Virtue in the Cave is a study of Plato's Meno. Taking the dialogue's central theme to be the question of what virtue is, this book explores the limits of moral inquiry. Whereas Meno is not satisfied with an inquiry whose final result falls short of knowledge, Socrates sees value in joint moral investigation that culminates in true opinion. It suggests that Socrates tailors these notions specifically to Meno, in order to encourage him to pursue doggedly the inquiry into virtue, an inquiry he is all too prepared to abandon when the going gets rough. Stewardson Professor and Chair at Lehigh University.
See All Customer Reviews. Shop Books. Add to Wishlist. USD Sign in to Purchase Instantly. Overview Virtue in the Cave is a study of Plato's Meno. Average Review. Write a Review. Related Searches. Apologizing for Socrates examines some of Plato's and Xenophon's Socratic writings, specifically those that address Apologizing for Socrates examines some of Plato's and Xenophon's Socratic writings, specifically those that address well-known controversiese concerning the life and death of Socrates.
Gabriel Danzig argues that the effort to defend Socrates from a variety of contemporary charges helps View Product. This book shows how the discussion of Platos' Republic is a comic mimetic cure for This book shows how the discussion of Platos' Republic is a comic mimetic cure for civic and psychic delusion. Plato creates such pharmaka, or noble lies, for reasons enunciated by Socrates within the discussion, but this indicates Plato must think Commentary on the Constitution from Plato to Rousseau.
Why is moral knowledge impossible? How does one tell when Socrates is being sincere and when he is being ironic or is dissembling? Why does Socrates work so hard in the Meno to introduce and promote doctrines that he does not endorse? If Socrates deliberately misleads, what makes what Socrates does philosophy? Let me address each of these questions in turn. Socrates comes to accept that moral knowledge though not, by any means, all knowledge is not possible for ordinary human beings.
The kind of wisdom that ordinary human beings possess is, at best, human wisdom; but moral wisdom is wisdom greater than human.
- Virtue in the Cave Moral Inquiry in Plato's Meno | Socrates | Apology (Plato)!
- Virtue in the Cave!
- Fundamentals of Digital Machine Computing.
- Lifes That Way!
- rw03 | Department of Philosophy.
- An Introduction to Number Theory 2 DVD Set with Guidebook?
Moral wisdom is something the gods —if there are gods—would have, as might godlike men those who are the equivalent of "Teiresias among the dead". The lesson Socrates learns from the oracle is that the wisest of human end p. If the height of human wisdom is the recognition of one's moral ignorance, then there is no human wisdom that is moral expertise. For someone to achieve moral expertise, he would have to ascend out of the Cave, out of the realm of opinion, and become, in some sense, divine. How might one do that? Socrates' method, the elenchus, proceeds on the assumption that no one can.
It is a method that tests opinions—against other opinions. It shows some opinions to be better and others worse, some sets of beliefs to be more coherent and others less so. Yet the elenchus provides no tether strong enough to secure moral beliefs permanently. Indeed, one can never be certain that tomorrow will not bring a new and powerful argument that will cast doubt on an opinion held today. That is why, for Socrates, the best a human being can do, in death as in life, is to keep challenging and testing his own views in light of those of others see AP.
Moral knowledge is impossible, most obviously, because there simply is no decisive, objective test in ethics. Everyone has a different opinion, and even if some opinions are true and others false, there is no final way to settle the matter. There are no acknowledged moral experts.
There are no widely recognized teachers. As Socrates points out in the Euthyphro 7b-c , if the gods dispute about number, weight, or measure, they will not dispute for long. If they do dispute for long, their dispute will be about moral matters: right and wrong, good and bad, noble and base. There is in ethics no counting, no scale, no yardstick. There is, to be sure, thinking and reason, but in moral matters, the premisses upon which reason operates are just people's opinions. Progress is not ruled out; but certainty—knowledge—is. Also, there is no suprahuman vantage point from which a human being can judge what is best for human beings.
No human being stands to us as we stand, say, to the foals and calves whose good we seek to secure see Ap. The doctor treats our bodies, but he does not treat us. What is needed for moral knowledge end p. No ordinary mortal is so positioned as to be able to do that. What is the point of searching for moral knowledge if its attainment is impossible? Knowledge is the goal of inquiry. And this is so regardless of whether knowledge is or is not a possible outcome of the inquiry. Thus, when people explore urgent moral questions, as when they explore urgent theological ones, their inquiry is spurred by their pressing need to know—even as they are aware in advance that they will never know.
Xenophanes, for example, quoted at the beginning of this Introduction, delved deeply into the question of the divine nature—despite his full and explicit recognition that neither he nor any other human being could ever achieve knowledge concerning the gods. Socrates wants desperately to know about moral matters; there is, for him, no more important human concern than how one ought to live.
He encourages his associates to appreciate as he does how vital it is to have such knowledge and how shameful it therefore is not to have it Gorg. Nevertheless, he does not think it possible for him, or others, to know. Like Xenophanes with respect to the gods, Socrates believes, with respect to virtue, that true opinion is the most that can be achieved by ordinary men.
In the practical sense, then, Socrates' goal may be said to be true opinion. His ideal goal, however, unattainable as it may be, is knowledge.
