Topic is ostensibly whether virtue can be taught
Deeper topic concerns philosophical inquiry and
knowledge more generally
Can virtue be taught?
What is the nature of virtue?
What is the nature of knowledge?
Meno’s first attempt:
 Man’s virtue: being able to manage public
affairs, bring benefit to friends, harm to
 Woman’s virtue: manage home well, be
submissive to husband,
 etc.
Not a definition of virtue, but a (partial) list of
Virtue is the ability to rule over others.
Justly, we may add, since justice is virtue
Justice is a virtue, but that doesn’t imply that
justice is virtue
Principle of the one over the many:
understanding is knowing definitions, and that
requires knowing what all the members of a
class have in common
e.g., shape is that which limits a solid (that’s
what roundness and squareness have in
Meno’s third attempt:
Virtue is to (i) desire good things and (ii) be able
to acquire them
Clause (i) is vacuous – no one desires anything
but what they take to be good, so it must be just
the ability to secure them that matters.
(odd that Socrates would say this)
But only just acquisition counts as virtue
And then the definition is circular. We wanted to
know what virtue is, but “justice is a part of
virtue” (i.e., justice is a kind of virtue), and we
can’t understand it unless we already understand
what virtue is
Philosophical analysis:
Providing a definition: a list of necessary and
sufficient conditions, where the term to be
defined does not occur in the definition
Knowledge is knowledge of essences, i.e.,
Paradox of inquiry:
There is no point in seeking something you
already know (for if you already know it, there
is no reason to seek it)
There is no point in seeking something you
don’t know (for you won’t recognize it even if
you stumble across it)
Either way, there’s no point in seeking
Similarly, learning is impossible
 can’t learn something you already know
 can’t learn a new thing: if you didn’t already
know it, you wouldn’t be able to tell whether
this is what you were looking for
Plato’s solution:
Apparent learning is really just recollection. All
real knowledge is innate; we have merely
forgotten it and have to be reminded.
Remembering feels like learning, but isn’t
(All real knowledge is of necessary truths)
Meno’s slave boy
Socrates asks a series of questions; despite the
boy’s initial confusion his answers reveal that he
knows the Pythagorean theorem.
He hadn’t been taught it previously, and
Socrates isn’t teaching him anything. Yet he
knows it. Therefore, it must be innate.
The original square has an area of four feet.
We are looking for a square twice the “size”
(i.e., area) of the original square.
At first the boy claims that doubling the side will
double the area
Then that a 3’ side will yield an 8’ square.
He learns that he doesn’t know at all. This is the
first step toward acquiring knowledge.
Socrates never taught the boy anything; he
merely asked questions
Of course, Socrates asked leading questions: that
merely shows that recollection is difficult, and it
helps to have a guide, not that the boy didn’t
already know
Back to virtue:
More a matter of true opinion than knowledge.
On the one hand, virtue must be beneficial, but it
couldn’t be without the virtuous person having
correct opinions about consequences of actions,
On the other hand, virtue cannot be taught (look
at all the vicious offspring of virtuous parents)
True opinion is like knowledge, but not as
stable. True opinions must be “tied down by
(giving) an account of the reason why”
To know something is not merely to believe it
but to see why it must be true