translated by Benjamin Jowett
PERSONS OF THE DIALOGUE MENO; SOCRATES; A SLAVE OF MENO;
Meno. Can you tell me, Socrates, whether virtue is acquired by
teaching or by practice; or if neither by teaching nor practice,
then whether it comes to man by nature, or in what other way?
Socrates. O Meno, there was a time when the Thessalians were
famous among the other Hellenes only for their riches and their
riding; but now, if I am not mistaken, they are equally famous for
their wisdom, especially at Larisa, which is the native city of your
friend Aristippus. And this is Gorgias' doing; for when he came there,
the flower of the Aleuadae, among them your admirer Aristippus, and
the other chiefs of the Thessalians, fell in love with his wisdom. And
he has taught you the habit of answering questions in a grand and bold
style, which becomes those who know, and is the style in which he
himself answers all comers; and any Hellene who likes may ask him
anything. How different is our lot! my dear Meno. Here at Athens there
is a dearth of the commodity, and all wisdom seems to have emigrated
from us to you. I am certain that if you were to ask any Athenian
whether virtue was natural or acquired, he would laugh in your face,
and say: "Stranger, you have far too good an opinion of me, if you
think that I can answer your question. For I literally do not know
what virtue is, and much less whether it is acquired by teaching or
not." And I myself, Meno, living as I do in this region of poverty, am
as poor as the rest of the world; and I confess with shame that I know
literally nothing about virtue; and when I do not know the "quid" of
anything how can I know the "quale"? How, if I knew nothing at all
of Meno, could I tell if he was fair, or the opposite of fair; rich
and noble, or the reverse of rich and noble? Do you think that I
Men. No, Indeed. But are you in earnest, Socrates, in saying that
you do not know what virtue is? And am I to carry back this report
of you to Thessaly?
Soc. Not only that, my dear boy, but you may say further that I have
never known of any one else who did, in my judgment.
Men. Then you have never met Gorgias when he was at Athens?
Soc. Yes, I have.
Men. And did you not think that he knew?
Soc. I have not a good memory, Meno, and therefore I cannot now tell
what I thought of him at the time. And I dare say that he did know,
and that you know what he said: please, therefore, to remind me of
what he said; or, if you would rather, tell me your own view; for I
suspect that you and he think much alike.
Men. Very true.
Soc. Then as he is not here, never mind him, and do you tell me:
By the gods, Meno, be generous, and tell me what you say that virtue
is; for I shall be truly delighted to find that I have been
mistaken, and that you and Gorgias do really have this knowledge;
although I have been just saying that I have never found anybody who
Men. There will be no difficulty, Socrates, in answering your