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Meno Introduction & Analysis. This Dialogue begins abruptly with a question of Meno, who asks, 'whether virtue can be taught.' Socrates replies that he does not .
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If we do not, then we will not know what to search for. It is in response to this paradox that Plato introduces his theory of recollection, about which there has been enormous controversy, and his conception of knowledge as true belief plus an account.

For it is here that he discusses a geometrical problem, and shows the emerging influence of Greek geometry. As in the case of geometrical analysis, there has been a great deal of controversy over what the relationships are supposed to be between the various elements involved here, and there are also important differences between geometrical analysis and the method of hypothesis. But it does seem that interpreting the method of hypothesis against the background of ancient Greek geometry is the right approach see esp.

Sayre , Mueller In the later dialogues, Plato both refines his conception of knowledge as true belief plus an account in the Theaetetus and develops the method of hypothesis into the method of collection and division in the Phaedrus , Sophist , Politicus and Philebus. Its importance lies not just in the resulting classificatory trees but in the structural relationships they reveal and the insights it encourages into the formal concepts involved cf.

He criticises the method of division, for example, in Parts of Animals I, But like Plato, he was inspired by ancient Greek geometry. There are three passages in which Aristotle directly refers to geometrical analysis. The most famous passage occurs in the Nicomachean Ethics III, 3 , in which Aristotle compares reasoning about the means to a given end to analysis in geometry [ Quotation ].

The second passage occurs in section 16 of On Sophistical Refutations , where Aristotle considers the question of how we can learn to diagnose bad arguments [ Quotation ]. Although the passage is not easy to interpret, his main point seems to be to emphasize that analysis must be supplemented by synthesis to yield a full solution of anything.

Just as the aim of the geometer is to solve geometrical problems construct figures or prove theorems , so too Aristotle was concerned to solve logical problems construct arguments or prove propositions. Working back from a given proposition, assumed as conclusion, to premises by means of which that proposition can be derived, is facilitated by a thorough training in the whole syllogistic system, which it was the aim of the Analytics to provide. While the Prior Analytics is concerned with the theory of the syllogism in general, the Posterior Analytics is concerned with one particular type of syllogism, the demonstrative or scientific syllogism.

He gives the example of the following two syllogisms I, That the planets do not twinkle is hardly an explanation of why they are near; but that they are near, according to Aristotle, is part of an explanation of why they do not twinkle 78ab3. This distinction, and indeed the model of explanation involved here, was to play a crucial role in subsequent conceptions of analysis.

For causal explanation itself became identified with logical deduction, and the movement from cause to effect was represented as the passage from premises to conclusion in a logical argument, and the finding of the cause of something as a matter of determining appropriate premises—something which could itself be done in a logical argument. On this conception, then, there could be a logic of discovery as well as a logic of proof. In the first case above, we start with an effect the planets not twinkling and determine its cause the planets being near by finding an appropriate additional premise, and in the second case, having determined the cause, we reverse the process to display the passage from cause to effect.

The first was understood as analysis , providing a method of discovery, and the second as synthesis , providing a method of proof. Such a conception presupposes that the steps are reversible i. This conception of analysis and synthesis was to take center stage in the Renaissance and early modern period.

Protagoras Introduction & Analysis

Supplement to Analysis Ancient Conceptions of Analysis 1. Introduction to Supplement 2.

Commentary on Plato's Meno

Ancient Greek Geometry 3. The higher virtue, which is identical with knowledge, is an ideal only. This Dialogue is an attempt to answer the question, Can virtue be taught? No one would either ask or answer such a question in modern times. But in the age of Socrates it was only by an effort that the mind could rise to a general notion of virtue as distinct from the particular virtues of courage, liberality, and the like.

And when a hazy conception of this ideal was attained, it was only by a further effort that the question of the teachableness of virtue could be resolved. The answer which is given by Plato is paradoxical enough, and seems rather intended to stimulate than to satisfy enquiry.

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Virtue is knowledge, and therefore virtue can be taught. But virtue is not taught, and therefore in this higher and ideal sense there is no virtue and no knowledge. The teaching of the Sophists is confessedly inadequate, and Meno, who is their pupil, is ignorant of the very nature of general terms. To the doctrine that virtue is knowledge, Plato has been constantly tending in the previous Dialogues. But the new truth is no sooner found than it vanishes away. There remains still a possibility which must not be overlooked. This is the gift which our statesmen have, as is proved by the circumstance that they are unable to impart their knowledge to their sons.

