The Meno



Young, likable.

Rich, attended by slaves. Well educated.

By reputation, a miserable human being.


Most famous layabout in Athens.

Arguably, first western philosopher in the modern sense.

Socratic technique

  1. Conceptual Analysis
  2. Logical Argumentation (Elenchus, ἔλεγχος)
  3. Theory Construction

Proviso about theory construction:

Socrates claims not to know anything.

Basic Questions

  1. Meno: Can virtue be taught?

  2. Soc: What is virtue?

Conceptual Analysis

Arguably main theme of the Meno.

M. wants to know if virtue can be taught.

S. wants to start from definitions, like a geometer.

Meno's first attempts

  1. A list of instances:

Virtue of young, of old...

  1. Part or kind:

"Justice is virtue"

The Concept of Concept

You call these many things by one single name, and say they are figures, every one of them... tell me what is that which which comprises round and straight alike, and which you call figure

Not clear Meno gets it.

Next attempt

To desire what's honorable and be able to get it.

Soc. replies with first major argument of the Dialogue

Logical Argumentation

Socratic Internalism:

We all desire (to posess, in some sense) the good.


  1. Some think possessing a particular evil is a benefit, some a harm.
  2. Those who think it a benefit don't realize it is an evil.
  3. Those who think it a harm don't desire it.

Ergo, what you desire, you think good.

Application to Analysis

Show's Meno's definition is too broad

Very well, procuring gold and silver is virtue, according to Meno, Ancestral friend of the Great King.

Subtle sarcasm here?

Update Criteria:

  1. No Enumeration.
  2. Not by parts.
  3. Extensional Correctness

Meno's Fix

Justly procuring gold and silver

Socrates' reply

Two issues.

  1. No lists
  2. Circularity

Checkmate: ἔλεγχος

The Paradox of Analysis

Meno gives a famous argument at this point.

  1. If you know what something is, you can't try to figure out what it is.
  2. If you don't know what it is, you can't try to figure out what it is (you won't know when you've succeeded, and you don't know what you're asking about)

Ergo, you can't try to figure out what things are.

Underlying issue: How is conceptual analysis possible?

Either you know what the concept involves, and there's no point, or you don't, and you don't really possess the concept

Theory Construction

The Theory of Recollection

The soul has learned all things, and there is no reason we should not, by remembering one single thing---an act which men call learning---discover everything else


  1. Before discussion, the slave boy does know that the double square is the square on the diagonal (or what a diagonal was).
  2. After, he does.
  3. All Socrates did was ask the right questions

Ergo, what things are can be learned by reflection on appropriate questions.


Part of the process is sweeping away false opinion.

He would have been all to ready to suppose he was right in saying, before any number of people any number of times, that the double space must have a line of double its length for its side.

More sarcasm.

Final Argument

No virtue without wisdom

  1. Properties of the soul are good only when guided by wisdom.
  2. Virtue is always good.

Ergo, virtue is wholly or partly wisdom

Is it knowledge?

If so, where are the teachers?

Reading: Rest of Meno, ...