5 - The Meno, Part II I. The Hypothetical Argument (Meno...

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The Meno, Part II I. The Hypothetical Argument (Meno 86d - 96e) The hypothetical argument takes a certain statement as an assumption and attempts to analyze it. The hypothesis is one that links virtue to knowledge and infers from this that virtue can be taught: If virtue is knowledge, then it can be taught . Socrates bases this on the assumption that knowledge is something that can be taught. Thus, if virtue is knowledge and knowledge is something that can be taught, then virtue also can be taught. A. Reasons for Thinking that Virtue is Knowledge (Meno 87c-89a) Virtue is what makes us good, and the good is advantageous, but various spiritual qualities (typically associated with virtue in someway) are only advantageous if wisdom or knowledge accompanies them. For instance, courage and temperance are not virtuous in themselves, since they can easily lead to disadvantage. They are only advantageous when guided to right action, and this requires wisdom. Hence, virtue must be knowledge, in part or in whole. This conclusion can now be incorporated into a larger argument using the conditional or hypothetical statement above. We can represent Socrates' argument here as follows. (P1) If virtue is knowledge, then it can be taught. (conditional premise) (P2) Virtue is knowledge. (affirming the antecedent of the conditional) ----------- (C) Therefore, virtue can be taught. (affirming the consequent of the conditional) The argument is valid since the conclusion follows by logical necessity from the premises. If the premises are both true, then the conclusion cannot be false. This is just the definition of validity in logic. (An argument that is valid and also has premises that are in fact true is called sound .) The argument form in question is called modus ponens . It will always be valid regardless of what statements or content one places in the argument, though for every valid argument the question will remain as to whether the premises are true. But we have seen above why Socrates thinks (P1) and (P2) are true. B. Reasons for Thinking that Virtue is not Knowledge (89c-96e) However, after presenting the previous line of reasoning, Socrates develops reasons for supposing that virtue cannot be taught. Socrates argues that if virtue can be taught, then there would be teachers of virtue. However, there appear not to be any teachers of virtue. The children of various virtuous men (e.g., Themistocles, Aristides, Pericles, and Thucydides) are examined, and Socrates argues that though the parents were virtuous the kids were not virtuous. But the parents desired to teach them virtue, and the kids were quite skilled in many other matters that they had been taught by their parents. Moreover, if even we suppose that there was a teaching
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5 - The Meno, Part II I. The Hypothetical Argument (Meno...

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