Plato's Republic: Philosophers by Nature, by Design, and Socratic | Roslyn Weiss
Does Socrates willfully deceive Meno in argument? Is he not, then, a sophist? Socrates deals with each interlocutor as befits the interlocutor. The interlocutor's beliefs and character determine, to a very great extent, both Socrates' demeanor toward him and the kinds of argument he fashions to address him.
In all Socrates' dealings, however, even those in which he baits, teases, befuddles, manipulates, or shames his interlocutor, Socrates has the interlocutor's best interests at heart. Socrates is a gadfly—and gadflies bite. Indeed, in some of his attempts to improve his interlocutors Socrates seems to employ a particularly unsavory tactic often associated with sophists: he uses deliberately fallacious arguments to trip up his opponents and to triumph over them.
Is Socrates not, then, a sophist? For fuller discussion see Weiss Socrates in the Apology distinguishes himself from the sophists by emphasizing that he is not paid for his services as professional sophists end p. He thus refutes the charge, at least on his interpretation of it, that he "teaches others these same things," namely, how to make the weaker argument the stronger Ap. He also flatly rejects Ap. The one thing that he does not deny is that he "makes the weaker argument the stronger" Ap.
Indeed, how could he? Does he not twist people's words? Does he not extract agreement from them without their having any understanding of how or why they have agreed? Does he not pursue the merely verbal advantage? He does. Nevertheless, Socrates' assertion that he is not paid for his services says a lot about how he differs from sophists: he is a man who takes no money and hence a man who cannot be bought; insofar as he is not out to make money, he is free to converse with anyone—whether rich or poor; moreover, having to please no one, he can devote himself to the promotion of the genuine good of others—whether they like it or not.
Socrates' end is thus pure, noble. Not so, however, his means. The crucial difference between him and the sophists lies in the motive behind their tactics—not in their tactics. Since Socrates, like the sophists, will do whatever he must in order to prevail, what sets him apart from them is that he will do so, of course, not for the sake of achieving fame and amassing fortune, but for the sake of improving the souls of those who have gone or might go astray.
For the sake of the soul's improvement, Socrates will permit most anything. See Euthyd. Indeed, he, even more than sophists, cannot afford to lose. Socrates is a zealot. Philosophy is his religion, his divine mission. Like the man who so abhors violence that he will even fight to stop it if necessary, 17 See Narveson Socrates' willingness to use ignoble means for the sake of noble ends is consistent with the Republic's round endorsement of the "noble lie" Rep. As we shall see, Socrates deceives only once he has exhausted all more direct means of getting through to his interlocutor and has become convinced that nothing short of deception will work.
There are no hard and fast rules for detecting a Socratic ploy and, alas, no substitute for a keen eye, a finely tuned ear, and an openness to the dynamic of a dramatic exchange. Nevertheless, Plato will, not infrequently, aid the reader by dropping hints. In the Meno, for example, as we shall see, Plato indicates in a variety of ways that Socrates' response to "Meno's paradox" is less than forthright: myth replaces argument; conclusions reached are non sequiturs; there are disclaimers, sudden reversals, inaccurate reports of what has preceded, and a "demonstration" that is farcical on its face.
Other dialogues similarly flag instances of Socratic dissimulation. The advancement of the thesis that all learning is recollection, by way of both myth and "demonstration," works on two levels. On one level, the thesis is intended to induce Meno to proceed with the inquiry. This end is no insignificant one for Socrates.
Since, as he sees it, the unexamined life is not worth living for a man, it is of critical importance that he convince Meno, by whatever means, to continue to inquire. On a second level, however, the recollection thesis has something to say to the reader. As I shall argue, what Socrates promotes, beneath the surface, is the value of true opinion as a substitute for knowledge—in the special case in which knowledge cannot be attained: virtue. Recollection, then, is not, in the final analysis, what Socrates pretends for Meno's sake that it is, namely, a process by which all forms of knowledge are learned.
It is, instead, the process by which a questioner helps his interlocutor recover, not knowledge, but truth, and not all truth, but only moral truth, from out of the depths of his soul. What Socrates provides in the Meno, then, is nothing short of a defense of his life's work, the work of elenctic moral inquiry.
Socratic philosophy, as Plato portrays it in the Platonic dialogues that have come to be known as "Socratic," 20 Plato's dialogues do, I think, fall into distinct groups, both stylistically and substantively. I mark off as "Socratic" those that neither contain any mention of what has come to be known as Platonic "Forms" nor would have any inkling of what such "Forms" are, since it is these dialogues that bring to life the "Socrates" portrayed in the Apology. I resist the term "early," however, for there are, in my judgment, insufficient grounds for drawing conclusions about the relative chronology of the dialogues—except in those cases in which one dialogue seems clearly to refer back to another.
I see no reason to suppose that Plato, a master imitator of the styles of others, could not imitate his own, writing at any time of his life a dialogue "Socratic" in style and content. It takes place in the agora, not in the study. It is not written down. It is not systematic. It is frequently ad hominem. What, then, makes it philosophy? That it cares about wisdom, truth, and the best state of the soul. That it is indifferent to money, power, and fame. That it demands that one abide by one's principles even at the cost of one's life.
