Translator's Preface.

Of all the Platonic dialogues, the "Meno" is considered by many to be one of the most interesting, and perhaps the best in terms of an introduction to the study of Plato's thought. It was probably written a little after 387 B.C., some years before "The Republic", which is generally thought to be dated at around 380 B.C. The following extract features Sections 70-81 of "The Meno", i.e. approximately the first half of the work. Its starting point, what is "arete" (virtue, or excellence)?, is closely related to the consideration of the meaning of its component "justice", the issue raised at the beginning of "The Republic". 

These sections have a number of points of particular interest. Firstly, there is the example of Socratic "aporia", when Meno is brought to acknowledge the total confusion which Socrates' questioning has induced in him. "Aporia" (difficulty, puzzlement, perplexity, confusion) was the logical basis of Socrates' educational method. Before any question could be adequately investigated, it was first necessary to get the respondent to acknowledge his own ignorance. As here in the case of the young Meno, the respondent, is brought to see that his original ideas on the subject in question are wholly unsatisfactory, and from that he is then "at a loss" to propose anything else. However, according to Socrates, this refutation ("elenchus") facilitates a greater willingness to enquire into the matter in hand through the proposing and testing of hypotheses. Secondly, the extract ends with Socrates' reference to the doctrine of "anamnesis" (recollection or reminiscence), through which men can be reminded of ideas stored in the depths of their minds that have been acquired during a previous existence (on this subject see the article "The Platonic Doctrine of Recollection and the Insight Model of Teaching" published on this blog on 27 February 2010). It is also worth emphasising that this doctrine is agreed by many as the boundary line between the ideas of Socrates, which Plato himself shared, and Plato's developing ideas, to which Socrates would not have adhered. "The Meno" then can be seen as the point of transition when Plato moves from the ideas he had acquired from Socrates to those based on the religious concept of reincarnation as espoused by the school of Pythagoras.

The Greek text of this extract is taken from "Learning Greek with Plato", by Frank Beetham, Bristol Phoenix Press, 2007. 

1)  70a1 - c3. 
This is the beginning of the dialogue. The scene is somewhere in Athens. Meno, a young Thessalian nobleman who is visiting the city to hear the sophists and is accompanied by a retinue of slaves, accosts Socrates. The dramatic date is sometime before 401 B.C., when Meno left Greece to join the expedition of Cyrus against his brother Artaxerxes II, the king of Persia. 

