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University of California Davis The Meno Questions Paper

University of California Davis The Meno Questions Paper

Question Description

I’m working on a philosophy question and need a reference to help me learn.

Below are some notes for questions

After the dialogue with Meno’s servant, Socrates attempts to return the question, “What is virtue?” but Meno convinces him to go back to the question they began the dialogue with – “Can virtue be taught?” Socrates agrees on the condition that he be allowed to proceed from a hypothesis.

Don’t worry if you don’t understand his geometrical example of a hypothesis. (Scholars have difficulty making out what he’s talking about there.) I think what’s most important to notice is the simple fact that it is a geometrical example. At 74b-76a, Socrates had used shape as a way of explaining the kind of definition he seeks. Then, in the dialogue with Meno’s servant (at 82b-85b), he focused on a question concerning a geometrical figure. Now, he returns to geometry again to illustrate what he means by proceeding from a hypothesis. This isn’t a coincidence. Geometry was the most highly developed intellectual enterprise in Plato’s time. Plato was profoundly impressed by geometry. When he opened his school of philosophy (the Academy), he had the words, “Let no one ignorant of geometry enter here,” inscribed over the entrance. When we get to the Phaedo, this appreciation for geometry will appear again. So, the importance of geometry to Plato’s vision of what philosophy is (and what knowledge is) is something to reflect on.

Once allowed to proceed by means of an hypothesis, Socrates develops a fairly involved argument for the view that virtue can be taught at 87b-89a. (I’ve provided an interpretation of this argument on a separate Canvas page.) There are a few points in this argument that I puzzle over. I’ll share one here: notice that Socrates appears to use three words as synonyms: understanding, knowledge, and wisdom. (Unless we interpret him as using these words as synonyms, the argument won’t work at all.) But are these words actually synonyms? What do you think?

Immediately after arguing that virtue can be taught, Socrates develops the case that it can’t be taught in a long passage (89c-96c). Notice that even though the passage is quite long, the argument itself is less elaborate than the one for the view that virtue can be taught. It amounts to working up a list of great men whose sons didn’t learn virtue from them. The list isn’t even that long. Socrates just develops it in a leisurely way. Is this a convincing argument? Why/Why not?

Ultimately, Plato doesn’t indicate which argument we should prefer. He just sets them up for us to consider. It’s as though he’s trying to get our thinking started rather than trying to settle the issue for all time. What are your thoughts?

below are questions

1. At 86d, Meno entreats Socrates to investigate whether virtue is teachable. At 86e, Socrates asks to be allowed to do this by means of a hypothesis. What is that hypothesis? What is Socrates’ justification for the use of such a hypothesis?

2. What is Socrates’ argument for the claim that virtue “as a whole or in part, is wisdom”? What further conclusion follows from this?

3. What is Socrates’ argument for the claim that virtue cannot be taught?

4. What is Socrates’ evidence for the claim that “true opinion is in no way a worse guide to correct action than knowledge”?

5. How does Socrates distinguish between knowledge and true opinion? Why is knowledge prized higher than correct (or true) opinion?


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