92. Meno by Plato (c.387-380 BC)

Plot:  Plato (via Socrates) returns to the topic of whether wisdom can be taught, and if not, how does man obtain wisdom? This was covered earlier in Protagorus, but now Socrates comes to a different conclusion.

My version this time is the Plato volume of the Great Books of the Western World set published by Encyclopaedia Britannica in the 1950s, and translated by Benjamin Jowett.

My thoughts: In discussing the nature and source of wisdom in this dialogue, several points are covered

  • Socrates again brings in ‘evidence’ of the spontaneous recovery or recollection of knowledge, this time demonstrated by the apparent understanding of one of Meno’s uneducated slaves of mathematics and geometry. This knowledge could only be present if it has been carried by the soul from one earthly body to the next, proving immortality of the soul.
  • A quite vehement attack on the Sophists is provided by another character (Anytus) allowing Plato to make this point without attributing the words directly to Socrates
  • The fact that virtuous men can have sons who do not display similar virtue argues that virtue cannot be inherited  or taught, but is an instinct given to some from God.
  • Right opinion is also an appropriate guide to virtuous acts as knowledge.

Favourite lines/passages:  A more general call to arms advocating enquiry and learning

“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 that 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”                                        Socrates, p.183

Personal rating:   4

Next : The next Socratic dialogue by Plato is Cratylus, with a new topic on the correctness of names so let’s give it a whirl.

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