Socratic Dialogues - Synopses :)!

Meno dialogue (Synopsis – highlights & unredacted quotes lifted from the Socratic dialogue by Plato, Benjamin Jowett translation)

Whether virtue is acquired by teaching or by practice, or whether it comes to man by nature or in what other way…
  • Whether virtue is natural or acquire…

Socrates: he makes the claim that he does not know what virtue is… wants to know the nature of virtue as a whole…

Meno attempts at defining virtue:

  • there is the virtue of man,
    • he (man) should know how to administer the State, how to benefit his friends and harm his enemies…
  • a woman’s virtue,
    • her duty is to order her house, and keep what is indoors
    • obey her husband….
  • That there is one virtue of a man, another of a woman, another of a child, and so on…
    • Every age, every condition of life, young or old, male or female, bond or free, has a different virtue…
    • That virtue is relative to the actions and ages of each of us in all that we do…
  • That virtue is the power of governing mankind…
  • Virtue is the desire of things honourable and the power of attaining them…
    • Is the honourable also the good? And are there some who desire evil?
    • Do you mean that they think the evils which they desire, to be good; or do they know that they are evil and yet desire them?…
    • Is it not obvious that those who are ignorant of their nature do not desire them; but they desire what they suppose to be goods although they are really evils; and if they are mistaken and suppose evils to be goods they really desire goods?
    • No one desires to be miserable and ill-fated… And what is misery but the desire and possession of evil?
    • The desire of good is common to all, and one man is no better than another in that respect…
  • Virtue as the power of attaining goods…
    • Is any mode of acquisition, even if unjust and dishonest, equally to be deemed virtue? …
    • Then justice or temperance or holiness, or some other part of virtue, as would appear, must accompany the acquisition, and without them the mere acquisition of good will not be virtue…
    • The non-acquisition of gold and silver in a dishonest manner for oneself or another, or in other words the want of them, may be equally virtue? …
    • Then the acquisition of such goods is no more virtue than the non-acquisition and want of them, but whatever is accompanied by justice or honesty is virtue, and whatever is devoid of justice is vice…
    • The Meno’s propositions amount to the claim that “virtue is doing what you do with a part of virtue.” …do not suppose that we can explain to anyone the nature of virtue as a whole through some unexplained portion of virtue, or anything at all in that fashion…

But do bees (virtue) differ as bees, because there are many and different kinds of them; or are they not rather to be distinguished by some other quality, as for example beauty, size, or shape?

What is the quality in which they (virtues) do not differ, but are all alike? What is the quality in which they do not differ, but are all alike? … They have all a common nature which makes them virtues… Health is the same, both in man and woman… Strength, as strength, whether of man or woman, is the same… If a woman is strong, she will be strong by reason of the same form and of the same strength subsisting in her which is in the man…

Can either house or state or anything be well ordered without temperance and without justice? Then both men and women, if they are to be good men and women, must have the same virtues of temperance and justice…

All men are good in the same way, and by participation in the same virtues…

Figure:

  • The only thing which always follows colour…
  • That in which the solid ends; or, more concisely, the limit of solid…

Colour:

  • An effluence of form, commensurate with sight, and palpable to sense…

What virtue is in the universal; and do not make a singular into a plural…

How will you inquire, Socrates, into that which you do not know? (Meno)… And if you find what you want, how will you ever know that this is the thing which you did not know? …

You argue that a man cannot enquire either about that which he knows, or about that which he does not know; for if he knows, he has no need to enquire; and if not, he cannot; for he does not know the very subject about which he is to enquire…. (Socrates)…

The soul of man is immortal, and at one time has an end, which is termed dying, and at another time is born again, but is never destroyed…

The soul, then, as being immortal, and having been born again many times, and having seen all things exist, whether in this world or in the world below, has knowledge of them all; and it is no wonder that she should be able to call to remembrance all that she ever knew about virtue, and about everything; for as all nature is akin, and the soul has learned all things; there is no difficulty in her eliciting or as men say learning, out of a single recollection all the rest, if a man is strenuous and does not faint; for all enquiry and all learning is but recollection. And therefore we ought not to listen to this sophistical argument about the impossibility of enquiry: for it will make us idle; and is sweet only to the sluggard; but the other saying will make us active and inquisitive…

Socrates demonstration to the boy:

  
  
2 feet by 2 feet.          Area = 4 feet squared. Boy infers the area size correctly.

                                                     

    
    
    
                    
The double space is the square of the diagonal….
    
    
    
    
4 feet by 4 feet. Area = 16 feet squared. Boy wrongly infers 8 feet squared. Boy thinks a double space comes from a double line.

                            

Recollection:

  • The spontaneous recovery of knowledge…

If the truth of all things always existed in the soul, then the soul is immortal… Wherefore be of good cheer, and try to recollect what you do not know, or rather what you do not remember….

