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Dialogues of Plato | Study Guide

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Dialogues of Plato | Virtue Is Knowledge and Not Taught Summary (87c–89e) | Summary

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Summary

The next step should be an investigation into whether virtue is, in fact, a type of knowledge. Socrates further hypothesizes that virtue is good. From this it follows that, if there is anything good that is not knowledge, then virtue cannot be "a kind of knowledge." On the other hand, if knowledge does encompass everything that is good, then "virtue is a kind of knowledge."

These suppositions in hand, Socrates returns to the previous discussion about virtue being beneficial. There are various things that are beneficial to us, such as health, strength, and beauty. These same things can also be harmful. The benefit and the harm are determined by whatever guides them. That which is "learned or acquired by training [is] beneficial when accompanied by intelligence, but harmful without it." So wisdom directs us correctly, resulting in benefit, while ignorance does the opposite. If virtue is beneficial, it must be a sort of wisdom.

The fact that without virtue one can become corrupt—just as without health one becomes ill—means that virtue is not innate. From this, Meno concludes that, since virtue is knowledge, it is acquired through teaching. Socrates is not convinced. After all, he does not see any teachers of virtue. If virtue is knowledge, it is taught. But, it does not seem to be taught. Consequently, it is not the case that virtue is knowledge.

Meno expresses surprise at Socrates's claim that there are no teachers of virtue, but Socrates insists he has sought them out, to no avail.

Analysis

As this section of the dialogue ends, the reader may recall Socrates's speech in the Apology. He explains to the jury that, after hearing the oracle's pronouncement, he went in search of someone wiser than he. However, no one seemed wise enough to even recognize their own ignorance—not the politicians, the poets, or the craftsmen.

Here Socrates seems to be at odds with a claim he elsewhere seems to believes is true, namely that virtue is a type of knowledge. Denying that virtue is knowledge does follow, however, from the denial that it is taught. Perhaps what Socrates is after is not the rejection that virtue is knowledge, or a type of knowledge, but that it is taught. If the theory of recollection, along with Socrates's admonition in the Apology that, "the unexamined life is not ... worth living," are true, then virtue is not acquired through teaching, but through recollecting.

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