That it requires of its practitioners a devotion to others that supersedes self-interest and even familial concern. That its loyalty is not to family and friends but to truth and justice. It is a mistake to think that all Socrates wants, qua philosopher, is to get people to think. No; he wants no less to get them to think rightly. He demands of people that they reorder their priorities, hold justice and temperance in esteem, and transcend conventional conceptions of success.
He is a champion of right-thinking and right-doing. Not for him the cool, disengaged, disinterested speculation that has come to be called philosophy. For Socrates, arguments are not merely philosophy's tools; they are its weapons. Virtue in the Cave proceeds, then, on the seven assumptions adumbrated above: 1 that Socrates, in the Meno, believes moral knowledge to be impossible for human beings to attain; 2 that moral knowledge is impossible to attain because there are, in morality, no conclusive tests; 3 that all inquiry is for the sake of knowledge, whether or not the inquirer believes knowledge to be a possible result; 4 that Socrates willfully deceives but is, nevertheless, no sophist; 5 that the dramatic action of the dialogues, as well as, frequently, Plato's strategically placed hints, help the reader discern when Socrates is not in earnest; 6 that Socrates introduces doctrines he does not endorse because, on the one hand, he hopes thereby to improve his interlocutor and because, on the other hand, they contain, beneath the surface, an important message for the reader; and 7 that what Socrates practices is indeed philosophy—if in a sense remote to us today.
The following is a brief synopsis of Virtue in the Cave, which follows closely the order of the text of the Meno: end p. Chapter 2 M. Chapter 3 M. See Rorty , "If Socrates intended to have a serious conversation with Meno's slave, Plato presents that conversation as a farce" emphasis in original. This chapter also discloses the deeper message of "recollection": since moral true opinions are always in the soul, they can be released and recovered through the Socratic method of elenctic questioning; geometry, however, and other kinds of knowledge are simply taught. Chapter 4 M. Taking its place is a consideration of Meno's preferred question of how virtue is acquired.
Chapter 4 shows how Socrates seeks to benefit Meno even within the investigation's newly narrowed confines by persuading him that virtue comes to men neither by nature nor by teaching nor spontaneously. This chapter shows, too, how Socrates makes the case, sotto voce, for true opinion as the source of virtue.
The Conclusion explores the relationship between Plato's portrayal of Socrates in the Meno and his portrayal of Socrates in the Socratic dialogues generally and, especially, in the Apology. This chapter shows that the Socratic ideals and commitments featured in the Meno, namely, Socrates' high regard for true opinion and his determination to fight in word and deed for the worth of moral inquiry, are fully consonant with those in evidence in the Apology and in other Socratic dialogues.
This chapter explains, too, how it is that even though the examined life fails to achieve moral knowledge, it is, nevertheless, for Socrates, a happy one, and the man who end p. It contends that whereas for Socrates knowledge is certainly a sufficient condition for virtue, it is, as the Meno and the Apology both show, not a necessary one. I will argue in the Conclusion that when Socrates contends in the elenctic dialogues that virtue is knowledge, what he contends is that knowledge is sufficient for virtue. Appendix I considers the relationship between the Phaedo's and the Meno's versions of the recollection thesis.
In doing so, Appendix I addresses what is surely the most serious and most formidable objection to the interpretation advanced in this book of the Meno's recollection thesis: how can the Meno be, as is argued here, mainly a strategic ploy on Socrates' part to keep Meno from abandoning the inquiry into the nature of virtue when recollection is integral to Plato's conception of learning in the Phaedo as well?
Appendix I shows that of all the other places in the Platonic corpus in which recollection purportedly appears, there is, in fact, only one dialogue besides the Meno and Phaedo in which it is actually found: the Phaedrus. Yet because of the heavily mythic presentation of recollection in the Phaedrus, the Phaedrus's account, it is argued, cannot be taken at face value as providing confirmation of recollection as a serious Platonic theory of learning.
In response to this objection, Appendix I shows that the Phaedo's discussion of recollection is no mere refinement or development of the Meno's but represents, on the contrary, a radical departure from it. Thus, far from supporting the Meno's version of recollection, the Phaedo provides good reason for abandoning it. Appendix II explores the change in the status of moral inquiry brought about by the introduction in the Republic of the Theory of Forms.
This appendix shows how and why, with the emergence in the Republic of philosophers defined not by their sheer love of wisdom but by their actual attainment of it, moral inquiry is abandoned: for the philosopher-kings, moral inquiry is replaced by the vision of the Forms; for the citizens they govern, it is replaced by the rulers' exercise of persuasion or, when necessary, of compulsion. They would always rather do noble deeds than useful ones. Aristotle, Rhetoric 2. Meno The action of the Meno is driven by the character Meno, by his passions, his personal traits, his associations, his ambitions.
Meno is Socrates' project, the current object of Socrates' ongoing efforts to reform anyone he meets—young or old, foreigner or citizen—who regards "the things worth the most [prudence, truth, and how one's soul will be the best possible Ap. West and West . Who is the character Meno? Meno is a young man, around twenty years old, 1 1. Morrison and Ryle contend that Meno must have been somewhat older. As Morrison puts it, "It is difficult to believe that a youth of 20 would have been in charge of a company of mercenaries: and Xenophon, whose aim was to denigrate Meno's morals, has a motive for exaggerating his youth.
