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Meno by Plato, trans. Benjamin Jowett is a publication of the Pennsylvania State University. This Portable Document file is furnished free and without any charge of any kind. Any person using this document file, for any purpose, and in any way does so at his or her own risk. Neither the Pennsylvania State University nor Jim Manis, Faculty Editor, nor anyone associated with the Pennsylvania State University assumes any responsibility for the material contained within the document or for the file as an electronic transmission, in any way.

Meno by Plato, trans. Benjamin Jowett , the Pennsylvania State University, Electronic Classics Series, Jim Manis, Faculty Editor, Hazleton, PA 18201-1291 is a Portable Document File produced as part of an ongoing student publication project to bring classical works of literature, in En-glish, to free and easy access of those wishing to make use of them.

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Meno

M

a child; there is a virtue of every age and state of ENO

life, all of which may be easily described.’

Socrates reminds Meno that this is only an enu-meration of the virtues and not a definition of by Plato

the notion which is common to them all. In a second attempt Meno defines virtue to be ‘the Translated by Benjamin Jowett power of command.’ But to this, again, exceptions are taken. For there must be a virtue of those who obey, as well as of those who command; INTRODUCTION.

and the power of command must be justly or not unjustly exercised. Meno is very ready to admit THIS DIALOGUE BEGINS abruptly with a question of that justice is virtue: ‘Would you say virtue or a Meno, who asks, ‘whether virtue can be taught.’

virtue, for there are other virtues, such as cour-Socrates replies that he does not as yet know age, temperance, and the like; just as round is a what virtue is, and has never known anyone who figure, and black and white are colours, and yet did. ‘Then he cannot have met Gorgias when he there are other figures and other colours. Let was at Athens.’ Yes, Socrates had met him, but Meno take the examples of figure and colour, and he has a bad memory, and has forgotten what try to define them.’ Meno confesses his inabil-Gorgias said. Will Meno tell him his own notion, ity, and after a process of interrogation, in which which is probably not very different from that of Socrates explains to him the nature of a ‘simile Gorgias? ‘O yes—nothing easier: there is the vir-in multis,’ Socrates himself defines figure as tue of a man, of a woman, of an old man, and of 3

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‘the accompaniment of colour.’ But some one them.’ This is a nearer approximation than he may object that he does not know the meaning has yet made to a complete definition, and, re-of the word ‘colour;’ and if he is a candid friend, garded as a piece of proverbial or popular moral-and not a mere disputant, Socrates is willing to ity, is not far from the truth. But the objection is furnish him with a simpler and more philosophi-urged, ‘that the honourable is the good,’ and cal definition, into which no disputed word is al-as every one equally desires the good, the point lowed to intrude: ‘Figure is the limit of form.’

of the definition is contained in the words, ‘the Meno imperiously insists that he must still have power of getting them.’ ‘And they must be got a definition of colour. Some raillery follows; and justly or with justice.’ The definition will then at length Socrates is induced to reply, ‘that colour stand thus: ‘Virtue is the power of getting good is the effluence of form, sensible, and in due pro-with justice.’ But justice is a part of virtue, and portion to the sight.’ This definition is exactly therefore virtue is the getting of good with a part suited to the taste of Meno, who welcomes the of virtue. The definition repeats the word defined.

familiar language of Gorgias and Empedocles.

Meno complains that the conversation of Socrates is of opinion that the more abstract or Socrates has the effect of a torpedo’s shock upon dialectical definition of figure is far better.

him. When he talks with other persons he has Now that Meno has been made to understand plenty to say about virtue; in the presence of the nature of a general definition, he answers in Socrates, his thoughts desert him. Socrates re-the spirit of a Greek gentleman, and in the words plies that he is only the cause of perplexity in of a poet, ‘that virtue is to delight in things others, because he is himself perplexed. He pro-honourable, and to have the power of getting poses to continue the enquiry. But how, asks 4

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Meno, can he enquire either into what he knows acknowledge some elementary relations of geo-or into what he does not know? This is a sophis-metrical figures. The theorem that the square of tical puzzle, which, as Socrates remarks, saves a the diagonal is double the square of the side—

great deal of trouble to him who accepts it. But that famous discovery of primitive mathematics, the puzzle has a real difficulty latent under it, to in honour of which the legendary Pythagoras is which Socrates will endeavour to find a reply. The said to have sacrificed a hecatomb—is elicited difficulty is the origin of knowledge:—

from him. The first step in the process of teach-He has heard from priests and priestesses, and ing has made him conscious of his own ignorance.

