Dialogues of Plato | Study Guide

Plato

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Dialogues of Plato | Meno | Summary

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Summary

Meno asks Socrates if virtue can be taught, and if not, how it can be acquired. Is it, he asks, acquired by practice, is it innate, or does one come by it another way? Socrates responds that Gorgias's influence on Meno is clear. Meno wants to know something about virtue without first knowing what virtue is. He proposes that, since Meno likely has ideas about virtue similar to Gorgias's, he can provide Socrates with a definition of it.

Analysis

Plato introduces the reader to Meno as a follower of the Sophist Gorgias (c. 483–376 BCE). Meno, a military general serving in the army of Cyrus of Persia, is a Thessalian noble visiting Athens as Anytus's guest. Anytus will become one of Socrates's accusers, so his appearance in this dialogue foreshadows his contribution to Socrates's eventual death.

Socrates's response to Meno's question is standard. He thinks the features and applications of ethical terms aren't properly understood unless one first understands the essence of the term itself. Hence, rather than proceed to investigate whether or not virtue can be taught, he first wants to know what virtue is.

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