Meno asks Socrates whether 'arete' (virtue) can be taught. Socrates is preparing, in response, to ask Meno what 'arete' really is and challenges him, as a student of Gorgias, not to be afraid to reply.  
MENO:  Can you tell me, Socrates, whether virtue is something which can be taught? Or, (whether it is) not capable of being taught, but (is) capable of being attained through practice? Or (whether it is) neither capable of being attained through practice nor capable of being learned, but comes to men by nature or by some other way?
SOCRATES:  In the past, Meno, Thessalians were renowned and admired among the Greeks for their horsemanship and their wealth, but now, I think, also for their wisdom, and not least the fellow-citizens from Larissa of your companion Aristippus. But Gorgias is the cause for you of this. For, having arrived in the city, he has taken as lovers, on account of his wisdom, the foremost of the Aleuads, (one) of whom is your lover Aristippus, and of the other Thessalians. And moreover he has got you into this habit of answering fearlessly and magnificently, if ever somebody may ask anything, just as it is reasonable that men who know (would reply), and because he offers himself to anyone who wants whatever somebody may want and answers absolutely everybody.  
2)  70c3 - 71c4.
Socrates says that in Athens they don't even know what 'arete' is, let alone whether it can be taught. Meno is surprised.
SO (cont.):  But here, my dear Meno, it has turned out to be the reverse. (It is) as if some drought of wisdom has occurred, and wisdom is at risk of having gone from these places to yours. At any rate, if you wish to ask anyone among the people here along these lines, absolutely everyone will give a laugh and will say, "Stranger,  I am likely to seem to you to be a fortunate person to know whether virtue (is) indeed capable of being taught or whether it comes about in some other way. I am so far (from knowing) whether it can be learned or cannot be learned that I do not happen to know this very thing, whatever virtue is at all." 
And so, Meno, this is how I am myself. I am poor along with my fellow-citizens in relation to this matter, and I censure myself as not knowing about virtue at all. (If) I do not know what it is, how can I know what kind of thing [it is]? Or do you imagine it to be possible that anyone who does not know Meno at all, should know whether he is handsome, whether (he is) rich, whether (he is) also well-born, or even the opposite of these things? 
MEN:  I (do) not (think) so. But, Socrates, do even you really not know what virtue is, and are we to announce this about you (back) home as well?
SO:  Indeed, not only that, my friend, but that, in my opinion, I have not even yet met anyone else who knows.
3)  71c5 - 72a5.
Meno asks Socrates why he doesn't know Gorgias' definition of 'arete' already, and gives him a list of various 'aretai'. 
MEN:  What? Didn't you meet Gorgias, when he was here?
SO:  Yes, I (did).
ME: Then did you not think that he knew?
SO:  I am not quite able to remember, Meno, so that I cannot say at the moment how it seemed to me then. But perhaps he knows and you (know) what he said. So remind me how he spoke. And, if you wish, do speak yourself; for the things which seem good to him seem good to you presumably.
ME:  Yes, indeed.
SO:  Well then, let us leave him (on one side), since he is not in fact here. In the name of the gods, Meno, what do you say virtue is?  Speak (out) and do not be grudging (about it), so that I may be mistaken in respect of a most fortunate mistake, if you on the one hand are shown to know, and Gorgias too, and I on the other hand (am shown) to have said that I have never yet met anyone who knows. 
MEN:  But (it is) not difficult (to tell), Socrates. In the first place, if you want (to know about) the virtue of a man, (it is) easy (to state) that the virtue of a man is that he should be capable of managing the (affairs) of his city, and (in) managing (them) he should treat his friends well and his enemies badly, and to take care that he should not suffer like them. If you want (to know about) the virtue of a woman, (it is) not difficult to explain, as she is required to manage the house well, to look after the things inside and be the subordinate of her husband. Then the virtue of a child is different, and (that) of a female and a male, and (that) of an older man, (and), if you like, (that) of a freeman on the one hand, and, if you wish, of a slave on the other. And there are very many other virtues besides, so that that there is no difficulty in saying with regard to virtue what it is. For with reference to each function each of us has a virtue in accordance with each activity and time of life, and, vice, I take it, (is) in the same position.  
4)  72a6 - 72d3.
Socrates only wants one definition of 'arete'.
SO:  I seem to be being furnished with much good fortune, Meno, if (while) seeking one virtue, I have discovered quite a swarm of virtues settling beside you. Nevertheless, Meno, in accordance with this metaphor of the swarm, if I had enquired about the essential nature of a bee, what in the world it is, if you were saying that they were of many kinds, what would you have replied to me if I had asked you: " Are you saying that it is in this thing, that they are bees, that they are many and various and that they are different from each other due to this? Or do they differ not in this but in something else, such as in their beauty or in their size or another such (quality)?" Tell (me), if you were asked such a question, what would you reply?
MEN:  I (should say) this, that they do not differ at all, in so far as they are bees, the one from the other.

SO:  So, if I had said after this: "Well then, Meno, tell me the thing by which they do not differ but (by which) they are all the same? What would you say this is?" Presumably, you could say something to me, (couldn't you)?
MEN:  Yes, I could indeed.
SO:  So, of course, it is the same about the virtues; and, even if they are many and various, they all have one common characteristic, on account of which they are virtues, and it is well, I suppose, that the man answering should keep his eye on this, when showing to the man who asked that thing which virtue really is. Or do you not understand what I am saying?

 MEN:  I think I understand. However, I do not yet grasp the question as I would wish. 
5)  72d4 - 73c5.

Socrates shows that 'arete', simply as itself, is the same in all cases. But what is it?

SO:  Is it only with regard to virtue do you think, Meno, that there is one for a man and one for a woman and one for the rest, or (is it) the same with regard to health and with regard to size and with regard to strength? Or do you consider that there is one for a man, and another for a woman? Or, if it is health, whether it is in a a man or in anything else whatsoever, is its character identical universally?

MEN:  I think health is the same, both in man and in woman.

SO:  Then (is it) not (so) with regard to both size and strength? If a woman is strong, she will be strong by the same form and by the same strength; for this is what I mean by "by the same". Strength does not differ at all with regard to being strength, whether it is in a man or in a woman. Or do you think that it differs at all?

