Put into Basic by J. RANTZ
Writer of "The Sounds and Forms of Basic English"


Psyche Miniatures, General Series, No. 91


   The Meno of history has some interest for us in these days -- as one of the first persons to take up the theory of the right of the stronger. His teacher, Gorgias, had said that laws are made by the feebler part of society to keep their natural rulers in order. The strong, however, become conscious htat a trick has been played on them, and when the power is theirs we are guided by the true light of natural law. Another supporter of Gorgias, Critias, was responsible for the suggestion that religion was the invention of someone with a quick brain who saw that the fear of unseen beings might keep the general public even from secret wrongdoing, though the wise would be clear that such beings and their punishment are foolish fictions.
    Very different was the position of Lycophron, the supporter of the under-dog, with his arguments for the theory that all men are equal, and that the law is only a sort of common-sense agreement in the interests of all ; or of Alcidamus, who, in the name of natural law, would have made all men free, and so was probably responsible for the political discussion of woman's rights some fifty years later.


    About the same time -- when decisions on the questions of what as right were still frequently based on this or that line from Homer, or some other of the early writers of verse -- Socrates came forward with the theory that knowledge of what is good, knowledge starting from experience, was the key to well being. If no one goes out of is way to make himself unhappy, and no one is natureally bad, what is needed is a more complete knowledge of the good, which is unconditioned and the same in all its forms. The good man will be the strong man, and he will have no fear of governments, judges, or the current opinion of the rulers or the masses.
    The free discussion of all these questions . . . (more) . . .

Pages will be added from time to time of this hundred page book. The pages are small to scan yet too long to type . 18Feb2015