from the poet Pindar, of an immortal soul which He has had the ‘torpedo’s shock’ given him, is born again and again in successive periods of and is the better for the operation. But whence existence, returning into this world when she has had the uneducated man this knowledge? He had paid the penalty of ancient crime, and, having never learnt geometry in this world; nor was it wandered over all places of the upper and under born with him; he must therefore have had it world, and seen and known all things at one time when he was not a man. And as he always either or other, is by association out of one thing ca-was or was not a man, he must have always had pable of recovering all. For nature is of one kin-it. (Compare Phaedo.)

dred; and every soul has a seed or germ which After Socrates has given this specimen of the may be developed into all knowledge. The exist-true nature of teaching, the original question of ence of this latent knowledge is further proved the teachableness of virtue is renewed. Again he by the interrogation of one of Meno’s slaves, professes a desire to know ‘what virtue is’ first.

who, in the skilful hands of Socrates, is made to But he is willing to argue the question, as math-5

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ematicians say, under an hypothesis. He will as-past times. Socrates replies here, as elsewhere sume that if virtue is knowledge, then virtue can (Laches, Prot.), that Themistocles, Pericles, and be taught. (This was the stage of the argument other great men, had sons to whom they would at which the Protagoras concluded.) surely, if they could have done so, have imparted Socrates has no difficulty in showing that vir-their own political wisdom; but no one ever heard tue is a good, and that goods, whether of body or that these sons of theirs were remarkable for mind, must be under the direction of knowledge.

anything except riding and wrestling and simi-Upon the assumption just made, then, virtue is lar accomplishments. Anytus is angry at the im-teachable. But where are the teachers? There are putation which is cast on his favourite statesmen, none to be found. This is extremely discourag-and on a class to which he supposes himself to ing. Virtue is no sooner discovered to be teach-belong; he breaks off with a significant hint. The able, than the discovery follows that it is not mention of another opportunity of talking with taught. Virtue, therefore, is and is not teachable.

him, and the suggestion that Meno may do the In this dilemma an appeal is made to Anytus, Athenian people a service by pacifying him, are a respectable and well-to-do citizen of the old evident allusions to the trial of Socrates.

school, and a family friend of Meno, who hap-Socrates returns to the consideration of the pens to be present. He is asked ‘whether Meno question ‘whether virtue is teachable,’ which shall go to the Sophists and be taught.’ The sug-was denied on the ground that there are no teach-gestion throws him into a rage. ‘To whom, then, ers of it: (for the Sophists are bad teachers, and shall Meno go?’ asks Socrates. To any Athenian the rest of the world do not profess to teach).

gentleman—to the great Athenian statesmen of But there is another point which we failed to 6

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observe, and in which Gorgias has never in-fort that the mind could rise to a general notion structed Meno, nor Prodicus Socrates. This is the of virtue as distinct from the particular virtues nature of right opinion. For virtue may be under of courage, liberality, and the like. And when a the guidance of right opinion as well as of knowl-hazy conception of this ideal was attained, it was edge; and right opinion is for practical purposes only by a further effort that the question of the as good as knowledge, but is incapable of being teachableness of virtue could be resolved.

taught, and is also liable, like the images of The answer which is given by Plato is paradoxi-Daedalus, to ‘walk off,’ because not bound by cal enough, and seems rather intended to stimu-the tie of the cause. This is the sort of instinct late than to satisfy enquiry. Virtue is knowledge, which is possessed by statesmen, who are not and therefore virtue can be taught. But virtue is wise or knowing persons, but only inspired or not taught, and therefore in this higher and ideal divine. The higher virtue, which is identical with sense there is no virtue and no knowledge. The knowledge, is an ideal only. If the statesman had teaching of the Sophists is confessedly inad-this knowledge, and could teach what he knew, equate, and Meno, who is their pupil, is ignorant he would be like Tiresias in the world below,—

of the very nature of general terms. He can only

’he alone has wisdom, but the rest flit like shad-produce out of their armoury the sophism, ‘that o w s . ’

you can neither enquire into what you know nor This Dialogue is an attempt to answer the ques-into what you do not know;’ to which Socrates tion, Can virtue be taught? No one would either replies by his theory of reminiscence.

ask or answer such a question in modern times.

