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Plato’s Meno: Philosophical Dialogue Essay

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Updated: Dec 26th, 2021


This dialogue started three years before Socrates’ trial. The discussion begins by Meno asking Socrates whether there is a definition of the word ‘Arete’ because he thinks that it cannot be taught in class because there is apparently no definition of the word. In the first phase of the dialogue he is looking at a universal or a formal definition of the word arete. He wants to know all the examples of words and what their similarities are.

Summary of the philosophical position

The statement of the so-called Socratic absurdity began with his assertion which considered arete as a variety of information and further regarded its opposite as a sort of unawareness. It appears to be a paradox because people can know well and fail to do the same.On the same point a person can know that this thing is bad and continue doing the same. Most individuals assume arete to be a subject of understanding and eagerness to learn. On the other hand, a Christian may think that a sin is a matter of knowing that, this is right and this is wrong. But if we take virtue as knowledge as Socrates had defined it, any person who really knew that this thing is good would do very fine. In any case, Socrates would have been wrong in his description then it would be possible to recognize what is acceptable and still go ahead to contravene it (James, p. 162).

When we turn to the next phase of the dialogue in which Socrates begins by challenging Meno that if he does not know definition of arete he does not have to look for it because he won’t know when he has found it. In this phase Socrates claims that knowing is a kind of remembering. This means that he already knew the definition of the word arete. He demonstrated by making an ignorant slave boy to remember geometry.

The phase two definition of arete is not clear because if knowing is like remembering then he could not have reminded the boy about the geometry if he already knew (Miller, p. 294).

In phase three of the dialogue Socrates unwillingly accepts to explore whether virtue can be taught. Next he put forward an approach to establish if arete can be a type of comprehension. He says that if art is knowledge, then it can be taught but if it is not knowledge then it cannot be taught. This definition means that if virtue is not knowledge there is no need of teaching it. This is not a good definition of knowledge because in the real life situation anything that does not bring knowledge should not be taught (Weiss, p. 235).

According to Socrates’ argument, he believes that a virtue is knowledge but he later changes his mind and starts to argue on a different way. He explains the ways in which educators in human health and trainers of farm animals together with the entire community concur with the notion that each and every one of them is a indisputable coach. At the same time, these people disagree about whether these teachers teach about virtue because they think that virtue cannot be taught (Anastaplo and Berns, p. 2).

Towards the end of the Meno, it is still unclear if arete is a form of comprehension, if it possible to learn and teach it and can be taught as well as the form it takes. However we end up with an unanticipated matter on the significance of comprehension. We get a clear picture that comprehension is a defensible factual conviction. Without justification one cannot be able to explain and support his true belief because without justification knowledge will just fade away (Dommic, p. 207).

Personal Reflection on the position

Both Plato and Meno are arguing about arete or virtue. Each tries to outwit the other. The argument revolving around the definition of the word spurs a debate as to whether one can be trained on arete or that it comes naturally as due to familiarity with righteous actions. The positions they take at the beginning does not get altered. Meno is confident that someone knows arete though he himself does not know it. But Plato on the other hand thinks that even though Meno knows about someone who is knowledgeable of arete, he, Meno, does not know (Darcus, p. 259).

Another outstanding coincidence is that the initial question about the definition of arete is directed to Plato by Meno. Because Plato is not sure and does not want Meno to learn about his unawareness, he successfully manipulates Meno with words and he ends up challenging Meno to define the word. He further exploits Meno’s provision of unsolicited information that the Sophist know about arete by begging the question.

Meno, on the other hand, takes this challenge as an attempt by Plato to evade his initial question by attacking his knowledge ability rather than giving a straight answer to the question at hand. Meno recognizes that Plato is not disposed to pronounce whether arete is a comprehension or not (Pettigrew & Raffoul, p. 342).


Personally, Socrates’ objections to the definitions provided by Meno are legitimate and necessary but the way Plato manipulates Meno is totally unjustified. It is logically correct that if you are defining a word then it is imperative upon you to use other words albeit in a distinct way. If a definition of a word contains part of it or a close synonym then that word is devoid of the requirements of a good description.

Works cited

  1. Anastaplo, George and Berns Laurence. Plato’s Meno: Translations and Annotations. Newburyport, MA: Focus Publishing Group, 2004, pp 1-2
  2. Darcus, Shirley. Psychological and ethical ideas: what early Greeks say. Texas: Brill, 2005, pp 254-262
  3. Dominic, William. Words and ideas. New York: Bolchazy-Carducci, 2002, pp. 203-281
  4. James, Kenneth. Greek popular morality in the time of Plato and Aristotle. Texas: Hackett, 2001, pp. 140-162
  5. Miller, Stephen. Arete: Greek sports from ancient sources. California: University of California Press, 2004, pp. 245-324
  6. Pettigrew, David & Raffoul François. Heidegger and practical philosophy. Michigan: Suny publishers, 2002, pp. 330- 367
  7. Weiss, Roslyn. The Socratic paradox and its enemies. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006, pp. 234-235
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