Literature Study GuidesDialogues Of PlatoFirst Definition Virtues According To Group Summary 71d 73c Summary

Dialogues of Plato | Study Guide

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Dialogues of Plato | First Definition: Virtues According to Group Summary (71d–73c) | Summary

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Summary

Meno's response to the question, "What is virtue?" is a list of virtues. There is a virtue for men, a virtue for women, and a virtue for children. There are also virtues for people according to their social status and role.

Socrates responds that Meno, rather than providing the essence of virtue, has given him its species. It is as if, upon being asked, "What is a bee?" the response is a list of all the types of bees. In the case of virtue, then, Meno has provided a swarm.

Socrates asks for that "certain single characteristic which is the same, through which they are virtues." So, even if there are differences between specific virtues, e.g., for men, women, and children, there is still one thing that makes them virtues and not something else.

Analysis

At the outset, the reader is provided one of Socrates's criteria for a good definition. In his response to Meno's answer, he declares that the sort of definition he wants involves what it is that makes virtue the same in all its instances. For his part, Meno offers a genus-species approach to a definition. "Virtue" is the name of the genus, and the species are instances of virtue. Socrates counters by seeking a clear definition of the genus rather than a list of the species that take part in a genus. It is not unreasonable, for example, to think that the virtue of a man should apply to a woman, insofar as virtue is the same—it is virtue—in all its instances. However, just as whatever the quality of being a bee is common to all its instances, Socrates wants to learn what that essence is for virtue.

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