To the doctrine that virtue is knowledge, Plato But in the age of Socrates it was only by an ef-has been constantly tending in the previous Dia-7

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logues. But the new truth is no sooner found than There remains still a possibility which must not it vanishes away. ‘If there is knowledge, there be overlooked. Even if there be no true knowl-must be teachers; and where are the teachers?’

edge, as is proved by ‘the wretched state of edu-There is no knowledge in the higher sense of sys-cation,’ there may be right opinion, which is a tematic, connected, reasoned knowledge, such as sort of guessing or divination resting on no knowl-may one day be attained, and such as Plato him-edge of causes, and incommunicable to others.

self seems to see in some far off vision of a single This is the gift which our statesmen have, as is science. And there are no teachers in the higher proved by the circumstance that they are unable sense of the word; that is to say, no real teachers to impart their knowledge to their sons. Those who will arouse the spirit of enquiry in their pu-who are possessed of it cannot be said to be men pils, and not merely instruct them in rhetoric or of science or philosophers, but they are inspired impart to them ready-made information for a fee and divine.

of ‘one’ or of ‘fifty drachms.’ Plato is desirous There may be some trace of irony in this curi-of deepening the notion of education, and there-ous passage, which forms the concluding portion fore he asserts the paradox that there are no edu-of the Dialogue. But Plato certainly does not mean cators. This paradox, though different in form, is to intimate that the supernatural or divine is the not really different from the remark which is of-true basis of human life. To him knowledge, if ten made in modern times by those who would only attainable in this world, is of all things the depreciate either the methods of education com-most divine. Yet, like other philosophers, he is monly employed, or the standard attained—that willing to admit that ‘probability is the guide of

‘there is no true education among us.’

life (Butler’s Analogy.);’ and he is at the same 8

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time desirous of contrasting the wisdom which has knowledge, and yet the statesman and the governs the world with a higher wisdom. There poet are inspired. There may be a sort of irony are many instincts, judgments, and anticipations in regarding in this way the gifts of genius. But of the human mind which cannot be reduced to there is no reason to suppose that he is deriding rule, and of which the grounds cannot always be them, any more than he is deriding the phenom-given in words. A person may have some skill or ena of love or of enthusiasm in the Symposium, latent experience which he is able to use himself or of oracles in the Apology, or of divine intima-and is yet unable to teach others, because he has tions when he is speaking of the daemonium of no principles, and is incapable of collecting or Socrates. He recognizes the lower form of right arranging his ideas. He has practice, but not opinion, as well as the higher one of science, in theory; art, but not science. This is a true fact of the spirit of one who desires to include in his psychology, which is recognized by Plato in this philosophy every aspect of human life; just as he passage. But he is far from saying, as some have recognizes the existence of popular opinion as a imagined, that inspiration or divine grace is to fact, and the Sophists as the expression of it.

be regarded as higher than knowledge. He would This Dialogue contains the first intimation of not have preferred the poet or man of action to the doctrine of reminiscence and of the immor-the philosopher, or the virtue of custom to the tality of the soul. The proof is very slight, even virtue based upon ideas.

slighter than in the Phaedo and Republic. Because Also here, as in the Ion and Phaedrus, Plato men had abstract ideas in a previous state, they appears to acknowledge an unreasoning element must have always had them, and their souls in the higher nature of man. The philosopher only therefore must have always existed. For they 9

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must always have been either men or not men.

rience as arising out of the affinities of nature The fallacy of the latter words is transparent. And (ate tes thuseos oles suggenous ouses). Modern Socrates himself appears to be conscious of their philosophy says that all things in nature are de-weakness; for he adds immediately afterwards, pendent on one another; the ancient philosopher

‘I have said some things of which I am not alto-had the same truth latent in his mind when he gether confident.’ (Compare Phaedo.) It may be affirmed that out of one thing all the rest may observed, however, that the fanciful notion of pre-be recovered. The subjective was converted by existence is combined with a true but partial view him into an objective; the mental phenomenon of the origin and unity of knowledge, and of the of the association of ideas (compare Phaedo) association of ideas. Knowledge is prior to any became a real chain of existences. The germs of particular knowledge, and exists not in the pre-two valuable principles of education may also be vious state of the individual, but of the race. It is gathered from the ‘words of priests and priest-potential, not actual, and can only be appropri-esses:’ (1) that true knowledge is a knowledge ated by strenuous exertion.

of causes (compare Aristotle’s theory of The idealism of Plato is here presented in a episteme); and (2) that the process of learning less developed form than in the Phaedo and consists not in what is brought to the learner, Phaedrus. Nothing is said of the pre-existence of but in what is drawn out of him.

ideas of justice, temperance, and the like. Nor is Some lesser points of the dialogue may be Socrates positive of anything but the duty of noted, such as (1) the acute observation that enquiry. The doctrine of reminiscence too is ex-Meno prefers the familiar definition, which is plained more in accordance with fact and expe-embellished with poetical language, to the bet-10

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ter and truer one; or (2) the shrewd reflection, The character of Meno, like that of Critias, has which may admit of an application to modern as no relation to the actual circumstances of his life.