MEN:  No, I don't.

SO:  And will virtue with regard to being virtue differ at all, whether it is in a child or in an old person, or whether it is in a woman or in a man?

MEN:  Somehow, Socrates, this does not seem to me to be like those other (cases).

SO:  But why? Were you not saying that the virtue of a man (was) to manage a city well, and (that) of a woman to manage a house?

MEN:  Yes, I was.

SO:  So is it possible to manage well either a city or a house or anything else whatever, if one does not manage prudently and justly?

MEN:  Obviously not.

SO:  And if they manage sensibly and justly, will they not manage with justice and prudence?

MEN:  Inevitably.

SO:  (Then) both a woman and a man, if they are going to be good, require both these (qualities) of  justice and prudence. 

MEN:  They seem to.

SO:  And what about a child and an old person? Would they ever become good if they were indisciplined and unjust?

MEN:  No indeed.

SO:  But (if they were) prudent and just?

MEN:  (Then) yes.

SO:  So all men are good in the same way; for, if they obtain the same (qualities), they become good.

MEN:  It seems so.

SO:  If their virtue was not the same, presumably they would not be good in the same way.

MEN:  Indeed not.

6)  73c6 - 74a6.

Meno gives a definition of virtue that is too narrow. 

SO:  Well then since it is the same virtue in all (cases), try to say and to remember what Gorgias, and you after him, say it is.

MEN:  What else than to be able to govern men? (That is) if you are looking for some one thing with regard to all (cases).

SO: Well, I am indeed searching for this. But is the virtue of a child and (that) of a slave the same, (that is) to be able to govern his master, and do you think that the one ruling would still be a slave?

MEN:  I don't think so at all, Socrates.

SO: It is not likely, my good (fellow); but yet consider this also. You say it is to be able to govern. Shall we not add to that to (govern) justly, and not unjustly?

MEN:  Yes, I think so; for justice, Socrates, is virtue.

SO:  (Do you say) virtue, Meno, or a virtue.

MEN:  What do you mean by this?

SO:  As in the case of anything else at all. Just as, if you like, I might say in the case of roundness that it is a  shape, not simply (it is) shape. And I  would say this for this reason, because there are other shapes as well.

MEN:  You would be speaking correctly if you were saying this, since I am saying that there is not only justice but other virtues also.

SO:  What things (do you mean)? Tell (me). Just as I can tell you of other shapes too, if you ask me. So do tell me of these other virtues.

MEN:  Well then, I think that courage is a virtue, and prudence and wisdom and loftiness of mind and very many other (virtues).

7)  74a7 - 74e10.  

Socrates suggests "shape" as a word which covers different entities and can be defined. 

SO:  We have suffered the same thing once more, Meno; we have found many virtues (while) seeking one, (although) just now in another way; but the one, through which there is virtue in all of them, we cannot discover.

MEN:  (No), because I cannot yet grasp, as you are seeking (to do), one virtue (running) through all (of them), as (I can) in other things.

SO:  Fair enough, but I shall be willing, if I am able, to bring us nearer to our objective. For you understand, presumably, that this (principle) applies with regard to everything. If anyone asked you that (question) which I asked just now, "What is shape, Meno?" if you said that (it is) roundness, (and) if he said to you the very things which I (had said), "Is roundness shape or a shape?" you would, presumably, say that (it is) a shape.

MEN:  Quite so.

SO:  And, for this reason, that other shapes exist as well?

MEN:  Yes.

SO:  And, if he went on to ask you to tell him what kind of things (they were), would you tell (him)?

MEN:  Yes, I would.

SO:  And, if again he asked you in the same way about colour, what it is, and, when you had said that it is white, your questioner had interjected after that, "Is white colour or a colour?" you would say (would you not), that (it is) a colour, because there happen to be other (colours)?

MEN:  Yes, I should.

SO:  And, if he bade you to mention other colours, would you (not) mention other colours which are no worse than white?

MEN:  Yes.

SO:  Then, what if he were pursuing the question as I did and said, "We are always arriving at many things, but do not speak to me in this way, but, since you call these things by one particular name, and you say that they are all a shape, and that (although) they are contrary to one another, (say therefore) what this is that contains roundness no less than straightness, (and)  which you certainly call shape, and you do not affirm roundness to be a shape rather than straightness." Or do you not mean this?

