Part 1 of Plato’s ‘Meno’, a socratic dialogue scripted by one of Socrates’ followers, Plato, describe the conversation between Socrates and Meno, on the topic of the definition of virtue and whether or not it can be taught or learnt. The conversation reveals several interesting and deep theories, and discusses in a deep manner the techniques behind logical reasoning and defining certain terms with a single definition instead of multiple others.
Meno is surprised by Socrates a several of times due to Socrates words contradicting what Meno himself believes is the wisest man in all of Greece, such as:
Socrates: so far am I from knowing whether it can be taught or not, that I actually do not even know what the thing itself, virtue, is at all. And I myself, Meno, am in the same case; I share my townsmen’s poverty in this matter: I have to reproach myself with an utter ignorance about virtue; and if I do not know what a thing is, how can I know what its nature may be? Or do you imagine it possible, if one has no cognizance at all of Meno, that one could know whether he is handsome or rich or noble, or the reverse of these? Do you suppose that one could?
Meno: Not I. But is it true, Socrates, that you do not even know what virtue is? Are we to return home with this report of you?
Socrates: Not only this, my friend, but also that I never yet came across anybody who did know, in my opinion.
Meno is constantly struck by Socrates, as he truly believes he would gain a complete answer from what he believes is the wisest man of all. Yet Socrates provides him with the examples of ‘figure’ and ‘colour’, which he uses to hint to Meno that he is on search not for those who fall under virtue, but the one true definition of virtue.
Socrates: And in making it, do you mean to say that round is no more round than straight, or straight no more straight than round?
Yet arrogant and ignorant as Meno is, he simply does not catch the hints of Socrates and only easily exposes his intentions behind asking the question: to gain power and wealth. He believes that an absurd answer to the definition of colour seems excellently put simply because that it is put in the style of his teacher Gorgias.
Socrates: So now “conceive my meaning,” as Pindar says: color is an effluence of figures, commensurate with sight and sensible.
Meno: Your answer, Socrates, seems to me excellently put.
Reaching the end of the conversation, Socrates finally debates Meno fully:
Socrates: Because after my begging you not to break up virtue into small change, and giving you a pattern on which you should answer, you have ignored all this, and now tell me that virtue is the ability to procure good things with justice; and this, you tell me, is a part of virtue?
Thus by here, the essentials behind the dialogue can be concluded: Socrates attempts to gain a definition of a concept from Meno, who implies he knows. Yet after discussion and debate, it is revealed that nor Meno, who claims to know and Socrates, who is the wisest man, is unable to provide one exact definition. Proving that the wisest of Socrates is the fact that he acknowledges the fact that he is ignorant, and accepts this as a motivation for everlasting recollection in order to learn.
Plato, and Sir Walter Rangeley Maitland Lamb. Laches. Protagoras. Meno. Euthydemus. 1962.