The Conversation between Socrates and Meno
Today virtue is considered a valuable trait to have. Something that shows true character and represents a fair and honorable person. Back then it meant the same thing. It was a quality used to represent noble people of all walks of life. From Generals in war to everyday citizens just going above and beyond showing good moral characteristics. The conversation between Socrates and Meno focuses on virtue and is centered around understanding the term more to better be able to apply it to their lives.
Socrates and Meno engage in a conversation regarding virtue. Meno asks Socrates whether Virtue can be taught. Socrates replies that they must first understand what virtue is. Socrates asks Meno to refamiliarize him with what exactly virtue is. He is looking for the common element in all acts considered virtuous that would help him understand what virtue truly is. Meno answers this question using many examples of virtue. Virtue for women is to manage the house and to be submissive, virtue for a solider is to be skilled in fighting. These examples show different acts of virtue but doesn’t answer Socrates question about what virtue is. Socrates respond by saying to Meno that there must be something within all these examples that make them virtuous. He does not seek to hear examples of virtue but rather what is the thing within all these examples that make them a virtue.
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Socrates uses shape and color as examples to what answer he is looking for from Meno. He uses an example of shape to lead Meno to what type of answer he is looking for. “If someone where to ask what is a figure Menon? And you said to hum: Roundness” (29). This quote shows how Socrates answers a question about shape the same way Meno answers the question about virtue. By giving examples of a shape rather than what makes it a shape. A shape can be a triangle, square, rectangle, octagon, and trapezoid. That is not what Socrates is looking for but rather what makes these all shapes. These are all shapes because they contain lines that connect forming an enclosed space. Socrates also uses color to show Meno how he should answer the question. “Colour is an emanation from figures, and is symmetrical with sight and perceptible by sense” (30). Socrates explains color by saying it is within figures and our sight and sense allow us to see different colors. Socrates shows Meno that rather than saying “white” to describe color, he should go deeper to what makes it a color.
Meno, after a great deal of deliberation then realizes he may not be able to describe what virtue is. Socrates shuts down all his responses about virtue so Meno asks Socrates, if you and I do not know what we are looking for how do we know what we found is what we have been looking for? Socrates replies by saying that all knowledge lies deep within us. We know everything because knowledge is within the soul. It is just a matter of recollection of the information. He explains this to Meno by using a slave boy who was raised in Meno’s house. He brings the boy over and shows him a picture of a square with 2ft by 2ft lengths. The boy understands the area of the square is 4ft. Socrates then asks what the lengths must be in order to have the area doubled to be 8ft.
The boy answers several times incorrectly, but through the questioning of Socrates he ends up acknowledging the fact that cutting a 4ft by 4ft square in half it would create an area of 8 ft. Socrates and Meno acknowledge that the boy did not know this information before being questioned and that Socrates did not teach the boy anything. By asking certain questions to the boy, he was able to recall the knowledge from his soul. This example is logical and does indicate that the boy was able to recall information; however, I do not agree with its conclusion that the soul is eternal, and all knowledge is kept in there waiting to be recalled. Reading the book, it was clear Socrates wasn’t teaching the boy, but he was still leading him to the answer by asking all the right questions. So, to an extent he was teaching the boy. I view knowledge as learned and this is through understanding and questioning things to better understand what they are and what they can do. If knowledge was a matter of recollection then why do some people have trouble grasping an idea when told the answer? If they were told the answer, it would prompt their recollection and they would understand what they already know.
The allegory of the cave is a very famous section in Plato about a set of prisoners that were in a cave all their life. The prisoners are shacked down facing a wall. They see shadows on the wall that are created by a fire and puppeteers behind them on a path. These shadows that they see they view as real because that is all they have ever known. One prisoner is able to get free and walks up and see’s the “light”. At first the light is very blinding and uncomfortable but over time the prisoner gets used to it. They see that their whole life was a lie and that everything they believed to be true was in fact and illusion. The prisoner then goes back down and tries to break all other prisoners free, after hearing his story the prisoners do not believe him and would rather stay down.
They would do anything to stay in their natural world where they are comfortable and refuse to let the other “enlightened” individuals free them. This allegory represents us as human knowers and in particular Socrates. It shows how the freed prisoner represents Socrates who knows the truth and does anything and everything he can to help steer others to the light. Other people are skeptical and would rather believe what they are comfortable with than to have their ideas shattered and realize things are not always how they appear. I believe this allegory of the cave truly represents us as human knowers because when we have lived with an idea or set of ideas for the majority of our life we get stuck in our ways and is it very difficult if not impossible to steer us away from what we have always known. The example that comes to my mind is back in the middle ages when people contracted diseases it was common belief that they are being punished. If you think about going to that time period and explaining that in fact it was bacteria that were infecting the body no one would listen. Certain things are just too far past some individual’s comprehension that they choose to not believe it.
Plato believes that the truth of all things exists in an invisible realm because there are numerous things in our material world that can deceive us and be perceived as something else. Pertaining to Socrates question about what virtue is, Plato realizes that Meno was replying using examples and material things that embody the concept of virtue. This is why Plato believes in the forms, because he acknowledged that there is something invisible that all of the examples Meno gave contained. The answer Socrates was looking for, according to Plato, would be an eternal essence. Plato believes that eternal essences are invisible and exist as part of a realm where all other essences are truths that are unchangeable. My view on this is there is no other realm of forms.
Truths are truths and we start believing in false things or get tricked by our senses because we do not fully understand our world. A prime example would be driving down a barren road and seeing a puddle in the distance. After driving closer to that “puddle” we see nothing was there at all. It is now that we understand our eyes and the glare from the sunlight create an optical illusion. As we advance as a society and have more advanced technology we are better able to understand our world. It is with this inquiry that we can truly understand how our world works, how everything from our world is intertwined and affects one another. I am very Science oriented and when I hear that there are these “forms” that exist in the invisible realm I think it just means we are not yet able to fully understand a concept.
If we are to believe Plato then atoms would have once been considered part of the invisible realm, but over time we used technology to better understand them. If Plato were right it would mean we were able to peer into an invisible realm, meaning it is in fact not invisible.