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Response to Plato's Meno

Response I

In Meno, Plato tries to explain what virtue is by having Socrates pose questions to Meno, Anytus, and Meno’s servant. Socrates puts Meno and himself in a position of pretending to knowing nothing and starts to discuss whether virtue can be thought or is it something given to everyone at their birth.

At a certain point in the dialogue, Meno accuses Socrates of hypnotizing him and deteriorating his ability to answer questions that he would have easily answered otherwise. Socrates is simply posing questions to Meno the same way he later proved to be doing with his servant. It turned out that the servant was proven to have opinions that eventually lead to knowledgeable judgments about simple geometric rules. The servant had never learned geometry, yet he was capable of observing and making correct conclusions based on reason, to which everyone including, Socrates, Meno and the laws of geometry agreed upon.

The servant didn’t know anything about geometry, but managed to come up with right answers based on his judgment instead of relying on knowledge about geometry—which the servant does not posses. Socrates draws the same parallel of how virtue can be defined. It doesn’t have to come from a solid source of knowledge but instead, it comes from judgment and reasoning.

Whether the definition of virtue was defined in the dialogue remains dubious. Even by the end of the dialogue, more questions where created rather than answered. Nevertheless, this is perhaps a Socratic principle that is used to reason and question various phenomena using philosophy as a fulcrum, and questions as a lever. The more questions there are, the longer the lever—the stronger the leverage.

Response II

By questioning Meno’s servant, Socrates proved that humans have opinions entitled to them when they are born. These opinions can lead to right conclusions in the same way knowledge can. The servant showed that he had opinions in him but not the knowledge that supports his opinions. Nevertheless, this did not aggravate the servant’s ability to give correct answers to Socrates’s questions. After Socrates proved that Meno’s servant had opinions that led him to correct judgments, Meno seemed to become more patient towards the way Socrates was exploring the definition of virtue. Moreover, Socrates proved that being “perplexed and numb as a torpedo fish” can benefit people by allowing them to make right conclusions based on opinion rather than misleading sources of knowledge1. Meno however, pointed out that opinion at times can be more misleading than knowledge.2

Socrates later concluded that opinion and virtue is present in humans naturally from the day they are born. Knowledge and opinion according to the conclusions that Socrates and Meno have come up with, can both be used to make pious decisions. As the example that Socrates gave with a man who knows how to get to Larissa because he once got there, and another man who knows how to get to Larissa but never got there.3 In both cases, a person wanting to get to Larissa would get the right directions from both men. But in many other cases, Socrates adds that as the original source of knowledge gets passed down, it immediately becomes an opinion, but opinions don’t “remain long” so they start to “escape” one by one—until they become a recollection.4 As it seems, knowledge and recollection almost contradict one-another, and so right opinion becomes a periphery in between them.

  1. Meno, 84b 

  2. Meno, 97c 

  3. Meno, 97a 

  4. Meno, 98a