Some things I have said of which I am not altogether confident. But that we shall be better and braver and less helpless if we think we ought to enquire, than we should have been if we indulged in the idle fancy that there was no knowing and no use in seeking to know what we do not know; — that is a theme upon which I am ready to fight, in word and deed, to the utmost of my power…

A man should enquire about that which he does not know…

What is the nature of virtue? ….

And we too, as we know not the nature and qualities of virtue, must ask, whether virtue is or is not taught, under a hypothesis: as thus, if virtue is of such a class of mental goods, will it be taught or not?

Let the first hypothesis be that virtue is or is not knowledge, — in that case will it be taught or not? Or, as we were just now saying, ‘remembered’? …

Knowledge alone is taught. Then if virtue is knowledge, virtue will be taught… But is virtue knowledge or another species? …

If virtue is a good, it is profitable… Health and strength, and beauty and wealth, sometimes do us harm…

What is the guiding principle which makes them profitable or the reverse? Are they not profitable when they are rightly used, and hurtful when they are not rightly used?

Even goods of the soul are sometimes hurtful… e.g. courage wanting prudence, which is only a sort of confidence? When a man has no sense he is harmed by courage, but when he has sense he is profited?…

All that the soul attempts or endures, when under the guidance of wisdom, ends in happiness; but when she is under the guidance of folly, in the opposite…

Al other things hang upon the soul, and the things of the soul herself hand upon wisdom, if they are to be good; and so wisdom is inferred to be that which profits – and virtue, as we say, is profitable…

Thus we arrive at the conclusion that virtue is either wholly or partly wisdom…

Then the goods (of life) are not by nature good…

But if the good are not by nature good, are they made good by instruction? …

Now, do we mean to say that the good men of our own and of other times knew how to impart to others that virtue which they had themselves; or is virtue a thing incapable of being communicated or imparted by one man to another? …

(Theog.) If understanding could be created and put into a man, then they (who were able to perform this feat) would have obtained the great rewards… Never would a bad son sprung from a good sire, for he would have heard the voice of instruction; but not by teaching will you ever make a bad man into a good one…

But if neither the Sophists nor the gentlemen are teachers, clearly there can be no other teachers?

And we have admitted that a thing cannot be taught of which there are neither teachers nor disciples…

In the previous discussion none of us remarked that right and good action is possible to man under other guidance than that of knowledge (episteme)…

A person who had a right opinion about the way, but had never been and did not know, might be a good guide also, might he not?

Then true opinion is as good a guide to correct action as knowledge… Then right opinion is not less useful than knowledge …

The difference, Socrates, is only that he who has knowledge will always be right; but he who has right opinion will sometimes be right, and sometimes not.

Daedalus images, require to be fastened or else they will play truant and run away: “Daedalus goods” … are not very valuable possessions if they are at liberty…

Now this is an illustration of the nature of true opinions: while they abide with us they are beautiful and fruitful, but they run away out of the human soul, and do not remain long, and therefore they are not much value until they are fastened by the tie of the cause; and this fastening of them, friend Meno, is recollection, as you and I have agreed to call it… But when they are bound, in the first place, they have the nature of knowledge; and, in the second place, they are abiding. And this is why knowledge is more honourable and excellent than true opinion, because fastened by a chain…

True opinion leading the way perfects action quite as well as knowledge…

The right opinion is not a whit inferior to knowledge, or less useful in action; nor is a man who has right opinion inferior to him who has knowledge…

Seeing then that men become good and useful to states, not only because they have knowledge, but because they have right opinion, and that neither knowledge nor right opinion is given to man by nature or acquired by him— do you imagine either of them to be given by nature?

Then if they are not given by nature, neither are the good by nature good…

And the only guides are knowledge and true opinion – these are the guides of man; for things which happen by chance are not under the guidance of man: but the guides of man are true opinion and knowledge… Then of the two good and useful things, one, which is knowledge, has been set aside, and cannot be supposed to be our guide in political life… And therefore not by wisdom, and not because they were wise, did Themistocles and those others of whom Anytus spoke govern states. This was the reason why they were unable to make others like themselves – because virtue was not grounded on knowledge…

But if not by knowledge, then only alternative which remains is that statesmen must have guided states by right opinion, which is in politics what divination is in religion; for diviners and also prophets say many things truly, but they know not what they say…

Dialogues final verdict on the preceding arguments:

That virtue is neither natural nor acquired, but an instinct given by God to the virtuous. Nor is instinct accompanied by reason, unless there may be supposed to be among statesmen someone who is capable of educating statesmen. And if there be such an one, he may be said to be among the living what Homer says that Tiresias was among the dead, ‘he alone has understanding; but the rest are flitting shades’; and he and his virtue in like manner will be a reality among shadows…

Then, Meno, the conclusion is that virtue comes to the virtuous by the gift of God.

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