Dialogue Of Plato And Meno Essay, Research Paper
Summary of Meno
In the “Meno” dialogue, Meno asks Socrates if he knows how virtue is acquired: by nature, or by teaching. Socrates replies that one cannot know how virtue is acquired unless one has a solid definition of ‘virtue.’ Socrates then charges Meno with the task of offering him a sufficient and whole definition of what virtue really is. However, Socrates has already created a foundation upon which a ‘whole’ and ‘unbroken’ definition of virtue cannot logically be made:
First, he claims that Meno offers him a “swarm” of virtues, i.e. a chaotic and/or unstable collection of isolated virtues. By eliciting from Meno the response that all bees, and thus, all virtues, are alike, the question arises: “What is the nature of virtue?” Secondly, Socrates forces Meno to observe the distinction between “virtue” and “a virtue.” He applies the metaphor of “figure” to this distinction in order to show that the mere acknowledgment of many virtues does not lead to a whole definition of virtue. Thirdly, he adds the category of “color” as the precondition and defining element of figure.
Meno notices that Socrates’ answer, “Figure is the only thing which always follows color,” is absurd because figure and color can only mutually imply each other. Figure and color, in Socrates’ definition, can only reference each other through their relationship, but not outside of it. Through the reiteration of these metaphors and/or the implicit relationships and dialectics they represent, Socrates is able to deconstruct all of Meno’s proceeding ideas on the nature of virtue.
As the dialogue progresses, virtue becomes increasingly ‘hermetic’ and ‘inexplicable. Socrates concludes that virtue “comes to the virtuous by the gift of God.” This conclusion builds on the fact that the nature of virtue still remains as of yet undefined, in that it implies that virtue cannot only be known, but not acquired by any means.