MEN:  Yes, I do.

SO:  And so, whenever you speak in this way, do you then say that roundness is no more round than straightness, or straightness no more straight than roundness?

MEN:  Of course not.

SO:  But yet you would say that shape is no more roundness than straightness, and the one than the other.

MEN:  You say true things.

8)  7e11 - 75d7.

Socrates tries to define "shape" as an example, but he must do so in terms which the questioner has already agreed that he understands. 

SO:  Then whatever is this thing, the name of which is shape? Try to tell (me). So, if you were to say thus to the questioner either about shape or about colour, "But I don't understand what you want, my (good) man, or know what you mean," perhaps he would be surprised and say, "Do you not understand that I am looking for the same thing in all of them?" In these (cases) could you not reply, Meno, if someone were to ask you, "With regard to roundness and straightness and all the other things which you call shape, what is the same thing in (them) all?" Try to reply so that it may be practice for you with regard to your answer about virtue.

MEN:  No, but you should speak, Socrates.

SO:  Do you wish (me) to do you a favour?

MEN:  Certainly.

SO:  And so you will be willing to speak to me about virtue?

MEN:  Yes.

SO:  Well then, I must show eagerness; for (it will be) worthwhile.

MEN:  Absolutely.

SO:  Come on then, let us try to tell you what shape is. So consider if you accept it to be this; for let shape be for us that thing which alone always happens to accompany colour. Is that enough for you, or do you (want) to seek it in some other way? For I would indeed be contented if you were to speak to me of virtue in this way.

MEN:  But this (is) naive, Socrates.

SO:  How do you mean?

MEN:  That shape is, presumably, the thing which, according to your argument, always follows colour. But, if someone were to say that he did not understand the meaning of colour, but was similarly at a loss with regard to shape, what reply do you think you would have given?

SO:  I (would have replied with) the truth. And if the questioner were one of the clever, tendentious or contentious (types), I would say to him that, "I have had my say. If I do not speak correctly, your task (is) to demand an explanation and to refute (it)." If they, being friendly (people) just as you and I now are, were to wish to converse with one another, they would need to reply in a somewhat more gentle manner and (one) more suited to dialectic. What is more suited to dialectic is perhaps not only to reply with the truth but also through those things which the questioner may in addition agree that he knows. I shall certainly try to answer you in this way.

9)  75d7 - 76c3.

Socrates tries again to define "shape".

SO (cont.):  So tell me; do you call something "end"? I mean such a thing as a boundary and an extremity - I mean the same thing in respect of all these things. Perhaps Prodicus might quarrel with us, but you, I am sure,  call something "having been limited" and "having ended". I wish to say some such thing, (but) nothing complicated.

MEN:  Yes, I do call (them thus), and I think I appreciate what you are saying.

SO:  What? Do you call something flat, and, (as) another example, solid, things such as (are employed) in geometrical (problems)?

MEN:  Yes, I do call (them thus).

SO:  Well then, you should now understand from all these things what I mean by shape.For in every insatnce of shape I call that shape in which the solid finishes. Summarising this, I would say that shape is the limit of a solid.

MEN:  And what do you say colour (is)?

SO:  You are indeed shameless, Meno; you enjoin an old man to answer something, but you are not willing yourself, once you have remembered, to tell (me) whatever Gorgias says that virtue is.

MEN:  But when you tell me that, Socrates, I will answer you.

SO:  Even if one were blindfolded, one might tell, when conversing with you, Meno, that you are handsome ans still have lovers.

MEN:  Why so?

SO:  Because (you do) nothing other than impose (on people) in your speeches, the very thing which spoilt (boys) do, inasmuch as they are tyrants for as long as they are in their prime, and at the same time perhaps you notice to my disadvantage that I am susceptible to beauty. And so I shall do you a favour and answer.

MEN:  Do me a favour by all means.

10)  76c4 - 77a2.

Socrates defines colour in a way that pleases Meno.

SO:  So would you like me to answer you in accordance with Gorgias, (in the way) in which you would follow most readily.

MEN:  I should like (that) of course.

SO:  Do you not say that, in accordance with Empedocles, there are certain effluences of existing things?

MEN:  Yes, very much so.

SO:  And pores through which and into which the effluences pass?

MEN:  Certainly.