Meno, by Plato

Those who are possessed of it cannot be said to be men of science or philosophers, but they are inspired and divine. There may be some trace of irony in this curious passage, which forms the concluding portion of the Dialogue. But Plato certainly does not mean to intimate that the supernatural or divine is the true basis of human life. To him knowledge, if only attainable in this world, is of all things the most divine. There are many instincts, judgments, and anticipations of the human mind which cannot be reduced to rule, and of which the grounds cannot always be given in words.

A person may have some skill or latent experience which he is able to use himself and is yet unable to teach others, because he has no principles, and is incapable of collecting or arranging his ideas. He has practice, but not theory; art, but not science. This is a true fact of psychology, which is recognized by Plato in this passage. But he is far from saying, as some have imagined, that inspiration or divine grace is to be regarded as higher than knowledge.

He would not have preferred the poet or man of action to the philosopher, or the virtue of custom to the virtue based upon ideas. Also here, as in the Ion and Phaedrus, Plato appears to acknowledge an unreasoning element in the higher nature of man.

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The philosopher only has knowledge, and yet the statesman and the poet are inspired. There may be a sort of irony in regarding in this way the gifts of genius. But there is no reason to suppose that he is deriding them, any more than he is deriding the phenomena of love or of enthusiasm in the Symposium, or of oracles in the Apology, or of divine intimations when he is speaking of the daemonium of Socrates. He recognizes the lower form of right opinion, as well as the higher one of science, in the spirit of one who desires to include in his philosophy every aspect of human life; just as he recognizes the existence of popular opinion as a fact, and the Sophists as the expression of it.

This Dialogue contains the first intimation of the doctrine of reminiscence and of the immortality of the soul. The proof is very slight, even slighter than in the Phaedo and Republic. Because men had abstract ideas in a previous state, they must have always had them, and their souls therefore must have always existed. For they must always have been either men or not men. The fallacy of the latter words is transparent.

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It may be observed, however, that the fanciful notion of pre-existence is combined with a true but partial view of the origin and unity of knowledge, and of the association of ideas. Knowledge is prior to any particular knowledge, and exists not in the previous state of the individual, but of the race.

It is potential, not actual, and can only be appropriated by strenuous exertion. The idealism of Plato is here presented in a less developed form than in the Phaedo and Phaedrus. Nothing is said of the pre-existence of ideas of justice, temperance, and the like. Nor is Socrates positive of anything but the duty of enquiry. The doctrine of reminiscence too is explained more in accordance with fact and experience as arising out of the affinities of nature ate tes thuseos oles suggenous ouses.

Modern philosophy says that all things in nature are dependent on one another; the ancient philosopher had the same truth latent in his mind when he affirmed that out of one thing all the rest may be recovered. The subjective was converted by him into an objective; the mental phenomenon of the association of ideas compare Phaedo became a real chain of existences. Some lesser points of the dialogue may be noted, such as 1 the acute observation that Meno prefers the familiar definition, which is embellished with poetical language, to the better and truer one; or 2 the shrewd reflection, which may admit of an application to modern as well as to ancient teachers, that the Sophists having made large fortunes; this must surely be a criterion of their powers of teaching, for that no man could get a living by shoemaking who was not a good shoemaker; or 3 the remark conveyed, almost in a word, that the verbal sceptic is saved the labour of thought and enquiry ouden dei to toiouto zeteseos.

Characteristic also of the temper of the Socratic enquiry is, 4 the proposal to discuss the teachableness of virtue under an hypothesis, after the manner of the mathematicians; and 5 the repetition of the favourite doctrine which occurs so frequently in the earlier and more Socratic Dialogues, and gives a colour to all of them — that mankind only desire evil through ignorance; 6 the experiment of eliciting from the slave-boy the mathematical truth which is latent in him, and 7 the remark that he is all the better for knowing his ignorance.

The character of Meno, like that of Critias, has no relation to the actual circumstances of his life. Plato is silent about his treachery to the ten thousand Greeks, which Xenophon has recorded, as he is also silent about the crimes of Critias. He is a Thessalian Alcibiades, rich and luxurious — a spoilt child of fortune, and is described as the hereditary friend of the great king. Like Alcibiades he is inspired with an ardent desire of knowledge, and is equally willing to learn of Socrates and of the Sophists.

He may be regarded as standing in the same relation to Gorgias as Hippocrates in the Protagoras to the other great Sophist. He is the sophisticated youth on whom Socrates tries his cross-examining powers, just as in the Charmides, the Lysis, and the Euthydemus, ingenuous boyhood is made the subject of a similar experiment.

