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´╗┐Title: Meno
Author: Plato, 427? BC-347? BC
Language: English
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by Plato

Translated by Benjamin Jowett


This Dialogue begins abruptly with a question of Meno, who asks,
'whether virtue can be taught.' Socrates replies that he does not as yet
know what virtue is, and has never known anyone who did. 'Then he cannot
have met Gorgias when he was at Athens.' Yes, Socrates had met him, but
he has a bad memory, and has forgotten what Gorgias said. Will Meno tell
him his own notion, which is probably not very different from that of
Gorgias? 'O yes--nothing easier: there is the virtue of a man, of a
woman, of an old man, and of a child; there is a virtue of every age and
state of life, all of which may be easily described.'

Socrates reminds Meno that this is only an enumeration of the virtues
and not a definition of the notion which is common to them all. In a
second attempt Meno defines virtue to be 'the power of command.' But to
this, again, exceptions are taken. For there must be a virtue of those
who obey, as well as of those who command; and the power of command must
be justly or not unjustly exercised. Meno is very ready to admit that
justice is virtue: 'Would you say virtue or a virtue, for there are
other virtues, such as courage, temperance, and the like; just as round
is a figure, and black and white are colours, and yet there are other
figures and other colours. Let Meno take the examples of figure and
colour, and try to define them.' Meno confesses his inability, and after
a process of interrogation, in which Socrates explains to him the
nature of a 'simile in multis,' Socrates himself defines figure as 'the
accompaniment of colour.' But some one may object that he does not know
the meaning of the word 'colour;' and if he is a candid friend, and not
a mere disputant, Socrates is willing to furnish him with a simpler and
more philosophical definition, into which no disputed word is allowed to
intrude: 'Figure is the limit of form.' Meno imperiously insists that
he must still have a definition of colour. Some raillery follows; and
at length Socrates is induced to reply, 'that colour is the effluence of
form, sensible, and in due proportion to the sight.' This definition is
exactly suited to the taste of Meno, who welcomes the familiar language
of Gorgias and Empedocles. Socrates is of opinion that the more abstract
or dialectical definition of figure is far better.

Now that Meno has been made to understand the nature of a general
definition, he answers in the spirit of a Greek gentleman, and in the
words of a poet, 'that virtue is to delight in things honourable, and to
have the power of getting them.' This is a nearer approximation than
he has yet made to a complete definition, and, regarded as a piece
of proverbial or popular morality, is not far from the truth. But the
objection is urged, 'that the honourable is the good,' and as every one
equally desires the good, the point of the definition is contained in
the words, 'the power of getting them.' 'And they must be got justly or
with justice.' The definition will then stand thus: 'Virtue is the power
of getting good with justice.' But justice is a part of virtue, and
therefore virtue is the getting of good with a part of virtue. The
definition repeats the word defined.

Meno complains that the conversation of Socrates has the effect of a
torpedo's shock upon him. When he talks with other persons he has plenty
to say about virtue; in the presence of Socrates, his thoughts desert
him. Socrates replies that he is only the cause of perplexity in others,
because he is himself perplexed. He proposes to continue the enquiry.
But how, asks Meno, can he enquire either into what he knows or into
what he does not know? This is a sophistical puzzle, which, as Socrates
remarks, saves a great deal of trouble to him who accepts it. But the
puzzle has a real difficulty latent under it, to which Socrates will
endeavour to find a reply. The difficulty is the origin of knowledge:--

He has heard from priests and priestesses, and from the poet Pindar, of
an immortal soul which is born again and again in successive periods of
existence, returning into this world when she has paid the penalty of
ancient crime, and, having wandered over all places of the upper and
under world, and seen and known all things at one time or other, is by
association out of one thing capable of recovering all. For nature is
of one kindred; and every soul has a seed or germ which may be developed
into all knowledge. The existence of this latent knowledge is further
proved by the interrogation of one of Meno's slaves, who, in the skilful
hands of Socrates, is made to acknowledge some elementary relations
of geometrical figures. The theorem that the square of the diagonal
is double the square of the side--that famous discovery of primitive
mathematics, in honour of which the legendary Pythagoras is said to
have sacrificed a hecatomb--is elicited from him. The first step in the
process of teaching has made him conscious of his own ignorance. He
has had the 'torpedo's shock' given him, and is the better for the
operation. But whence had the uneducated man this knowledge? He had
never learnt geometry in this world; nor was it born with him; he must
therefore have had it when he was not a man. And as he always either was
or was not a man, he must have always had it. (Compare Phaedo.)