Stokes , , makes a similar argument. See Bluck 1a , , however, who argues that Meno must indeed be about twenty years old. It seems to me that Meno is at the tail end of his youth: that is why he is young enough still to have lovers. In the Meno, Thessaly is said to be end p. There is palpable irony in this Socratic observation: Gorgias has taught the Thessalians to answer any question, just as he does, "fearlessly and magnificently"—as is appropriate for those who have knowledge M.
Yet no one, of course—neither Gorgias nor, a fortiori, the Thessalians—could possibly know everything! Interestingly, what Gorgias prides himself on in the Gorgias is precisely the ability to speak well about things with respect to which he has no knowledge see Gorg. Meno is of aristocratic birth, a man of means, and quite handsome. Nehamas , , contends that kalos at M. Yet, as Meno's good looks are prominently featured later on in the dialogue at M.
Moreover, kalos appears alongside gennaios M. The Meno notes his association with Aristippus, whom the dialogue identifies as his lover M. According to Xenophon, it was owing to Meno's relationship with Aristippus that Meno was given command of the mercenaries whom Cyrus had loaned to Aristippus and who took part, with Meno, in the Anabasis, the unsuccessful attempt on the Persian throne in B.
Socrates counts Meno's lover, Aristippus, among the Thessalian lovers of Gorgias's wisdom, implying thereby that Gorgias's wisdom was seductive but, like Meno, lacked real substance. The Meno opens, abruptly, with Meno's question concerning how a person comes to possess virtue. The question is for him a pressing one, not of theoretical but of immediate practical interest. Contra Ryle , 3. Indeed, Meno shows no inclination to investigate with Socrates the question that is theoretical, Socrates' question, What is virtue? It is clear that Meno has never before stopped to consider what human excellence really is, what will make his life a truly worthwhile one, where success genuinely lies.
Like young Hippocrates in the Protagoras, who, in his eagerness to enter the ranks of the successful, awakens Socrates in the middle of the night to wangle from him an introduction to Protagoras, so Meno impatiently seeks to be assured either that he has already come by virtue— whether naturally or by having apprenticed end p. Moreover, just as Socrates must keep Hippocrates' enthusiasm at bay long enough to consider with him the nature of the "product" he intends to purchase from Protagoras, so must he frustrate Meno's determination to have his question quickly answered: he insists that before they discuss Meno's question of how virtue is attained, they attend to the logically antecedent question of what virtue is.
Meno does not find Socrates' question particularly difficult M. Meno does not seem to distinguish, as Gorgias does see n. What Meno says in response to Socrates' request for a definition of virtue is that it is not difficult "to say," eipein M. Indeed, Meno has clearly never given the matter any thought. Later on in the dialogue, Meno notes with admiration that Gorgias never undertook to teach virtue and ridiculed those who did; what Gorgias sought to do, Meno says, was only to teach others to be clever at speaking M.
Nevertheless, when he himself repeats the clever things Gorgias has to say about virtue, Meno thinks he has learned from Gorgias what virtue is. For discussion of yet another consequence of Meno's failure to distinguish between speaking well about something and having knowledge of it, see Chapter 2, n. He knows the answer; he has heard it from Gorgias. Furthermore, he expects Socrates to know it, too, as Socrates has also met Gorgias. It is clear from the start that Meno will not say what he thinks—he apparently does not do much independent thinking—but will say what he has memorized of the teachings of Gorgias or, when necessary, of someone else.
Meno's very name is, in fact, a pun on memory and memorization. Klein , Is it possible that Socrates, by claiming to be bad at remembering, implies that he, in contrast to Meno, thinks? This root also appears at M. Punning on names is not uncommon in Plato. The name Crito suggests the Greek word krisis, "decision," and the Crito is the dialogue in which Socrates faces a life-and-death decision. It is because Meno does not end p.
The Meno of our dialogue craves power and money. As he seeks to define virtue, his definition initially embraces the virtues of men, women, children, slaves, and old men; but when he is pressed to find a single virtue—the virtue common to all instances of virtue—his definition narrows to exclude all but the virtue associated with men, 9 9. Guthrie , , n. Indeed, this definition of Meno's follows Socrates' instruction that Meno try to recollect what Gorgias says virtue is. Is Meno a bad man? Or is Grote right to say that "there is nothing in the Platonic dialogue to mark that meanness and perfidy which the Xenophontic picture indicates"?
Grote , II, Klein , , relying on his wealth of knowledge of history, portrays a Meno of rather dubious character. As Anastaplo , 84, notes, however, "one must wonder whether Mr. Klein's considerable scholarship sometimes gets in the way of a direct confrontation with the text and especially with the character of Meno. Are we to take seriously Socrates' charges, though made teasingly or by way of banter, 12 Thompson , xix-xx, says the charges are made "good-humoredly"; cf.
Klein's , 89, "jokingly. By the time Socrates makes such charges, he is no longer as well disposed toward Meno as he was at first. Socrates may not be ready yet to give up on Meno's improvement, but he is dismayed by his conduct.