well as to ancient teachers, that the Sophists Plato is silent about his treachery to the ten thou-having made large fortunes; this must surely be sand Greeks, which Xenophon has recorded, as a criterion of their powers of teaching, for that he is also silent about the crimes of Critias. He is no man could get a living by shoemaking who a Thessalian Alcibiades, rich and luxurious—a was not a good shoemaker; or (3) the remark spoilt child of fortune, and is described as the conveyed, almost in a word, that the verbal scep-hereditary friend of the great king. Like tic is saved the labour of thought and enquiry Alcibiades he is inspired with an ardent desire (ouden dei to toiouto zeteseos). Characteristic of knowledge, and is equally willing to learn of also of the temper of the Socratic enquiry is, (4) Socrates and of the Sophists. He may be regarded the proposal to discuss the teachableness of vir-as standing in the same relation to Gorgias as tue under an hypothesis, after the manner of the Hippocrates in the Protagoras to the other great mathematicians; and (5) the repetition of the Sophist. He is the sophisticated youth on whom favourite doctrine which occurs so frequently in Socrates tries his cross-examining powers, just the earlier and more Socratic Dialogues, and gives as in the Charmides, the Lysis, and the a colour to all of them—that mankind only desire Euthydemus, ingenuous boyhood is made the evil through ignorance; (6) the experiment of subject of a similar experiment. He is treated by eliciting from the slave-boy the mathematical Socrates in a half-playful manner suited to his truth which is latent in him, and (7) the remark character; at the same time he appears not quite that he is all the better for knowing his ignorance.

to understand the process to which he is being 11

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subjected. For he is exhibited as ignorant of the ing words. Perhaps Plato may have been desir-very elements of dialectics, in which the Soph-ous of showing that the accusation of Socrates ists have failed to instruct their disciple. His defi-was not to be attributed to badness or malevo-nition of virtue as ‘the power and desire of at-lence, but rather to a tendency in men’s minds.

taining things honourable,’ like the first defini-Or he may have been regardless of the historical tion of justice in the Republic, is taken from a truth of the characters of his dialogue, as in the poet. His answers have a sophistical ring, and at case of Meno and Critias. Like Chaerephon the same time show the sophistical incapacity to (Apol.) the real Anytus was a democrat, and had grasp a general notion.

joined Thrasybulus in the conflict with the thirty.

Anytus is the type of the narrow-minded man The Protagoras arrived at a sort of hypotheti-of the world, who is indignant at innovation, and cal conclusion, that if ‘virtue is knowledge, it equally detests the popular teacher and the true can be taught.’ In the Euthydemus, Socrates philosopher. He seems, like Aristophanes, to re-himself offered an example of the manner in gard the new opinions, whether of Socrates or which the true teacher may draw out the mind the Sophists, as fatal to Athenian greatness. He of youth; this was in contrast to the quibbling is of the same class as Callicles in the Gorgias, follies of the Sophists. In the Meno the subject is but of a different variety; the immoral and so-more developed; the foundations of the enquiry phistical doctrines of Callicles are not attributed are laid deeper, and the nature of knowledge is to him. The moderation with which he is de-more distinctly explained. There is a progression scribed is remarkable, if he be the accuser of by antagonism of two opposite aspects of phi-Socrates, as is apparently indicated by his part-losophy. But at the moment when we approach 12

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nearest, the truth doubles upon us and passes denounced as ‘blind leaders of the blind.’ The out of our reach. We seem to find that the ideal doctrine of the immortality of the soul is also car-of knowledge is irreconcilable with experience.

ried further, being made the foundation not only In human life there is indeed the profession of of a theory of knowledge, but of a doctrine of re-knowledge, but right opinion is our actual guide.

wards and punishments. In the Republic the rela-There is another sort of progress from the gen-tion of knowledge to virtue is described in a man-eral notions of Socrates, who asked simply, ‘what ner more consistent with modern distinctions. The is friendship?’ ‘what is temperance?’ ‘what is existence of the virtues without the possession of courage?’ as in the Lysis, Charmides, Laches, to knowledge in the higher or philosophical sense is the transcendentalism of Plato, who, in the sec-admitted to be possible. Right opinion is again ond stage of his philosophy, sought to find the introduced in the Theaetetus as an account of nature of knowledge in a prior and future state knowledge, but is rejected on the ground that it is of existence.

irrational (as here, because it is not bound by the The difficulty in framing general notions which tie of the cause), and also because the conception has appeared in this and in all the previous Dia-of false opinion is given up as hopeless. The doc-logues recurs in the Gorgias and Theaetetus as trines of Plato are necessarily different at differ-well as in the Republic. In the Gorgias too the ent times of his life, as new distinctions are real-statesmen reappear, but in stronger opposition to ized, or new stages of thought attained by him.

the philosopher. They are no longer allowed to We are not therefore justified, in order to take away have a divine insight, but, though acknowledged the appearance of inconsistency, in attributing to to have been clever men and good speakers, are him hidden meanings or remote allusions.