He is treated by Socrates in a half-playful manner suited to his character; at the same time he appears not quite to understand the process to which he is being subjected. For he is exhibited as ignorant of the very elements of dialectics, in which the Sophists have failed to instruct their disciple. His answers have a sophistical ring, and at the same time show the sophistical incapacity to grasp a general notion. Anytus is the type of the narrow-minded man of the world, who is indignant at innovation, and equally detests the popular teacher and the true philosopher. He seems, like Aristophanes, to regard the new opinions, whether of Socrates or the Sophists, as fatal to Athenian greatness.

He is of the same class as Callicles in the Gorgias, but of a different variety; the immoral and sophistical doctrines of Callicles are not attributed to him.

The moderation with which he is described is remarkable, if he be the accuser of Socrates, as is apparently indicated by his parting words. Or he may have been regardless of the historical truth of the characters of his dialogue, as in the case of Meno and Critias. In the Meno the subject is more developed; the foundations of the enquiry are laid deeper, and the nature of knowledge is more distinctly explained.

There is a progression by antagonism of two opposite aspects of philosophy.


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But at the moment when we approach nearest, the truth doubles upon us and passes out of our reach. We seem to find that the ideal of knowledge is irreconcilable with experience. In human life there is indeed the profession of knowledge, but right opinion is our actual guide. The difficulty in framing general notions which has appeared in this and in all the previous Dialogues recurs in the Gorgias and Theaetetus as well as in the Republic.

In the Gorgias too the statesmen reappear, but in stronger opposition to the philosopher. In the Republic the relation of knowledge to virtue is described in a manner more consistent with modern distinctions. The existence of the virtues without the possession of knowledge in the higher or philosophical sense is admitted to be possible. Right opinion is again introduced in the Theaetetus as an account of knowledge, but is rejected on the ground that it is irrational as here, because it is not bound by the tie of the cause , and also because the conception of false opinion is given up as hopeless.

The doctrines of Plato are necessarily different at different times of his life, as new distinctions are realized, or new stages of thought attained by him. We are not therefore justified, in order to take away the appearance of inconsistency, in attributing to him hidden meanings or remote allusions. There are no external criteria by which we can determine the date of the Meno. There is no reason to suppose that any of the Dialogues of Plato were written before the death of Socrates; the Meno, which appears to be one of the earliest of them, is proved to have been of a later date by the allusion of Anytus.

We cannot argue that Plato was more likely to have written, as he has done, of Meno before than after his miserable death; for we have already seen, in the examples of Charmides and Critias, that the characters in Plato are very far from resembling the same characters in history. The place of the Meno in the series is doubtfully indicated by internal evidence. The problems of virtue and knowledge have been discussed in the Lysis, Laches, Charmides, and Protagoras; the puzzle about knowing and learning has already appeared in the Euthydemus.

The doctrines of immortality and pre-existence are carried further in the Phaedrus and Phaedo; the distinction between opinion and knowledge is more fully developed in the Theaetetus. The lessons of Prodicus, whom he facetiously calls his master, are still running in the mind of Socrates. Unlike the later Platonic Dialogues, the Meno arrives at no conclusion.

Hence we are led to place the Dialogue at some point of time later than the Protagoras, and earlier than the Phaedrus and Gorgias. The place which is assigned to it in this work is due mainly to the desire to bring together in a single volume all the Dialogues which contain allusions to the trial and death of Socrates. The popular account of them is partly derived from one or two passages in his Dialogues interpreted without regard to their poetical environment.

It is due also to the misunderstanding of him by the Aristotelian school; and the erroneous notion has been further narrowed and has become fixed by the realism of the schoolmen. This popular view of the Platonic ideas may be summed up in some such formula as the following: These were revealed to men in a former state of existence, and are recovered by reminiscence anamnesis or association from sensible things. The sensible things are not realities, but shadows only, in relation to the truth. The forms which they assume are numerous, and if taken literally, inconsistent with one another.

At one time we are in the clouds of mythology, at another among the abstractions of mathematics or metaphysics; we pass imperceptibly from one to the other. Reason and fancy are mingled in the same passage. The ideas are sometimes described as many, coextensive with the universals of sense and also with the first principles of ethics; or again they are absorbed into the single idea of good, and subordinated to it.

They are not more certain than facts, but they are equally certain Phaedo. They are both personal and impersonal. They are abstract terms: It would be a mistake to try and reconcile these differing modes of thought. They are not to be regarded seriously as having a distinct meaning. They are parables, prophecies, myths, symbols, revelations, aspirations after an unknown world. They derive their origin from a deep religious and contemplative feeling, and also from an observation of curious mental phenomena. They gather up the elements of the previous philosophies, which they put together in a new form.