Plato, Wittgenstein and the Definition of Games
For the most part, to be sure, Meno is "deferential to Socrates"; 13 Thompson , xix. Allen , I do not think, however, as Allen does, that Meno is polite "throughout. When, for example, Meno asks Socrates to teach him what he means by his assertion that we do not learn but that all learning is recollection M. Is Meno not speaking the plain truth when he denies having had any such intention and explains that he spoke as he did merely by force of habit M.
The Meno makes it seem not at all unlikely that Meno habitually asks those he encounters to teach him; that appears to be his way. In fact, however, Meno is not consistently polite. We may note in this regard the indelicacy of his comparison of Socrates to a stingray M. Although Meno calls it a joke M.
Moreover, we must not forget that Meno—and not just Anytus—speaks threateningly to Socrates M. It is when he falters badly that he suddenly remembers having heard that Socrates is a perplexed man who perplexes others. As far as Socrates' manners are concerned, let us note that he hurls not a single nasty epithet at Meno until after M. From that point on, Meno is no longer, in Socrates' eyes, a merely misguided young man in need of direction. Meno is now a quite disagreeable young man—even more in need of direction.
Round 1 Socrates disappoints Meno, too. Word of Socrates' wisdom having no doubt reached him, Meno expects Socrates to display his wisdom readily and to enlighten him with respect to how one comes to have virtue. Hopoion is used here to indicate the traits a thing possesses. It is used slightly differently in the slave-boy-demonstration, where the slave-boy is unable to calculate the incalculable length of the line upon which a double-size square is constructed but is eventually able to say what sort of line it is: a diagonal. Hopoion surfaces again when Socrates eventually agrees to consider with Meno what sort of thing virtue is without yet knowing what virtue is M.
Indeed, Socrates insists that one cannot know what sort of thing something is unless one knows what it is: one who does not know at all to parapan who Meno is cannot know if he is handsome or wealthy or of noble birth. Socrates' principle of the "priority of definition," as it has come to be known, makes rather frequent appearances within the Platonic corpus. In the Gorgias, for example, Socrates wants Polus to hold off on praising oratory until its nature has been clarified e , and he requires of himself that he define oratory before passing judgment on its worth c. At Rep.
Given the definitions of justice proposed in Rep. Related, yet distinct, notions are found in the Euthyphro and in the Hippias Major. In the Euthyphro 7b-e , Socrates will not allow Euthyphro to judge a particular act holy prosecuting his own father for murder , without first defining holiness. And in the Hippias Major 26c , Socrates reproaches himself for attempting, without knowing first what beauty and ugliness are, to pronounce certain aspects of certain poems ugly and others beautiful. See also Lach. Jowett . In some of these instances, the Meno's among them, there is an unmistakable pedagogical motivation behind Socrates' insistence on the priority of definition.
Meno wants desperately to know how he can come to be counted among the virtuous. Although he is chasing after something he calls virtue, he has given no thought to what it means to be genuinely virtuous. Young Hippocrates in the Protagoras end p. In these cases and others, Socrates seeks to teach an important lesson: one ought not to pursue something without considering its nature first; for how, otherwise, can one assess whether what one is pursuing is worthy of pursuit?
As important as it is to Socrates to prevent impetuous young men from doing themselves irreparable harm, his "priority of definition" principle is not invoked exclusively for this end. It is a principle with broad application that packs considerable epistemological and methodological punch.
If one does not know at all who Meno is, one certainly should not comment on whether he is handsome, wellborn, or wealthy. Indeed, on what grounds do people presume to make pronouncements about the features of things they know not at all? Later on in the dialogue, Socrates mockingly remarks that Anytus must be a prophet, since he claims to know, without having had any acquaintance with sophists at all, that they are bad M.
If, then, it would not be right for Socrates, in accordance with his principle, to venture to say how people come to have virtue if he knows not at all what virtue is, the inevitable question arises: is it true that Socrates knows not at all what virtue is? Since Socrates does not disavow knowledge of all things—he does not say, for example, as we shall soon see, that he knows not at all what shape is—what could he mean by saying of himself that he does not know virtue?
What Socrates must mean by disavowing all knowledge of virtue but not all knowledge of other things is that what he lacks, with respect to virtue but not with respect to all other things, is a level of understanding or skill that qualifies as knowledge; he must mean that despite all that he has thought, reasoned, and concluded about virtue, he cannot claim to know it. And, indeed, how could he possess moral knowledge?
The knowledge of virtue is what he calls in the Apology "wisdom greater than human" Ap. It is with respect to virtue that the chasm between gods and men yawns widest: the highest human wisdom is the kind that Socrates has, that is, the recognition of the limits of human wisdom. As Socrates recounts at Ap. The oracle, Socrates says, in proclaiming him wisest, uses the name "Socrates" as a mere place-holder; the oracle's intention is to designate as wisest that man, any man, who knows that he does not know virtue. The oracle maintains, then, not that, as a matter of fact, no one is wiser than the man Socrates, but rather that the wisest of men, the man who is as wise as a man can be, knows, like Socrates, no more with respect to ta megista than that he does not know.
