A philosopher is wise, reflective and analytical in his views of life in general. For him, every thing has its proper context, correct sense and right values. There are those….
Meno, an influential speaker, is traveling through Athens when he encounters Socrates. Meno is a well known individual who has spoken in front of large crowds the meaning of virtue. He is a student who studied under Gorgias, another well know teacher of virtue. Socrates provokes a discussion regarding virtue when he states that, “I have never known of anyone else who did [know virtue], in my judgment. ” This prompted Meno to stand up and prove to Socrates he could accurately define virtue.
Through their conversation, Socrates challenges Meno and enlightens him to a new way of thinking.
Proving that Meno knows what virtue is he provides Socrates with instances where virtue is portrayed. He says “there are virtues numberless and no lack of definitions of them; for virtue is relative to the actions and ages of each of us in all that we do”. Socrates is unhappy with the definition and quickly relates Meno’s “swarm of virtues” to a swarm of bees.
He states that all bees differ in shape and size, however do these differences mean that they are not still bees? Meno replies that they would still be bees regardless of their shapes.
Socrates then continues to say that there must be at least one quality within all bees that make it a bee by nature and with virtue he must find one characteristic common with all virtues in order to properly define it. In an attempt to find a common characteristic that is true within all virtues Meno suggests that justice is found in all virtues. He confidently answers Socrates “…justice is virtue”. Though a series of questions Socrates explains that justice is “a virtue” and not “virtue”. To further prove his point he states that roundness is “a figure” and it is incorrect to state that roundness is “figure”.
Considering that there are other figures in the world, he must as well consider the other virtues. Socrates then provides a very similar example with “color”. So in the end, justice is concluded (by Meno) as “a virtue” and they still have no definition for virtue. Most importantly Socrates is able to give acceptable definitions of both figure and color. Socrates concludes his definitions to Meno who is still puzzled on the definition of virtue and proposes another solution. In the beginning of the story Socrates entices Meno by sharing that he does not know the true meaning of virtue and has never known anyone to know it either.
It leads to a conversation about virtue that perplexed Meno because he thought he was a knowledgeable speaker. To Meno it was viewed as a simple task however due to Socrates critiques, Meno definitely became aware he knew less than he thought he did about the nature of virtue. Additionally, I believe that Socrates does not truly know the meaning of virtue. The way he approaches Meno was a little bit insulting and caused the reaction that Socrates was looking for. Finally, Socrates only asks questions when looking for specific answers.
He does not teach his views, but rather lets Meno “recall” information when attempting to arrive at the meaning of virtue. Lastly, if Meno made an incorrect statement, Socrates himself would merely recall an opposition to that statement as proof in order to keep him on track. As Meno and Socrates continue to acquire about the meaning of virtue, Socrates explains a foreign concept of the soul’s ability to recollect past thoughts. Socrates explains that there is a belief that the soul is immortal and after the body dies the soul is not destroyed. It has experienced all things and there is nothing it has not known.
Learning is thought of as a recollection of what the soul has known before the individual’s lifespan. Therefore virtue can possibly be recollected if asked the right questions. In order to for Socrates to prove the souls ability to recall past events he sets up a demonstration for Meno. Socrates asks him to call over a servant so he can prove the capability of the soul’s recollection. His goal is to show that the servant, who has no previous experience or knowledge of geometry, actually can recall a portion of the subject matter. If he can, then the boy will be able to answer the questions that Socrates asks him.
To Meno’s surprise he witnesses the servants eventually answer correctly about the geometric figures in which he had never seen. Socrates proposes that the boy has recalled knowledge from a previous life in order to correctly respond to the answers. Confused, Meno is convinced of the recollection theory and agrees that the slave had within himself some knowledge that was never taught to him. To continue the process in defining the nature of virtue, Socrates suggests that one can seek knowledge by offering a possible explanation to the question.
He states that geometers use a hypothesis to assist them in forming a conclusion; so that is what they decide to do. In this case Socrates hypothesizes virtue to be a form of knowledge and therefore can be taught and recollected. There are many similarities between Meno and the servants experience with Socrates. Before the theory of the soul’s recollection was announced, Socrates was already utilizing it with Meno. Meno’s latest accounts of virtue are much better and make more sense as he progresses with Socrates. However, Socrates never really gave him a conclusion and instead he allowed Meno to come to the decision on his own.
Additionally, the servant came to his decision on his own. Both Meno and the servant are better off being informed only because their previous knowledge was wrong (according to themselves). In each case Meno and the slave thought they knew the right answer to Socrates’ question. After only answering questions that Socrates proposed and again not necessarily teaching, both parties came to alter their position. Finally, neither of these two had past experience of the subject matter and came to self-realizations (Meno’s realization is that he does not fully understand the nature of virtue).
The slave admitted that he had no previous geometry knowledge when he was asked. Meno on the other hand had wrong knowledge, which can easily be considered no knowledge on the matter of virtue. For this, Socrates believes they are both better off for knowing their ignorance because they would never would have “enquired into or learned what he fancied that he knew, though he was really ignorant of it”. I think the beginning of the Meno is full of creativity and symbolism. Socrates invokes many new ways of thought and most importantly a very sound theory of the soul’s ability to recollect past knowledge.
I believe he uses this theory as a way to connect with your inner self, possibly your heart, to attain knowledge. Just because a man was taught societies beliefs, he must ask himself if they are truly his beliefs. Additionally it is a positive approach to approaching new ideas. To think that a part of our soul has the knowledge and all we have to do is ask the right questions and it can be recovered is a fascinating thought. This type of thinking can bring out creativity, passion, and excitement, etc. and possibly lead to more inner discoveries than we may have ever known.
Most importantly, it offers us a way around blindly accepting beliefs that are in question. Many ideas that society has “taught” us may or may not be correct. Just as Socrates asked Meno and the servant questions to formulate a conclusion, individuals in today’s society must follow in suit. We must ask about the issues at hand and not just assume what we know is correct. Socrates would agree that that is a terrible offense regarding knowledge. Similarly, just how Meno stated that virtue may be different from case to case, so are many of society’s beliefs.