The epicenter of Plato’s philosophical treatise entitled Meno is to answer one of the ancient questions in epistemology whether it is possible to teach virtue or not.
At the onset of book, Socrates is speaking with Meno; wherein the latter claims that virtue is innate thus it is not teachable, and on the other hand, the former counter-argues that the Thessalians established the reputation of virtue because Gorgias (a famous Sophist) taught Meno’s fellowmen.Meno: Can you tell me, Socrates, whether virtue is acquired by teaching or by practice; or if neither by teaching nor practice, then whether it comes to man by nature, or in what other way?Socrates: And this is Gorgias’ doing; for when he came there, the flower of the Aleuadae, among them your admirer Aristippus, and the other chiefs of the Thessalians, fell in love with his wisdom. And he has taught you the habit of answering questions in a grand and bold style, which becomes those who know, and is the style in which he himself answers all comers; and any Hellene who likes may ask him anything.
How different is our lot! my dear Meno.The dialogue focuses on knowledge, and especially on two claims about knowledge that Socrates makes in the early dialogues: (1) It is important to look for a definition of a virtue, and since he cannot give such a definition, he lacks knowledge about the virtue. (2) Knowledge is both necessary and sufficient for virtue. The first part of the Meno examines Socrates’ first claim, and the second part examines his second claim. On the first claim, Socrates wants to define the properties of virtue or to know its ontological value.
Thus, it concern on the theoretical understanding of what virtue is. Conversely, the second claim is about the practical knowledge that every individual knows regarding virtue or how to be a virtuous person. Hence, the axioms in support of such claim is connected to knowledge because Socrates deems that virtue and knowledge are mutually exclusive, which he dismissed later on.Socrates then posits that he does not know anyone who comprehends what virtue is, and to Meno’s astonishment he postulates several meanings of virtue based in the perception of men, women and children.
But this definition fails to satisfy the criterion of definition because what Meno gave is nothing but mere typologies of virtues i.e. helping friends, managing home, etc. Socrates professes inability to answer Meno’s question because he is so far from knowing whether virtue is teachable that he does not even know what virtue is; he assumes that if he did know anything about virtue he would have to know what virtue is. Socrates supports this assumption by suggesting that if he did not know who Meno is, he could not know whether Meno is handsome or rich or well-born (71b1–8). Meno does not challenge Socrates’ suggestion. He assures Socrates that ‘it is not difficult to say’ what virtue is (71e1), and that ‘there is no puzzle to say about virtue what it is’ (72a2).
What Meno do not understand is that Socrates modesty is a trap for him, as well as the Thessalians and Gorgias, in the elenchus.Meno insists that their dialogue about virtue is becoming futile since Socrates did not know anything about virtue. Socrates shifted the discussion with the slave to stress his philosophic stance of recollection. Socrates calls one of Meno’s slaves to sketch out his ideas, in which the former wants to ensure that Meno and his slave will reach a state of aporia through the aid of Socratic Method. To start the questioning, Socrates draws a square on the dirt with four congruent parts. Then he ask the slave to compute the length of one congruent part (its measurement has an area four feet, and its length is two feet) of the square having a doubled area. At first, the slave provided a wrong answer.Socrates urges that this state of puzzlement is a precondition for making progress (84c4–9; cf.
Sph. 230c3–d4). He does not suggest that puzzlement and awareness of one’s own ignorance is simply a stimulus to modesty in the assertion of one’s views, or that it should make us reluctant to assert any positive claims. At this point the discussion with the slave continues where the discussion with Meno left off; further questioning causes the slave to find the right answer. When the right answer has been found, Socrates says that questioning has aroused true beliefs without knowledge in the slave, and that further questioning of the right sort will lead to accurate knowledge about the same things (85c6–d1). His present state of belief without knowledge is like a dream (85c9–10), and knowledge is what corresponds to being awake (86a6–8).Socrates discussion with the slave results to three conclusions. First, the slave draws out his answer within the context of his self, wherein he have to gather up all necessary information from within himself to answer the question.
Second, the act of gathering all information within one’s self is the art of recollection. And third, we ought to be confident and optimistic in inquiry (86b6–c2). In particular, we ought to regard the interlocutor’s puzzlement not as a reason for despondency, but simply as a necessary preliminary to progress.Meno still believes that virtue is teachable, and he even equate that virtue is equivalent to knowledge.