SO:  (Do you affirm) some of the effluences to fit some of the pores, and that some are too small or too large?

MEN:  That is so.

SO:  And isn't there the thing you call sight?

MEN:  Yes.

SO:  From these things then, "Understand what I am saying," (as) Pindar said. For colour is an effluence of shapes commensurate with sight and perceptible.

MEN:  I think you have put your answer excellently, Socrates.

SO:  (Yes), for perhaps it has been put to you in a familiar way, and at the same time I think you consider that you could say from it what sound is, and smell and many other such things.

MEN:  Absolutely.

SO:  For the answer is in dramatic style, Meno, so that it pleases you more than the one about shape.

MEN:  Yes, it is.

SO:  But I am inclined to think that other answer is not better, son of Alexidemus, nor do I even think it would seem so to you, if it were not necessary for you, as you were saying yesterday, to go away before the mysteries, and you could stay awhile and be initiated.

MEN:  But I should stay, Socrates, if you were to say many things of this kind.

11)  77a2 - 77e4.

Meno tries to define virtue as to rejoice in fine things and have the power to obtain them.

SO:  Then I shall not be lacking in willingness to say things of this kind, both for your sake and for mine; but (I am afraid) that I shall be unable to say many of these things. But come now, you must try to fulfil your promise to me (by) saying with regard to virtue what it is as a whole, and you must stop producing many things from the one thing, as the humorists say whenever one breaks something, but, leaving (virtue) whole and unbroken, say what (it) is. You have got the model from me.

MEN:  Well then, Socrates, it seems to me that virtue is, just as the poet says, "to rejoice in excellent things and to have power", and I say that virtue (is) this, to be desirous of excellent and to be able to procure (them).

SO:  So, are you saying that he who desires excellent things is desirous of good things?

MEN:  Certainly.

SO:  Are there some people who desire bad things and others who desire good things? Don't you think that all men desire good things?

MEN:  No, I don't.

SO:  So, some (desire) bad things?

MEN:  Yes.

SO:  Thinking bad things to be good, do you mean, or knowing that they are bad, they desire them nevertheless?

MEN:  Both, it seems to me.

SO:  Do you really think, Meno, that anyone, (while) knowing things to be bad, is desirous of them nevertheless?

MEN:  Very much so.

SO:  What do you mean by to desire? To become his property then?

MEN:  (Yes), to become his property; for what else could it be?

SO:  Does he think that bad things benefits him who possesses them, or does he know that bad things harm (the man) to whom they are present?

MEN:  There are some who think that bad things are a benefit, and there are others who know that they are harmful.

SO:  Well, do you really think that those who believe that bad things are beneficial know that these bad things are bad?

MEN:  Indeed, this doesn't seem (so) to me at all.

SO:  Surely then (it is) clear that those men, (that is) those who are ignorant of them, do not desire bad things, but (rather) those things which they thought were good, albeit those things are actually bad. As a result it is clear that those who are ignorant of them, and think that they are good, desire good things. Or (do you) not (think so)?

MEN:  Indeed, they would seem (to do so).

12)  77e5 - 78c3.

Meno, although he has argued that not everyone desires "good" things, is compelled to agree that nobody wants to become wretched by obtaining "bad" things, and to accept Socrates' interpretation of his definition of virtue. 

SO:  What therefore? Those who desire bad things, as you say, and consider that bad things harm the man to whom they have come, know, presumably, (don't they), that they will be harmed by them?

MEN:  Certainly.

SO:  But don't they know that those who are harmed are wretched inasmuch as they are harmed?

MEN:  It must be so.

SO:  But (don't they consider) that the wretched are unlucky?

MEN:  Yes, I think so.

SO:  Well, is there anyone who wishes to be wretched and unlucky?

MEN:  I don't think so, Socrates.

SO:  No one then desires bad things, Meno, if he does not wish to be such a person, for what else is it to be miserable other than to desire and to get bad things?

MEN:  You seem to be speaking the truth, Socrates, and no one (seems to be) wanting bad things.

SO:  (But) were you not saying just now that virtue is to want good things and to have the power (to obtain them)?

MEN:  Yes, I did say (that).

SO:  This having been said, the wanting belongs to all men, and on this point one man (is) in no way better than another, (is he)?

MEN:  (So), it seems.