Virtue in the Cave: Moral Inquiry in Plato's Meno
But one might well form opinions, even true opinions, both about the nature of virtue and about how virtue comes to those who have it. That is why Socrates undertakes to conduct a moral inquiry with Meno, asking first, as is proper, what virtue is. Throughout the investigation, however, Socrates fully recognizes that its result will not transcend opinion. He has vigorously conducted such investigations for a lifetime and still knows "not at all" what virtue is. Elenchus, the method he deems most appropriate to moral discourse, has not yielded and will not yield moral knowledge.
Contra Irwin , , and Fine , , both of whom think that Socrates in the Meno holds that true opinions about virtue's qualities can eventually lead to knowledge of virtue. For a view similar to mine, see Bedu-Addo , 4: "Since the Meno distinguishes between knowledge and true opinion, to say we can't know anything about what x is like without knowing x is not to say that we can't have or say true things true opinions about x without knowing x's nature" emphasis in original ; and 5: "We do not know what virtue is, nor do we know what sort of thing it is, but we do have opinions about what sort of thing it is, by the consideration of which opinions we may attain true opinion about what virtue is.
What ensues is a struggle between Socrates and Meno over the definition of virtue. At the heart of the struggle is the matter of whether virtue is defined by what is done Meno's view or by how it is done Socrates' view. Socrates finds troubling not simply Meno's enumeration of different virtues for men, women, slaves, children, old men, and so on, but the implication of this enumeration, to wit, that virtue is a function of what is done and not of the manner in which it is done.
In the case of masculine virtue, Meno speaks of having the ability to do rather than of actually doing M. Meno, then, finds the virtue of a man in the skill he possesses but that of a woman in her actually doing what is expected of her.
Socrates, by contrast, determines whether something end p. Socrates takes the "well" that Meno uses only in describing the womanly virtue of household management and extends it to the man's management of the city M. He then goes on to take "well" to mean temperately and justly M. For Socrates, then, virtue functions adverbially, such that it can univocally modify very different activities. But for Meno, who thinks virtue is determined by what one does, it follows that insofar as different roles entail different virtues, there can be no one sense of virtue common to all.
Meno agrees that health and strength mean the same for everyone M. InterLocutors raise similar challenges at Charm. Socrates tries to help Meno find, even among his own disparate virtues, some common ground. He selects out of Meno's potpourri of virtues the virtue Meno calls "managing well," eu dioikein, a phrase that Meno actually uses in this form only in his description of the virtue of a woman.
As immediately becomes clear, however, Socrates regards the managing aspect of "managing well" that is, the activity performed as merely incidental to this shared virtue, emphasizing instead the "well" that is, the manner of its performance , which he forthwith interprets to mean temperately and justly.
Indeed, as of M. When Meno, however, makes another attempt to identify what is common to all instances of virtue, he is drawn, despite Socrates' efforts, not to the "well," but to the "managing," in "managing well. Ironically, however, he comes up, not with a form of managing more inclusive than the previous one, but with a most exclusive one: the form of managing on which he end p. Virtue is now, for Meno, nothing more than ruling others. See n. The term archein, "to rule," reappears at M. Is Meno's failing in this early part of the dialogue an epistemological one or a moral one?
Does he not know how to formulate an adequate definition or is he unable to appreciate the moral dimension of virtue? There can be no doubt that Meno is no whiz at definition: instead of a single virtue common to all kinds of virtue, he cites the various kinds; he cannot see as Socrates can [M. Nevertheless, his more disturbing and more serious defect is a moral one: Meno subscribes unthinkingly to the common view that one ought to help friends and harm enemies; he certainly does not appreciate, on his own, the importance of justice and the other virtues or parts of virtue to virtue; and even when Socrates does get him to see and to admit that managing "well" entails managing with justice and temperance, he is still unable to transfer that lesson to the new definition of virtue he proposes—the ability to rule others.
Were Meno's problem primarily an epistemological or logical one rather than a moral one, would he not have had just as much trouble recognizing that health and strength are the same in men and women as he does in recognizing that virtue is the same for everyone? The reason he has considerably more trouble in that latter case is, no doubt, because what he really believes is that only men have real virtue, and that real virtue, manly virtue, the virtue he craves, has little or nothing in common with what women and children and slaves and old men have that goes by the same name.
When Socrates insists, then, that virtue, like health and strength, is the same for everyone, Socrates makes more than just a logical point. If virtue is the same for everyone, then virtue cannot be a matter of one's social position. Moreover, if virtue is the end p.
And so, to drive home his moral point, Socrates presses on: "You say virtue is being able to rule? Shall we not add to that justly and not unjustly? Meno concurs, asserting that "justice is virtue" M. Since, however, justice is, as Meno will soon agree M. Since there are other virtues besides justice—Meno lists courage, temperance, wisdom, and magnificence megaloprepeia , among others M.
The plurality problem here, however, arises, as Socrates says, "in a different way from that in which it happened just now" M. The most important difference surely is that whereas the virtues in the swarm of virtues that Meno identified for man, woman, slave, child, and old man, respectively, are not virtues at all, justice, temperance, and piety, insofar as they are ways in which things are done rather than things that are done, are at least really virtues.