From this point of discussion, Anytus comes into play. Socrates asks him if the Sophists are the authority when it comes to teaching virtue. Anytus is astounded by such question because he is a non-believer of the Sophists.
Then Socrates redirects his question to who are capable of teaching virtue. Anytus replied that if someone wants to understand what virtue is, then he must go to the street and to talk to people there. Socrates rephrases his question by giving praises to the Sophists and other famous people of their time.
Eventually, Anytus gets furious because of such slanderous act. But Socrates continue because we wants to know if Meno will still uphold his earlier claims about the Sophist, specifically of Gorgias.On Dialectics and EpistemologyPlato’s philosophy regarding epistemology lies on one’s recollection, which is stimulated by a dialogue or by inquiry. An appeal to recollection cannot reasonably convince us that we discover truths through Socratic inquiry. For if we were not antecedently convinced that the slave had found the true answer by a process of rational inquiry distinct from what Socrates calls teaching, we would have no reason to say he has recollected anything; there would be nothing needing to be explained by an appeal to recollection.
And so the introduction of literal recollection does not answer the doubts that might be raised about the reasonableness of Socratic moral inquiry and the truth of its conclusions.Plato through the process of recollection outlines three major points. First, he argues that virtue is knowledge and therefore must be teachable. Second, he argues that virtue is not teachable and therefore cannot be knowledge. Third, he draws a distinction between knowledge and right belief and argues that virtue is right belief rather than knowledge. Since Plato sees that the conclusions of these arguments are inconsistent, he must believe that at least one argument is unsound. The third argument challenges the first argument by suggesting that knowledge is not the only thing that leads to success in action; and Socrates emphatically endorses the distinction between knowledge and belief that underlies the third argument.Plato was right with his claim that through recollection men are able to acquire knowledge, though he must go within the bounds of dialectics.
A person cannot know and understand something if he will not dig what he already knows. A person know what properties of such things, and the what and whatnot of a given object because he compares it to the knowledge that is already embedded upon him, and it is further improve because he shares and talks with other knowledge seekers. This connection of recollection and Socratic definition justifies the implicit assumption of the early dialogues that the elenchus exposes people’s lack of knowledge by showing that they cannot give a correct definition.
The elenchus shows that people lack knowledge because it shows that they lack the particular sort of justification that a definition would supply. Although they may be right to claim that bravery requires standing firm against danger on some occasions and not on others, they cannot say why this is so. They would have the ‘why’ as well as the ‘that’, as Aristotle puts it (EN 1095a31–b8), if they could produce a Socratic definition. And so, when Socrates claims that he and other people are ignorant about the virtues, he claims that they lack the ‘why’, the explanation that would transform their beliefs into knowledge.Both the Socratic dialogues and the Meno accept the first of these claims, but they do not argue explicitly for the crucial second claim.
An argument for this claim would involve some complex historical claims of the sort that are merely suggested in Protagoras’ Great Speech. But Plato could make a reasonable case for this claim; he could, therefore, have offered a reasonable alternative to the belief in literal recollection.Plato’s dualism lies on his discussion of recollection, in which he claims that the soul must exist beforehand prior to the birth of an individual because he can still recollect things that might have been inexistent or unknown for himself. Thus, the soul exists first before it acquires a corporeal body. Plato’s dualism is divided into being and becoming, in which the former is embodied the property of noesis along with the logos.
While the later is founded by doxa along with aesthesis. In a nutshell, Plato’s dualism is transposed as what always is and never becomes and what becomes and never is (27d5–28a1).The catchphrase, the prisoner becomes his own prisoner explains the interplay of being and becoming wherein the prisoner is the being and his won prisoner is the becoming. A prisoner cannot become a prisoner without the prisoner first; it is analogous to the explanation of the soul prior to birth.
Though it can be argued that everything is in the process of becoming, but Plato argues that this is not the case because there will be no basis for becoming if being did not exist first.Plato’s concept of dualism is congruence on how human nature is developed on man. Man has no prior knowledge of what is human nature or what are the properties of human nature, but it has occurred to him even before he was delivered in the world. Human nature is innate in our soul, it serves as a guide of how we should become. A person cannot be good, without being innately good. The innateness of human nature is our basis on how to actualize what we should be.
In dualism, being is always the first principle because necessitate a better understanding of our own self. Whence, Plato’s axioms on human nature are a nothing but a precise account of our being and becoming.