MENO a young Thessalian aristocrat from Pharsalus, who is apparently staying in Athens with Anytus.

an Athenian democratic politician, son of a self-made man, a tanner by trade; he was military commander of an expedition to Pylos in 409 B.C.–which he botched and for which he was prosecuted [Diodorus 13. 54]. Expelled by the Thirty Tyrants (including Plato's uncle and cousin), he helped Thrasybulus to bring back the Democracy.

son of Sophroniscus of the Deme Alopeke, an Athenian gadfly, about to get his comeuppance (in 399 B.C.). He is about 68 at the time of this dialogue.
Meno's SLAVE a pais , in the sense that 'boy' used to be used in the Deep South (82b–85b). No specific age is indicated.

DRAMATIC DATE: January or February, 402 B.C.
SCENE: Athens


  • Meno: Is virtue ( areté ) (a) inborn? (b) acquired by practice
    ( askesis )? (c) teachable?
  • Socrates: I don't even know what areté is. What is its nature?
  • Meno: To manage the affairs of one's city so as to benefit one's
    friends and harm one's enemies and avoid harm to oneself.
    Women and boys have separate virtues.
  • Socrates: Well, what is common to all of these aretai? Virtue
    implies the possession of 'justice' ( dikaiosyne ) and wisdom
    (sophrosyne), which makes one good ( agathós ).
  • Meno: areté is 'the ability to rule over men'.
  • Socrates: Then justice must be areté! But justice is only one kind
    of areté. Discussion of the idea of a common element: "figure".
    This begins to look like an early version of the theory of forms.
  • Meno: areté is 'to desire what is beautiful ( kalón ) and
    to be able to get it.'
  • Socrates: Do some, then, desire 'evil', knowing that it is harmful??
    Meno has defined virtue in terms of only one of its parts–
    an incomplete or misleading definition at best.




  • Meno is back where he started. How, he complains, can you
    look for something of which you know nothing?? How would
    you know you had it when you found it? Discussion of the nature
    of the soul and of knowledge. The nature of 'learning' is what
    Meno wants Socrates to teach him. Socrates agrees to show
    him its nature.
  • The questioning of the Boy. Geometry by 'recollection'
    ( anamimnesis ):
         -Admitting one's own ignorance and perplexity
         -Pursuit of the unknown by logic.
  • Discovery by asking the right questions of the Boy. The slave
    has the right answers by 'recollection'; he is not told the right
    opinion or answer. He is recovering knowledge he already




  • Meno wants to return to the original question: What is virtue?
    Is it teachable?
  • Socrates is willing, but insists that they ought to proceed
    from the hypothesis, as a geometrician would:
    postulates, hypothesis, proof.
  • Discussion of the relationships between the concepts:
    areté, ophelimon ('useful'), phronesis ('knowledge').
  • The good are not good by nature, and thus
    areté must be teachable.
  • Socrates takes pause, since, if areté is epistémé ('accurate
    knowledge) and teachable, there must be a teacher.
    He has never met one: hence, an apparent contradiction.


  • Anytus appears.
  • Socrates questions Anytus. For the trades, one apprentices
    a child to a professional practitioner. For areté, should one send
    him to one who is a professional teacher, a Sophist?
  • Anytus: The Sophists are frauds, and dangerous.
  • Socrates: To whom then? The persons reputed to be agathoí
    have apparently been unable to teach their own sons:
    Themistocles, Aristeides, Pericles, Thucydides son of Melesias,
    [Socrates son of Sophroniscus]. Anytus becomes angry.
  • If one cannot be taught by Sophists, or by the agathoí,
    then is there any teacher of areté? If not, then it seems that
    areté is not didaktón ('teachable').


  • Meno: How then do the good become the good?
  • Socrates: The good become 'useful': they give right guidance.
    But one can do this without epistémé ('accurate knowledge),
    if one merely has 'orthé doxa' ('right opinion')


EPILOGUE: Certainty about the right answer as to what areté is
can only be achieved if the question of its essential nature is answered
before the question about how it is acquired.

  • J. C.B. Gosling, Plato (1973), pp. 26-35; 176-184.
  • R. Robinson, Plato's Earlier Dialectic 2 (1953), pp. 114-122.
  • St. George Stock, The Meno of Plato 3 (1924).
  • R. S. Buck, Plato's Meno (Cambridge 1961).
  • R. E. Allen, "Anamnesis in Plato's Meno and Phaedo," Review of Metaphysics 13 (1959) 165-174.
  • N. Gulley, "Plato's Theory of Recollection," Classical Quarterly 4 (1954) 194-213.



May 27, 2009 11:25 AM

John Paul Adams, CSUN

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