Being all deep and stuff: Plato’s Meno

posted by Dr. James G. Hood
Friday, May 28, 2010

The discussion begins with Meno telling Socrates that he knows the nature of virtue. As a result Socrates dialogues with Meno to determine what exactly he means by virtue. Initially, Meno claims that virtue is “to find joy in beautiful things and have power”, but after subsequent questioning by Socrates, Meno sees the circular argument he has been using: A virtuous action is one that is performed with virtue. Meno is not happy with this, so he calls Socrates a “broad torpedo fish” and then asks how something can be explored that is completely unknown to the both of them. Socrates responds with an argument for the doctrine of forms. The argument rests on revelation which proves that souls are immortal. The immortal souls of humans have existed for endless amounts of time; therefore, the souls of people having learned everything. Therefore, the task of a person’s life is not to learn things anew, but to recall what his/her particular soul has already learned. The mentioning of this doctrine is important according to Socrates because it gives people motivation to search for things they do not know rather than believing that things are impossible to be known (216).

In light of this new perspective, Meno and Socrates explore the possibility of whether virtue can be learned. In the beginning, Socrates immediately sets up an argument by analogy in which he compares the attempt of a triangle being inscribed in a circle to the investigation of virtue. Virtue is either teachable or not (making it a disjunctive syllogism) and like the properties of a triangle being inscribed in a circle some properties can be known however abstractly. The arguments then proceed in the form of Modus Ponens whereby the questioners’ antecedent is affirmed by the respondent. The antecedent is usually proven to be true by an argument by example. Sometimes the arguments consist of a disjunctive syllogism embedded in Modus Ponens. The pair then explores both alternatives and reasons through arguments by example which is better. The argument continues following these chains of reasoning with occasional counter examples provided and shown to be false.

Works Cited
Cohen, S. Marc., Patricia Curd, and C. Reeve. Readings in Ancient Greek Philosophy: from Thales to Aristotle. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Pub., 2005. Print.


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