I shall discuss at the end of this chapter the plurality of virtue insofar as it has "parts"—justice, temperance, and piety—and the unique problem this sort of plurality occasions. I shall consider Meno's list of the other virtues in Chapter 4, when I discuss the passage M. Why does Socrates choose to define a geometrical term rather than some other?
Vlastos a , , has argued that by the time Plato composes the Meno he has become enamored of mathematics. Even if that is so, however, what is decisive for Socrates' choice of example is that Meno takes himself to be proficient in mathematics. As the dialogue will very soon reveal, Meno regards himself as Empedocles' student and prides himself on the learning he has acquired from him. Empedocles is himself, in turn, Pythagoras's student. Meno, then, is linked to Pythagoras through Empedocles, and this link provides a promising explanation for the pervasiveness of Pythagorean geometry, along with Empedoclean physics, in this dialogue.
The definition of shape that Socrates offers is as follows. Shape is that which, alone among the things that are, always accompanies color M. We note that Socrates proffers this definition, end p. All Socrates needs is a definition on which Meno can pattern his definition of virtue: "For," says Socrates, "I would certainly be satisfied if you spoke similarly to me about virtue" M. Thus, unless Meno finds fault with the definition, it will stand. Alas, find fault he does.
What does that mean? When asked by Socrates to say what it means, Meno responds, probably reproducing an eristic quibble he had encountered somewhere, perhaps through his association with Gorgias, 26 That Socrates suspects Meno of relying on a sophistic source might well underlie his speaking of the objector as "eristic. Not to him, of course. But who, after all, is unfamiliar with color? Socrates had tried to offer a clear, nontechnical definition that could serve as a model for defining virtue. Why does Meno reject Socrates' definition out of hand?
Let us note that Meno's complaint that the definition Socrates proposes will fail for someone who does not know color is but his second thought on the matter, uttered in an attempt to assign content and meaning to his first, more visceral, objection. We may assume that Meno's immediate response to Socrates' definition—and not his subsequent commentary on it—betrays his true feelings: what he really finds repugnant is just how plain, how unpretentious, the definition is; what is distasteful to him is not that the definition does use terms that someone might not understand but that it does not.
The definition Meno favors is, therefore, one that end p. We note that Meno expresses with respect to "effluences" no worry such as the one he expressed with respect to "color"; yet is it not far more likely that someone might fail to know "effluences" than that someone might fail to know "color"? Davis , , like me, finds it significant that the third definition defines color in terms of shape. Bluck a , , however, dismisses the matter, saying that by this time an adequate definition of shape has been arrived at, presumably the definition of shape as the limit of a solid.
Yet one may reasonably suppose that the terms in "limit of a solid" are no better known than "color. By offering a definition of color that commits the same offense as the initial definition of shape does, Socrates is able to expose the disingenuousness and shallowness of Meno's objection to the definition of shape: despite what Meno says, he is not really bothered by the use of unknown terms; what offends him is the use of known terms, that is, of terms known to everyone. Meno does not like Socrates' definition because Meno is a snob. Socrates, however, clearly does like the original definition of shape that he offered.
What Socrates no longer likes is Meno. Meno's response to Socrates' proposed definition of shape represents a turning point in the dialogue, the point at which Socrates sours on his interlocutor. Once Meno objects to Socrates' definition of shape as the only thing that always accompanies color M. This is the first of three occasions upon which Socrates associates Meno, or what Meno says, with eristic.
The other two are at M. We can tell that Socrates resists Meno's "someone" ploy, since he makes a point in what follows of getting Meno to admit that the terms Socrates is now using are known to Meno. From now on, although Socrates pretends that he and Meno are friends—"But if, just as you and I now, people, being friends were willing to converse with one another.
Socrates clearly finds Meno's reaction end p. See Klein , "Whatever weight we might attach to Meno's dissatisfaction with Socrates' statement, it is hard not to suspect Meno of deliberately delaying his playing the part he had agreed to play. Such behavior may well be called disputatious and one could accuse Meno of merely competing for some verbal victory without caring in the slightest about the matter under investigation.
And could not Gorgias' schooling be held responsible for this attitude? We may note that Socrates' second definition of shape—"the limit of a solid"—is more acceptable to Meno than the first one was: its terms are at least technical; that is, they are not "simple" ones that everyone can understand. Davis , , asks: "in what sense is solid more known than color? Meno accepts it [the second definition] because its mathematical form is familiar to him. We may note that Socrates checks to see that Meno is familiar with the term "solid" specifically as it is used in geometry.
They do not, however, begin to approach in degree of ostentation a term like "effluences," and for that reason, Meno's reception of the second definition of shape is tepid compared with the enthused reception he accords to the definition of color: "But I would stay, Socrates," Meno says with respect only to the "effluences" definition, "if you were to give me many answers like this" M. Not only does the arcane terminology of the definition of color greatly please Meno, but he has yet another cause for being pleased: Socrates' very act of providing a definition of color represents his yielding to Meno's authority.
Meno is, as Socrates says, the handsome, spoiled bully who dares to issue commands to an old man, exploiting the old man's weakness for good looks. Socrates complies with Meno's order not only by formulating the desired definition but by doing so "in the style of Gorgias, in the way that you would most easily follow" M.
