Literature Study GuidesDialogues Of PlatoAnytus Summary 89e 96d Summary

Dialogues of Plato | Study Guide

Plato

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Dialogues of Plato | Anytus Summary (89e–96d) | Summary

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Summary

At that moment, Anytus, Meno's host, arrives. Socrates lists Anytus's many fine features, such as his hard-won wealth and his well-raised son. He should know who the teachers of virtue are. First, Socrates asks Anytus about the expertise required for teaching various crafts, such as shoemaking, medicine, and flute playing. One who knows can teach another.

By analogy, the same must be said about virtue: one who knows what virtue is can teach is. These teachers, Socrates proposes, are the Sophists. Anytus becomes outraged at this proposal: "Good Lord, don't blaspheme, Socrates," Anytus tells him. "May none of my own ... be seized with such madness as to go to these men and be ruined."

Socrates expresses surprise at Anytus's reaction. The Sophists are no different from any other craftsperson. Protagoras is offered as an example of such a teacher. Over 40-odd years, Protagoras gained not only wealth from his work but also great respect. Anytus responds that the ones to blame are the students and the parents who send their children to the Sophists—this despite his admission that he has not interacted with any teachers of virtue.

Socrates continues to press Anytus on the question of where Meno could go to learn about virtue. If not the Sophists, then where? Anytus declares that "any Athenian gentlemen he meets will make him better than would the sophists." Anytus becomes even more enraged when Socrates points out examples of many good Athenian men who have not managed to teach their sons virtue. An irate Anytus warns Socrates that he should be careful about slandering men.

Socrates then returns his attention to Meno, asking whether he knows anyone from Thessaly who teaches virtue. Meno responds that no one there agrees on the question of whether or not virtue can be taught. Even Gorgias restricts himself to making men "clever speakers," which Meno admires about him. Lacking a satisfactory answer, Meno wonders how it is that people become good.

Analysis

This section not only foreshadows Anytus's role in Socrates's trial but also leaves Meno and Socrates without a clear idea of virtue's status. It seemed they might be making progress with the idea that virtue is a sort of wisdom, but, if it cannot be taught, it would seem virtue is divested from knowledge altogether. If that's the case, then how men manage their affairs virtuously becomes difficult to explain—it's not knowledge, but then, what is it?

This section clearly shows the difference between Socrates's theoretical conversations and the practical world in which he lives. While he converses with his fellow citizens, they are also involved in the world in a way he is not, in a way that will ultimately have disastrous consequences for him. Plato is concerned with the untouchable forms that remain the same always, and Socrates longs to discover or recollect knowledge and to help others do so. But the rest of the world is concerned with the interactions these things have with the world, and philosophers ignore those interactions at their own peril.

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