis Opera, vol. Plato wrote it probably about 385 B.C.E., and placed it dramatically in 402 B.C.E. ), both of which associate it closely with theories of human immortality and eternal, transcendent Forms. This is where Anytus arrives and enters the discussion: he too objects to the sophists who claim to teach virtue for pay, and asserts that any good gentleman can teach young men to be good in the normal course of life. The Meno is a philosophical fiction, based on real people who took part in important historical events. Meno is also a handy interlocutor for this dialogue because he is 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 this sense, Meno is something of a Then he was a general for the democratic forces in the fight to overthrow the Thirty in 403 B.C.E., and he quickly became a leading politician in the restored democracy. But there it is countered by a long explanation from the sophist Protagoras of how virtue is in fact taught to everyone by everyone, not with definitions or by mere verbal instruction, but in a life-long training of human nature through imitation, storytelling, and rewards and punishments of many kinds. (That was a traditional aristocratic notion, but it has a democratic shape at Meno 92e, Apology 24d ff., and Protagoras 325c ff.) Socrates responds by calling over an enslaved boy and, after establishing that he has had no mathematical training, gives him a geometry problem. (86b-c). It is commonly thought that in the Meno we see Plato transitioning from (a) a presumably earlier group of especially “Socratic” dialogues, which defend Socrates’ ways of refuting unwarranted claims to knowledge and promoting intellectual humility, and so are largely inconclusive concerning virtue and knowledge, to (b) a presumably “middle” group of more constructively theoretical dialogues, which involve Plato’s famous metaphysics and epistemology of transcendent “Forms,” such Justice itself, Equality itself, and Beauty or Goodness itself. Socrates Meno, of old the Thessalians were famous and admired among the Greeks for their riding and Plato. (80d). Cambridge University Press, 1961. 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. (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.) Bluck, R. S. Plato’s Meno, Edited with Introduction and Commentary. “Inquiry in the Meno.” In The Cambridge Companion to Plato, edited by Richard Kraut, 200-226. Intellectuals debated how it is acquired; politicians knew they had to speak persuasively about it; and Socrates himself considered it the most important thing in life. follower of Gorgias, one of the most reputable of the Sophist So the geometry lesson successfully demonstrates some of the beauty of Socratic education, and the power of deductive reasoning in learning. Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1979. is a member of this class. Cambridge University Press, 2006. It seems to be tacitly dropped from the rest of the dialogue, and when Meno later revisits his opening challenge, he omits the option about training (86c-d). Perhaps because, in effect, it is really Meno’s own hypothesis, as his opening questions and his behavior throughout the dialogue persistently imply. After those Persian invasions, many independent cities had asked Athens to replace Sparta in leading a united defense and reprisal against the Persian empire. Socrates encounters this idea that Socrates interprets Meno’s objection in the obstructionist way, and reformulates it as a paradoxical theoretical dilemma: Do you see what a contentious debater’s argument you’re bringing up—that it seems impossible for a person to seek either what he knows or what he doesn’t know? This dialogue probably takes place in one of Athens’ gymnasia, where men and boys of leisure gathered not just for exercise, but also for education and socializing. The dialogue closes with the surprising suggestion that virtue as practiced in our world both depends on true belief rather than knowledge and is received as some kind of divine gift. Meno is apparently visiting the newly restored Athenian government to request aid for his family, one of the ruling aristocracies in Thessaly, in northern Greece, that was currently facing new power struggles there. The second stage of the dialogue begins with that momentous, twofold objection: if someone does not already know what virtue is, how could he even look for it, and how could he even recognize it if he were to happen upon it? The geometry lesson, which is supposed to exhibit successful persistent inquiry in the face of previous failures, concludes with advice about the need to work through problems “many times in many ways” (85c) and with a repeated warning about intellectual laziness (86b). Thessalians do not have anyone who can clearly teach virtue, while 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. Nor could he seek what he doesn’t know, because he doesn’t know what to look for. Conclusion 1 of geometry lesson. achievements of the dialogue, it helps to keep in mind some details about We should note briefly the basic form of the Platonic dialogues: Plato, 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. 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.… While Socrates and Meno discuss the nature of virtue, this young man stands by and watches. this lack of previous philosophies. 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. 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. Socrates quickly points out that it is impossible to answer this question without knowing what virtue is. An actual historical politician 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. Burnet, John. Anytus is a prominent Athenian politician and Meno’s host in Athens. All of that resembles what we see in early dialogues like the Euthyphro, Laches, Charmides, and Lysis. The democracy would continue for most of the next century, and even a semblance of the empire would be revived. Socrates often conducted his distinctive philosophical conversations in places like that, and ambitious young men like Meno, who studied public speaking and the hot intellectual topics of the times, wanted to hear what Socrates had to say. Anytus is even more clearly a stand-in for the somber, unconsidered Socrates generally advocates humility and justice above all (for example, Apology 20cff, 29dff, Crito 49aff), and he specifically refutes and chastises Charmides and Critias in Plato’s Charmides. At one point, Socrates calls him over and asks if he knows anything about geometry. It is pervaded with typical Socratic and Platonic criticisms of how, in spite of people’s constant talk of virtue, they value things like wealth and power more than wisdom and justice. Or even if you should meet right up against it, how will you know that this is the thing you didn’t know? Later in the conversation, Socrates even seems to identify “recollection” with this latter part of the process (98a). Socrates (and Anytus, a prominent Athenian statesman) can vouch for Anytus had himself been prosecuted in 409 B.C.E., for failure as a general in the war against Sparta, and allegedly he escaped punishment by bribing the jury. This method is deeply related 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). Plato also explores other models of innate knowledge elsewhere, such as an innate mental pregnancy in the Symposium (206c-212b; compare Phaedrus 251a ff.) 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? They hate hypocrisy and gossip and can sometimes be a bit arrogant and impatient. Meno’s frustration in trying to define virtue had led him to object: But in what way will you look for it, Socrates, this thing that you don’t know at all what it is? And then he just wants to hear Socrates’ answers, and keeps resisting the hard work of definition that Socrates keeps encouraging. So even if a “teacher” can show the answer, he cannot give the understanding. Like other “Platonic Recollection and Mental Pregnancy.” Journal of the History of Philosophy 44 (2006): 137-155. Rawson, Glenn. Woodruff, Paul. Since Socrates denies knowing the nature of virtue, while Meno confidently claims to know all about it, Socrates gets Meno to try defining it.