Literature Study GuidesDialogues Of PlatoSecond Definition Virtue As Ability To Rule Summary 73c 77b Summary

Dialogues of Plato | Study Guide


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Dialogues of Plato | Second Definition: Virtue as Ability to Rule Summary (73c–77b) | Summary



Meno's second attempt at a definition of virtue is that it is the "ability to rule." Socrates notes one difficulty with this definition: it does not account for virtue in those who are ruled. Once again, Meno has effectively broken up virtue-as-such into individual virtues. Socrates finds another difficulty with the definition: those who rule must at least not rule unjustly.

Meno infers from the introduction of the concept of justice to the definition of virtue as the "ability to rule" that "justice is virtue." Socrates is not satisfied with this phrasing because there are clearly other virtues besides justice: courage, temperance, and wisdom, for example. Meno admits that he does not "grasp a single virtue common to all."

Socrates provides Meno with an example of the sort of definition he seeks: figure is that which always follows color. Meno objects: if someone does not know what color is, they won't understand figure. So, Socrates proposes that "figure is the limit of a solid." However, Meno wants Socrates to define color. After some protest, he does—"Color is an effluence of figures, commensurable with sight, therefore perceptible"—and Meno is pleased.


Meno's second definition is both overly broad and overly narrow. It includes justice, but is not limited to it. In addition, it leaves out anyone who isn't a ruler. It is also circular because if virtue is the ability to rule, ruling includes justice, and justice is virtue, then virtue is virtue.

Meno also does not understand that, when pressed to define color, Socrates created a circularity of his own: first he defines figure in terms of color, then later he defines color in terms of figure. Meno's failure to recognize this circularity foreshadows the main problem with his reasoning throughout the dialogue.

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