SO:  But (it is) clear, (isn't it), that, if indeed one man is better than another, he would be better on account of his having the power?

MEN:  Yes, indeed.

SO:  So virtue, according to your argument, is this, the power to procure good things.

MEN:  It seems to me to be entirely as you know understand (it).

13)  78c4 - 79a2.

If virtue is the ability to obtain good things, does it matter how they are obtained?

SO:  Then let us see if you are now saying something true in respect of this; for you may perhaps be speaking  well. Are you saying that virtue is to be able to procure good things?

MEN:  Yes.

SO:  But don't you call things such as health and wealth good?

MEN:  And I also mean to obtain gold and silver and honour and a position of authority in the city.

SO:  Are they any things other than these kind of things that you say (are) good?

MEN:  No, but I mean all things of this kind.

SO:  Very well; then virtue is procuring gold and silver, according to Meno, the hereditary guest-friend of the Great King. Do you add something, Meno, to this act of procuring, (namely that it is to be done) justly and dutifully, or does this not matter to you at all, and, even if someone procures it unjustly, do you call it virtue all the same?

MEN:  Surely not, Socrates.

SO:  But vice (rather).

MEN:  Certainly, of course.

SO:  Then it seems that justice, or prudence, or piety or some other part of virtue must accompany this procurement; and, if not, it will not be virtue, (will it), although it provides good things?
out these things

MEN:  (Yes), for, (if that were so), how  could it be virtue without these things?

SO:  And not to procure gold and silver, either for oneself or for another person, whenever there is injustice, is this lack of provision not virtue also? 

MEN:  (So), it appears.

SO:  So, (if this were so), the acquisition of such good things as these wouldn't be virtue any more than the lack (of them), but what happens to come (accompanied) with justice will be virtue, and whatever (comes) without all these things (will be) vice.

 MEN:  I think it must be as you say.

14)  79a3 - 79c10.

 Meno has divided 'arete' up but has not defined it as a whole.

SO:  And were we not saying a little earlier that each of these things was a part of virtue, (that is) justice and prudence and all such things?

MEN:  Yes.

SO:  Then, Meno, you are playing with me.

MEN:  Why so, Socrates?

SO:  Because, although I besought you just now not to break down and to chop up virtue (into little pieces) and when I have given you models as to how you should answer, you have disregarded this, and you now tell me that virtue is the ability to procure good things (accompanied) with justice; and you say that this is an aspect of virtue.

MEN:  Yes, I do.

SO:  Very well then, it follows from the things which you admit that doing whatever you do with virtue, this is virtue.  For you say that justice, and each of these things, is an aspect of virtue. 

MEN:  Well, so what?

SO:  I am saying this, that (even) with me saying that you must speak of virtue as a whole, you are far from saying what it is, but you tell (me) that every action is virtue, if indeed it is done with an aspect of virtue, as if you had said what virtue is, and as if I would now recognise (it), even if you were to chop it up into its (constituent) parts. So I think that you need (to face) the same question again from the beginning, my dear Meno: what is virtue if every action (accompanied) with justice, is virtue? Or do you not think that there is a need of the same question afresh, but do you suppose that anyone knows what an aspect of virtue is, when he does not know the thing (itself).

MEN:  I don't think (so).

15)  79d1 - 79e6.

Socrates tries to persuade Meno to try again to define 'arete' without giving an answer through things which have already been agreed.

SO:  For, if you remember, when a short time ago I answered you about shape, we rejecood (fellow)ted the kind of answer that attempts to reply through things which are still being investigated and not yet accepted.

MEN:  And we rejected (it) correctly, Socrates.

SO:  Well then, my good (fellow), do not suppose that even you will show what it is to anyone at all, if you answer in terms of its parts, or if you say anything at all in this manner, while virtue as a whole is still being investigated, but imagine that there will be a need for the same enquiry once more, (namely) what is this virtue, (about which) you are saying what you are saying.

MEN:  I think you speak correctly

SO:  So answer afresh from the beginning; what do you and your associate (i.e. Gorgias) say that virtue is?

16)  79e7 - 80 b7.

Meno fights back.

