Socrates’ Refutations of Meno’s Definitions of Virtue

1. Introduction

The Meno is a philosophical dialogue by Plato. The dialogue takes place between Socrates and Meno, and it is about the nature of virtue and whether or not it can be taught.

Socrates’ objections to the definitions provided by Meno are legitimate and necessary, but the way Plato manipulates Meno is totally unjustified. The way Socrates refutes Meno’s first definition of virtue is by means of the argument from ignorance, which is a fallacy. The second definition is based on a false analogy, and Socrates refutes it by means of the fallacy of false analogy.

The third definition is based on a correct analogy, but Socrates’ refutation of it is invalid. He says that if virtue is knowledge, then it cannot be taught, because if one does not know something, one cannot be taught it. This does not follow, because one can learn things that one does not know.

The fourth definition is also based on a correct analogy, but Socrates’ refutation of it is again invalid. He says that if virtue is something that can be taught, then it must be teachable to everyone, including women and children. But this does not follow, because there are things that can be taught to some people but not to others.

In conclusion, Plato’s Meno is a disappointing dialogue, because Socrates fails to show that virtue cannot be taught. Instead, he shows that the definitions of virtue proposed by Meno are all wrong.

2. Overview of the dialogue

The dialogue takes place between Socrates and Meno. Meno is a young Athenian who has come to visit Socrates in Athens. Meno asks Socrates whether virtue can be taught. Socrates replies that he does not know what virtue is, and so he cannot answer the question. Meno then asks Socrates to help him find a definition of virtue.

Meno proposes four definitions of virtue:

1. Virtue is doing what one wants to do.
2. Virtue is Power.

3. Virtue is knowledge.

4. Virtue is something that can be taught.

Socrates refutes all of these definitions. He does not give a positive definition of virtue, but he does say that it is not any of the things that Meno has proposed.

3. Analysis of the dialogue

3.1. The first definition of virtue

The first definition of virtue is that it is doing what one wants to do. This definition is based on the analogy between virtue and pleasure. Just as pleasure is something that one wants, so virtue is something that one wants to do.

Socrates refutes this definition by means of the argument from ignorance, which is a fallacy. He says that if virtue is doing what one wants, then it must be the case that some people want to do bad things, because there are bad people in the world. But this does not follow, because it is possible for people to want to do bad things without being bad themselves. For example, a child may want to hit another child, but this does not make the child bad, because the child does not know any better.

3. 2 The second definition of virtue

The second definition of virtue is that it is power. This definition is based on the analogy between virtue and forceful acts, such as hitting or scratching someone. Just as forceful acts are powerful, so virtue is powerful.

Socrates refutes this definition by means of the fallacy of false analogy. He says that just because two things are similar in some respects, it does not mean that they are similar in all respects. For example, a dog and a human being are both animals, but they are not alike in all respects, because humans are rational and dogs are not rational. In the same way, even though forceful acts and virtuous acts may be similar in some respects, they are not alike in all respects, because virtuous acts are done for the right reasons, whereas forceful acts are not necessarily done for the right reasons.

3. 3 The third definition of virtue

The third definition of virtue is that it is knowledge. This definition is based on the analogy between virtue and art. Just as art is a kind of knowledge, so virtue is a kind of knowledge.

Socrates refutes this definition by saying that if virtue is knowledge, then it cannot be taught, because if one does not know something, one cannot be taught it. But this does not follow, because one can learn things that one does not know. For example, a child may not know how to read, but the child can be taught how to read.

3. 4 The fourth definition of virtue

The fourth definition of virtue is that it is something that can be taught. This definition is based on the analogy between virtue and other things that can be taught, such as math or music. Just as math and music can be taught, so virtue can be taught.

Socrates refutes this definition by saying that if virtue is something that can be taught, then it must be teachable to everyone, including women and children. But this does not follow, because there are things that can be taught to some people but not to others. For example, math can be taught to some people but not to others.

3. 5 Conclusion

In conclusion, Plato’s Meno is a disappointing dialogue, because Socrates fails to show that virtue cannot be taught. Instead, he shows that the definitions of virtue proposed by Meno are all wrong.

FAQ

Plato believed that reality was composed of two separate realms: the realm of physical objects, which he called the "material world," and the realm of abstract concepts, which he called the "eternal world."

Plato believed that knowledge was acquired through a process of recollection, whereby the soul remembers things it learned in a previous life.

Plato believed that philosophers had a duty to share their knowledge with others and to help them lead better lives.

Socrates chose to engage in a dialogue with Meno because he felt that it would be more beneficial for Meno to learn through discussion and debate than through simply being taught.