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    Though to some readers the discussion in the Meno will seem to be very complex and to tak n things whhich have little relation one to the other, it is , in fact, so clear in organization that it may be put into a simple design in which reader will have under his eyes at the same time the complete development of the argument. The comparison with certain forms of music comes to mind, speicailly with the from which is named "Rondo' from the fact that the chief part coms round -- comes back -- a number of times.
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    The Meno is not a story -- it is a play. And this book is not a reading book, but a talking book. In it, four persons are talking, sometimes with much heat, in the attempt to make clear to themselves and to one another certain complex ideas. Some of the things said in that discussion 2500 years back were being said for the first in man's history; and some of their ideas are still being talked about, with even more heat.
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        [NOTE. -- These are numbers 70 - 100 of the divisions of Plato's works in the Greek].
    Meno puts the question : Is virtue to be got by teaching, or by experience, or does it come naturally ? Protesting against this question, Socrates says that not only does he have no knowledge of what virtue is, but that he has never come across anyone who had.
    In Meno's opinion Gorgias had that knowledge, and Meno himself says he will give the answer to the question. By his account, the virtue of a man is to be able to take control of the business of the government, and in its control, to. give help to his friends and to do damage to those against him, while keeping himself from being damaged. The virtue of a woman is to be a good manager in her house, taking care of the things in it, and doing what the man of the house says. Again there is the virtue of a boy or girl, and of an older person, of the free man, and of the unfree. All have different virtues, in agreement with their years, sex, or condition.
    But that, says Socrates, is only a list of virtues, and does not make clear what virtue is. For this reason, it is is desire to have a general name for all these different virtues, and he takes the word ' bee ' as an example.
    Meno's mind is not able to take in general idea, and Socrates makes it clearer by other examples -- being healthy, strong, and so on.
    In these ideas Meno is able to see the general quality, but his opinion the example of virtue is in some way different from the others. But Socrates gets his agreement that men and women, old and young, will all have need of the same things -- temperance and justice -- if they are to have virtue.
    After giving his agreement that virtue is the same thing wherever one comes across it, Meno is again requested to say what its true quality is. He does this straight away, saying that virtue is the power of ruling men.
    But that, says Socrates, will not be the virtue of a small boy, or of a servant , and it is necessary, when giving the true quality of a thing, for what one says of it to be true of it everywhere. And virtue -2- is not the power simply of ruling men, but of ruling with justice. With these two points Meno is in agreement ; because justice, he says, is virtue.
    Is it virtue, says Socrates, or is it 'a virtue '? Take the example of ' form '. He would not say that a circle was ' form,' but ' a form,' because there were other forms.
    " Yes," says Meno, " and so I say there are other virtues in addition to justice, -- such as temperance, wisdom, and being high-minded."
    And again he is requested to give the general idea common to all these different virtues. Meno says he is not able to, and Socrates gives him help, using the examples of ' form ' and ' colour.' To say that the round and the straight are forms is not to say that the round is straight or that the straight is round, but to say that there is a thing named 'form' which is common to the two of them. Let Meno say what that thing is.
    Meno makes the request for Socrates to do this, after which he will do his best to say what virtue is. Socrates says that form is the only thing which at all times goes with colour. -3-
    Mano makes sport of saying that it would have no sense to anyone who had no knowledge of what colour was. To this Socrates gives his agreement and then makes a new statement that 'form is the limit of solid.' At Meno's request for a statement about colour, Socrates makes one in the way that Gorgias makes his.
    This statement gives Meno great pleasure, because, says Socrates, it was so high-sounding.
    It is now Meno's turn to make his statement about virtue ; and he says that Virtue is the desire for good things and the power of getting them.
    But Socrates says that desiring good things is desiring good, and all men have the desire for good. So that the only way in which one man is different from another is in the power of getting the good, and Meno's statement would more rightly be in this form : Virtue is the power of getting good things. But Meno's new statement about virtue is as far from being true as the other, and it is necessary to make another new start.
    This is not quite pleasing to Meno, and he makes a comparison between Socrates -4- and a torpedo fish, which has the effect of taking all power of acting from everything which comes near it. Socrates says it is true that if he puts doubt into the minds others, it is only because he is in doubt himself. But though he has no knowledge what virtue is, he is ready to go into the question with Meno.
    But, says Meno, if one has knowledge of a thing, there is no need to go looking for it ; and if one has not knowledge of it, there is no use in looking for it : one has knowledge of a thing or one has not ; so questioning into it is unnecessary, or of no use.
    Socrates says that we do in fact have knowledge of all things, because the soul, though it goes through the experiences of birth and death, is ever living, and having been in existence from all time it has got the knowledge of all things. And because everything has a connection with every other thing, there is no reason why the soul, if something has gone from its memory, may not get it back again, if it is strong and does not give up the attempt. Because learning is only memory.
    Meno makes the request to Socrates to give him teaching in the idea that learning -5- is only an act off memory. At this, Socrates says that Meno is attempting to put him in the position of making two statements one against the other ; but he will do his best to make his idea clear.
    At Socrates' suggestion Meno has one of his servants come to him, a boy with no education of any sort. Making a square in the sand with his finger, Socrates gets the boy's agreement that if the size of the square is two feet long, the size square will be four square feet, and that a square twice as great would be eight square feet. When Socrates puts question : How long would be the side of that square which is twice as great as this? the boy says, twice as long as the side of this, that is -- four feet.
    At this point the boy is still quite certain that he has knowledge. Then Socrates gives him the electric shock of doubt. This is done by a number of questions in which the boy is made to see that the line will not be four feet, and, though it will be somewhere between two feet and four feet, it will not be three feet. And now the boy has become wise enough to see that he has not the knowledge. Here Socrates gets Meno's agreement that the -6- boy is in a better position to get knowledge he was when it seemed to him that he had it.
    After further questioning the boy comes to the true answer, the knowledge of which was sleeping in his mind and had need only of the right questions to come awake. And this getting of knowledge from out of one's mind is clearly an act of memory.
    Now how did the boy get these true opinions which had only to be said over a number of times to become certain knowledge ? Clearly, if he did not get them in his existence on this earth -- and Meno is certain that no one has been teaching him -- then he had them from before his existence on earth, that is, from all time. And from this it is clear that the Soul is ever-living , and we do well to be questioning into knowledge and not to give belief to those who say that we are to do nothing about it. So Socrates again makes the suggestion that they go into the question, What is virtue ? But Meno's desire is for the discussion to be about the other question : Is virtue got by teaching ?
    This discussion takes the form of the -7- statement : If virtue is knowledge it will be given by teaching. Then come the question : Is vitue knowledge ? The answer is " Yes," and so they are in agreement that virtue is given by teaching.
    Virtue is a good thing. If all good things are knowledge, then virtue is knowledge. But all good tings are of use. But good things, such as being healthy, strong, beautiful, and well-off are of profit only if we make the right use of them. The same is true of higher qualities, of temperance, justice, courage, memory, great qualities of mind and so on. If these are not joined to wisdom they are not necessarily good. Courage, for example,without wisdom frequently does us more damage than good. So that everything which the soul does will have to be done with wisdom if the outcome is to be a happy one. Virtue, being one of the things of the soul, and being of use, is wisdom, because that is the only thing of the soul which is of use in itself. And the lower goods are of use only to a wise soul. In man everything is dependent on the soul, and everything in the soul, if it is to be a good, is dependent on wisdom. -8-
    Virtue is seen then to be wisdom, or at least, not separate from it. And good men are not good naturally. Because if they were, we would have experts able to say of the young which of them were naturally good, and these would be taken care of by the government for the use they might be in the future. And if virtue is not a natural thing we will have to say that it comes by teaching, and this is in agreement with our statement that virtue is knowledge.
    But if a thing is given by teaching, there will be teachers of it, and learners. And if a thing has no teachers and no learners we will be right in talking it that such a thing is not to be given by teaching. " But," say Meno, " are there no teachers of virtue?" And Socrates says that he has never come across any.
    At this point Socrates and Meno are joined by Anytus, a highly respected Athenian and a friend of Meno's family. Socrates puts the question to him : To whom would he send Meno to be given teaching in virtue ? Would it not be to those who publicly say that they are teachers of virtue and who take money for teaching it, that is, the Sophists ? At this, -9- Anytus becomes angry, says that in place of making young men good, the Sophists only make them bad. Socrates is surprised and says that if they did that far from being the wise men which everyone took them to be, they would be off their heads. Then Anytus is requested to say to whom, if not to the Sophists, he would send Meno to get the teaching in virtue.
    Anytus says that any good man of Athens would be a better teacher of virtue than the Sophists. " And did teachers have teachers?" says Socrates. Anytus then puts the question to Socrates " Does it not seem to you that we have had numbers of good men in Athens?" To this Socrates readily gives his agreement, but says that the question under discussion is not if there have been good men in Athens, but if virtue is given by teaching. Pointing to examples of great men and their sons, he comes to the decision that virtue is not to be given by teaching. Anytus becomes angry, and after making the suggestion to Socrates that he would do well not to say bad things about the men of Athens, he goes away. -10-
    Socrates gives Meno a probable reason why Anytus became angry ; and then they go on with the discussion.
    It seems that in Meno's country there is no more agreement about virtue and teaching than there is in Athens. Those who say they are teachers are said by others to have no knowledge of the thing they are teaching, and those who are men of virtue say at one time that virtue may be given by teaching and at another time that it may not. So they come to the decision that where there are no teachers there are no learners, and where there are no teachers and no learners of a thing, one may say that it is not given by teaching. So, virtue is not to be given by teaching.
    Then Socrates suddenly makes the discovery that an important point has been overlooked in the early part of the discussion -- that knowledge is not the only right guide of our acts. There is in addition, true opinion. And how is knowledge different from true opinion ? Probably in the fact that knowledge is with us for all time, but true opinion has to be chained by reason. -11-
    Going back to the question as to how a man gets virtue, Socrates says that good men are of use through having knowledge or true opinion ; but knowledge and true opinion do not good naturally, so men are not good naturally. Then it will have to be that virtue is got by teaching and that it is wisdom (knowledge). But here we get into trouble. Because, a short time back, we were in agreement that there were no teachers of virtue, and so, it is not to be given by teaching, and so, it is not wisdom. But virtue is good and is a right guide. Of right guides there are only two -- knowledge and true opinion ; and of these we have seen that knowledge is not the guide in political things, because no man of the government is able to make others like himself. We see that the business of government is guided by true opinion not based on knowledge and that the great men of the government are in the same condition as seers who say things which are true but have no knowledge of what they are saying. They may truly be named divine persons, and we may say that virtue comes, if it comes at all, as something given to us by divine power without our being conscious of it. And this is the answer to the question we put at the start: How does virtue come to a man? -12- But we will not be certain of this till, before taking up the discussion as to how virtue comes to a man, we must first go into the discussion -- What is virtue?