MEN:  Socrates, before I even met you, I heard that you were confused yourself and that you made other people confused as well; and now it seems to me that you are bewitching and enchanting and simply casting a spell upon me, so that I have become totally confused. And it seems to me, if I am indeed to have my jest at all, that, in respect of your appearance and in other respects, you are most like the flat sting-ray found in the sea. For it makes numb anyone who approaches (it) at any time and touches (it) and I think that you have made me rather like this, (that is) [benumbed]; for in truth I indeed grow numb both in respect of my mind and in respect of my mouth, and I do not have anything (by which) I can answer you. And yet I have very often delivered speeches to many (people) on the subject of virtue, and quite well, as I thought myself. And now I cannot say anything at all as to what it is. I think you are well advised not to go sailing abroad from here and not to live overseas. For, if you were to do such things as an alien in another city, you would probably be incarcerated as a sorcerer. 

17)  80b8 - 81a10.

Meno caps Socrates' response with another puzzle on his own part. 

SO:  You are a rascal, Meno, and have nearly cheated me.

MEN:  In what way exactly, Socrates?

SO:  I understand the reason why you have compared me.

MEN:  Why do you think so?

SO:  So that I may compare you (with something) in return. I know this about all handsome (young men), that they delight (in) being compared (to something) - as it pays them; for, I suppose, the similes of handsome people, (are) handsome also - but I am not going to make a comparison of you in return. If indeed the sting-ray, being numb itself, makes others numb, then I am like it; but if not, (I am) not (like it). For I do not cause others to be confused, (while) being well supplied (with answers) myself, but I cause others to be so confused (while) being more at a loss than anyone else. And now, with regard to virtue, I do not know what it is, but you did perhaps know previously before you came into contact with me, yet now you are like a man who does not know. Nevertheless I am willing to examine (it) with you and to investigate together (with you) what on earth it is.

MEN:  And in what way will you investigate, Socrates, this thing, about which you do not know anything at all? For what kind of thing of the things which you do not know will you set before (us) and investigate? Or if, in the best case, you come across it, how will you know that it is the thing which you did not know? 

SO:  I understand what you want to say, Meno. Do you see what a sophistical argument this (is that) you are introducing, (namely) that it is not possible for a man to investigate either what he knows or what he does not know? For indeed he cannot investigate either what he knows - for he knows (it) and there is no need at all for an enquiry into such a thing - or what he does not know - for he does not know what he is about to investigate.

MEN:  So doesn't this seem to you to be a good argument, Socrates?

SO:  Not to me.

MEN:  Can you explain in what way?

SO:  Yes, I (can); for I have heard about divine matters from wise men and women -

MEN:  What (is) the argument of these speakers? 

SO:  To me it seems true and fine.

MEN:  What (was) it, and who (were) the speakers? 

18)  81a10 - 81e6.

Things having reached an impasse, Socrates puts forward a theory according to which all knowledge is due to recollection from a previous existence.

SO:  The speakers are priests and priestesses of the kind for whom it has been a concern to be able to give an account of those things concerning which they have to do; and Pindar also speaks (about this), and as many others of the poets as are divinely inspired.  What (words) they speak are these: but consider whether they seem to you to speak the truth. For they say that the soul of a man is immortal, and at one moment comes to an end - what they call dying - and at another moment is born again, and never dies. (They say) that on account of this one must live one's whole life in as holy a manner as possible. For those (from) whom -
"Persephone ever accepts the requital for ancient wrong, the souls of these she sends up again to the sun above in the ninth year, from whom grow illustrious kings and men swift in strength and greatest in wisdom, and for the rest of time they are called by men holy heroes."

So, inasmuch as the soul is immortal and has been born many times and has seen all things both here and in Hades, there isn't anything which it hasn't seen; and as a result it is not at all surprising that it is able to recollect what it used to know before about virtue and about other things. For because all nature is akin and the soul has learned all things, nothing prevents a man, if he has remembered only one thing - what men call learning - , (from) discovering everything else, if he is courageous and does not grow weary in the search. Therefore investigation and learning is entirely (a matter of) recollection. So we must not be persuaded by that sophistical argument; for it would make us idle, and hearing (it) is (only) pleasing to the soft among men, whereas this argument makes (us) energetic and enquiring. Having confidence that it is true, I am willing to investigate with you what virtue is.

MEN:  Yes, Socrates, but what do you mean that we do not learn, but that the thing which we call learning is recollection. Can you teach me that this is so?
Last modified onTuesday, 30 December 2014 20:02
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