Literature Study GuidesDialogues Of PlatoThird Definition Virtue As A Desire For Good Things And The Ability To Attain Them Summary 77b 80c Summary

Dialogues of Plato | Study Guide


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Dialogues of Plato | Third Definition: Virtue as a Desire for Good Things and the Ability to Attain Them Summary (77b–80c) | Summary



Meno moves on to his third and last definition of virtue. It is the "desire for beautiful things and ability to attain them." Socrates proceeds to analyze the definition, gaining Meno's consent for each conclusion of the analysis along the way.

First, Socrates asserts that desiring beautiful things is a desire for good things. Next, all men desire good things, even if they do not always rightly identify the good. So, a provisional adjustment to the definition yields "virtue is the ability to attain good things."

Now, the question is, what sort of ability is involved in attaining good things? That ability must include justice, since unjustly attaining good things would not be virtuous. This addition leads them back to the beginning. Since justice is a part of virtue, this means that virtue is getting the good with (a part of) virtue.

Meno expresses frustration over their results. He accuses Socrates of being like a stingray, paralyzing people into perplexity with his questions. "My tongue, my soul," Meno says, "are numb—truly—and I cannot answer you." He goes on to say that this is despite the fact that he has orated at length on virtue, and on many occasions.

Socrates responds that he may well be like the stingray, "if the stingray numbs itself as it numbs others." He is, after all, just as perplexed as anyone else and wants to learn what virtue is.


Meno's comparison of Socrates to a stingray is evidence of the point in the Socratic method when the interlocutor reaches an impasse: he realizes his definitions are inadequate, but he also does not know how to proceed. His reasoning has been circular, but he does not know how to break out of it to get at the nature of virtue.

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