Their great diversity shows the tentative character of early endeavours to think. They have not yet settled down into a single system. Plato uses them, though he also criticises them; he acknowledges that both he and others are always talking about them, especially about the Idea of Good; and that they are not peculiar to himself Phaedo; Republic; Soph. But in his later writings he seems to have laid aside the old forms of them. As he proceeds he makes for himself new modes of expression more akin to the Aristotelian logic.


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  • Yet amid all these varieties and incongruities, there is a common meaning or spirit which pervades his writings, both those in which he treats of the ideas and those in which he is silent about them. This is the spirit of idealism, which in the history of philosophy has had many names and taken many forms, and has in a measure influenced those who seemed to be most averse to it. It has often been charged with inconsistency and fancifulness, and yet has had an elevating effect on human nature, and has exercised a wonderful charm and interest over a few spirits who have been lost in the thought of it.

    It has been banished again and again, but has always returned. It has attempted to leave the earth and soar heavenwards, but soon has found that only in experience could any solid foundation of knowledge be laid. It has degenerated into pantheism, but has again emerged. No other knowledge has given an equal stimulus to the mind. It is the science of sciences, which are also ideas, and under either aspect require to be defined.

    They can only be thought of in due proportion when conceived in relation to one another. They are the glasses through which the kingdoms of science are seen, but at a distance. All the greatest minds, except when living in an age of reaction against them, have unconsciously fallen under their power.

    The account of the Platonic ideas in the Meno is the simplest and clearest, and we shall best illustrate their nature by giving this first and then comparing the manner in which they are described elsewhere, e. In the Cratylus they dawn upon him with the freshness of a newly-discovered thought. The Meno goes back to a former state of existence, in which men did and suffered good and evil, and received the reward or punishment of them until their sin was purged away and they were allowed to return to earth. This is a tradition of the olden time, to which priests and poets bear witness.

    The souls of men returning to earth bring back a latent memory of ideas, which were known to them in a former state. The recollection is awakened into life and consciousness by the sight of the things which resemble them on earth. The soul evidently possesses such innate ideas before she has had time to acquire them. He must therefore have brought them with him from another. The notion of a previous state of existence is found in the verses of Empedocles and in the fragments of Heracleitus.

    What is the origin of evil? It found its way into Hellas probably through the medium of Orphic and Pythagorean rites and mysteries. In the Phaedrus, as well as in the Meno, it is this former rather than a future life on which Plato is disposed to dwell. There the Gods, and men following in their train, go forth to contemplate the heavens, and are borne round in the revolutions of them. There they see the divine forms of justice, temperance, and the like, in their unchangeable beauty, but not without an effort more than human.

    The soul of man is likened to a charioteer and two steeds, one mortal, the other immortal. The charioteer and the mortal steed are in fierce conflict; at length the animal principle is finally overpowered, though not extinguished, by the combined energies of the passionate and rational elements. This is one of those passages in Plato which, partaking both of a philosophical and poetical character, is necessarily indistinct and inconsistent.

    The magnificent figure under which the nature of the soul is described has not much to do with the popular doctrine of the ideas. In the Phaedo, as in the Meno, the origin of ideas is sought for in a previous state of existence. There was no time when they could have been acquired in this life, and therefore they must have been recovered from another.

    The process of recovery is no other than the ordinary law of association, by which in daily life the sight of one thing or person recalls another to our minds, and by which in scientific enquiry from any part of knowledge we may be led on to infer the whole. It is also argued that ideas, or rather ideals, must be derived from a previous state of existence because they are more perfect than the sensible forms of them which are given by experience.

    But in the Phaedo the doctrine of ideas is subordinate to the proof of the immortality of the soul. From this class of uncertainties he exempts the difference between truth and appearance, of which he is absolutely convinced. In the Republic the ideas are spoken of in two ways, which though not contradictory are different. In the tenth book they are represented as the genera or general ideas under which individuals having a common name are contained. For example, there is the bed which the carpenter makes, the picture of the bed which is drawn by the painter, the bed existing in nature of which God is the author.

    Of the latter all visible beds are only the shadows or reflections. On the other hand, in the 6th and 7th books of the Republic we reach the highest and most perfect conception, which Plato is able to attain, of the nature of knowledge. The ideas are now finally seen to be one as well as many, causes as well as ideas, and to have a unity which is the idea of good and the cause of all the rest. They seem, however, to have lost their first aspect of universals under which individuals are contained, and to have been converted into forms of another kind, which are inconsistently regarded from the one side as images or ideals of justice, temperance, holiness and the like; from the other as hypotheses, or mathematical truths or principles.

    Geometrical forms and arithmetical ratios furnish the laws according to which the world is created. But though the conception of the ideas as genera or species is forgotten or laid aside, the distinction of the visible and intellectual is as firmly maintained as ever.