Sternfeld and Zyskind , 11, note that Socrates reaches "the limit of [his] adjustment to Meno. There can be no doubt that Socrates prefers the first one, his definition of shape as the only thing that always accompanies color: a If he prefers some other, why is this the one he proposes? Indeed, he never would have offered another had Meno not rejected this one. When Socrates says, then, at M. Klein , 70, believes, as I do, that Socrates' preferred definition is "the first—sober—one which, correlating 'surface' and 'color,' hinted at a possibly satisfactory answer about 'human excellence,' " rather than "the geometrical—narrow—one which was given in Meno's own terms.
If their reason is that since it comes later it is the more likely referent of "the other one" that Socrates at M. It is clear, I think, that Socrates is no fan of the definition that Meno prefers. Meno, ever careless of such things, misses, in his paraphrase at M.
We shall see in the next section how these three admirable features of the first definition of shape, when reproduced in the dialogue's last definition of virtue, go quite a long way toward providing an adequate definition for virtue. A long way, but certainly not the whole way. In truth, even in the matter of shape these features do not go the whole way. Socrates' favored definition of shape, despite exhibiting the three strengths mentioned, fails to get to the essence, to the ousia, of what shape is; at most, it picks out a trait that shape alone always instantiates. Perhaps the notion that shape is the only thing that always accompanies color is not even true, let alone an adequate definition of shape.
Yet Meno does not appear to doubt its truth. And we have no reason to suspect, at this early stage of the dialogue, that when Socrates says that something is true, he does not mean what he says.
I admit to being sympathetic to the truth of Socrates' view, at least at the level of perception: if one sees something colored, one sees something shaped in some way. It seeks to understand shape not as it is in itself but as it relates to something else: shape is, after all, on Socrates' "definition," no more than the only thing for which the presence of color is a sufficient condition. Socrates' definition of virtue, patterned as it is on his end p.
Defining shape is a simpler task by far for Socrates than is defining virtue. See Sharples , In no time at all Socrates produces two acceptable definitions of shape; he could, perhaps, produce others as well. Round 2 Now that Socrates has given Meno a definition of which he approves M. Meno's new definition of virtue, borrowed from an unnamed poet, sees virtue as "to rejoice in fine things and to have power.
This definition, let us note, is not all bad. On the negative side, it shows just how intractable Meno's moral failings are: despite Socrates' efforts, Meno is as haughty as ever, and justice and temperance still find no place in his conception of virtue. On the positive side, however, Meno's new definition reflects in certain respects the perhaps unwitting progress he has made as a definer: the new definition neither breaks virtue into pieces nor uses unknown or technical terms; moreover, it picks out virtue uniquely. As noted, the definition of color in terms of effluences does not pick out color uniquely; a definition along these lines would also serve to say "what sound is, and smell, and many other things of that sort" M.
According to Meno's definition, there are two marks that distinguish the man of virtue, two criteria by which one man may be judged superior to his fellow: 1 a penchant for the fine and 2 power. Socrates considers, and discounts, each of these in turn. Let us begin by considering Socrates' response to Meno's first proposed indicator of virtue, "desiring fine things.
It is his aim in this stretch of text to level all people with respect to what they want. We note his concluding words: "and in this respect [in respect of what people want], no one is better than another" M. He thereby discredits the foolish and end p. In order to accomplish his goal of having all people turn out to be the same with respect to their wants, Socrates employs two strategic moves: first, he reduces "fine things," kala, to "good things," agatha, and, second, he replaces "desiring," epithumein, with "wanting," boulesthai.
Similar moves appear in the Gorgias. For the move from fine to good, see the notorious argument at Gorg. In order to understand Socrates' game plan, it is best first to try to determine how Socrates understands Meno's definition: what does Meno mean by proposing that those who have virtue desire fine things? As Socrates understands him, Meno, by saying that those who have virtue desire fine things, seeks to elevate those who have refined tastes above those whose pedestrian tastes mark them as hopelessly ordinary.
Socrates' immediate substitution of agatha for kala—"Do you say that the one who desires fine things desires good things? It is possible that Meno understood Socrates to be asking whether kala constitute a proper subset of agatha rather than whether agatha can be substituted for kala. It is far more plausible to maintain that Socrates wishes to suppress that nuance of kalon that is important to Meno, the one that gives the term snob appeal.
As Sharples , , says: "the contrast Meno has in mind is that between those who have the correct, splendid ambitions for themselves and those who lack, as it were, proper aristocratic taste in matters of behaviour. Socrates accepts Meno's assertion but presses him further: do those who desire bad things think they are good, or do they desire bad things while recognizing them as bad?
Meno insists that some people, probably those he disdains as crude or vulgar, end p. Meno is no doubt thinking, not of kaka, "bad things," but still of aischra, "base things" or "crass things," things that are the opposites, not of agatha, "good things," but of his original kala, "fine things.
But Socrates goes on: can such people desire to possess these things? And if they do, can they be thinking that bad things benefit their possessors or do they recognize that bad things harm their possessors? But Socrates forces the point: if someone thinks bad things are beneficial, must he not fail to recognize that they are bad? In other words, would it not be absurd for people to think bad things beneficial—qua bad?
Bad and beneficial are straightforwardly mutually exclusive in a way that vulgar, or base, and beneficial are not.