- 13 -


MENO. Is it possible to say, Socrates, if virtue is go by teaching, or by experience ; or if not by teaching and not by experience, then does it come to men naturally, or in some other way?
SOCRATES. Meno, there was a time when the Thessalians were noted among the Greeks only for their money and for being expert horsemen ; but now, if I am not in error, they are equally noted for wisdom, specially at Larisa, the birthplace of your friend Aristippus. And this is the doing of Gorgias,3 because when he came there the greatest of the Aleuadae,4 of whom you your friend Aristippus is one, and the other Thessalians were moved with love for his great wisdom ; and it is from him you got your way of answering -14- questions with an air and without fear, as is right for those who have knowledge, because this is the way he give all his answers. And he lets himself be questioned on any point, by any Greek who has a mind to put questions to him, and he has an answer for everyone. But here at Athens, my dear Meno, things are very much the opposite : our land is drained of wisdom, which seems to have gone from us to you. I am certain that if you put the question to any Athenian, " Is virtue natural, or got by teaching ?" laughing in your face he would say, " My friend, you seem to take me for a man with greater powers than most, to be able to say if Virtue may be got by teaching or how it comes to one. So far am I from being able to say if it is or is not got by teaching that I have no knowledge even of what virtue is." And I myself, Meno, living as I do in this land of the poor, am as poor as the rest ; and with shame I am forced to say that I truly have no knowledge whatever of virtue. And when I have no knowledge of what a thing is, how may I have knowledge of its qualities ? If a man had no knowledge at all of Meno, is it possible that he would be able to say if Meno was good-looking or well-off or of good birth, or the opposite of all these?

- 15 -

MENO. No, certainly. But are you serious, Socrates, in saying that you have no knowledge of virtue ? Am I to go back to Thessaly with this account of you?
SOCRATES. Not only that, my friend, but you may say further that I have never come across any other man who did have, in my opinion.

. . .

. . .

. . .

    MENO. This is very well put, Socrates.
    SOCRATES. Then, Meno, the outcome of our reasoning is that virtue comes to us, when it does come, by divine power. But we will only be certain of what is true when, before questioning how virtue comes to men, we make an attempt to see what virtue is. It is time now for me to go on my way ; but you, now that you are of my opinion, get your friend Anytus to see it as you do, so that he will not be so angry. Because if you are able to do that, you will be doing a good thing for the men of Athens.

~ finis ~
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