After Socrates has given this specimen of the true nature of teaching,
the original question of the teachableness of virtue is renewed. Again
he professes a desire to know 'what virtue is' first. But he is willing
to argue the question, as mathematicians say, under an hypothesis. He
will assume that if virtue is knowledge, then virtue can be taught.
(This was the stage of the argument at which the Protagoras concluded.)

Socrates has no difficulty in showing that virtue is a good, and
that goods, whether of body or mind, must be under the direction of
knowledge. Upon the assumption just made, then, virtue is teachable. But
where are the teachers? There are none to be found. This is extremely
discouraging. Virtue is no sooner discovered to be teachable, than the
discovery follows that it is not taught. Virtue, therefore, is and is
not teachable.

In this dilemma an appeal is made to Anytus, a respectable and
well-to-do citizen of the old school, and a family friend of Meno,
who happens to be present. He is asked 'whether Meno shall go to the
Sophists and be taught.' The suggestion throws him into a rage. 'To
whom, then, shall Meno go?' asks Socrates. To any Athenian gentleman--to
the great Athenian statesmen of past times. Socrates replies here, as
elsewhere (Laches, Prot.), that Themistocles, Pericles, and other great
men, had sons to whom they would surely, if they could have done so,
have imparted their own political wisdom; but no one ever heard that
these sons of theirs were remarkable for anything except riding and
wrestling and similar accomplishments. Anytus is angry at the imputation
which is cast on his favourite statesmen, and on a class to which he
supposes himself to belong; he breaks off with a significant hint. The
mention of another opportunity of talking with him, and the suggestion
that Meno may do the Athenian people a service by pacifying him, are
evident allusions to the trial of Socrates.

Socrates returns to the consideration of the question 'whether virtue is
teachable,' which was denied on the ground that there are no teachers of
it: (for the Sophists are bad teachers, and the rest of the world do
not profess to teach). But there is another point which we failed to
observe, and in which Gorgias has never instructed Meno, nor Prodicus
Socrates. This is the nature of right opinion. For virtue may be under
the guidance of right opinion as well as of knowledge; and right opinion
is for practical purposes as good as knowledge, but is incapable of
being taught, and is also liable, like the images of Daedalus, to 'walk
off,' because not bound by the tie of the cause. This is the sort of
instinct which is possessed by statesmen, who are not wise or knowing
persons, but only inspired or divine. The higher virtue, which is
identical with knowledge, is an ideal only. If the statesman had this
knowledge, and could teach what he knew, he would be like Tiresias in
the world below,--'he alone has wisdom, but the rest flit like shadows.'

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. 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. He can only produce out of their armoury the sophism, 'that you
can neither enquire into what you know nor into what you do not know;'
to which Socrates replies by his theory of reminiscence.

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. 'If there is knowledge, there must be teachers;
and where are the teachers?' There is no knowledge in the higher sense
of systematic, connected, reasoned knowledge, such as may one day be
attained, and such as Plato himself seems to see in some far off vision
of a single science. And there are no teachers in the higher sense of
the word; that is to say, no real teachers who will arouse the spirit
of enquiry in their pupils, and not merely instruct them in rhetoric or
impart to them ready-made information for a fee of 'one' or of 'fifty
drachms.' Plato is desirous of deepening the notion of education, and
therefore he asserts the paradox that there are no educators. This
paradox, though different in form, is not really different from the
remark which is often made in modern times by those who would depreciate
either the methods of education commonly employed, or the standard
attained--that 'there is no true education among us.'

There remains still a possibility which must not be overlooked. Even
if there be no true knowledge, as is proved by 'the wretched state of
education,' there may be right opinion, which is a sort of guessing
or divination resting on no knowledge of causes, and incommunicable to
others. 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. 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. Yet, like other philosophers, he is willing
to admit that 'probability is the guide of life (Butler's Analogy.);'
and he is at the same time desirous of contrasting the wisdom which
governs the world with a higher wisdom. 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. 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. And Socrates himself appears to be conscious of their
weakness; for he adds immediately afterwards, 'I have said some things
of which I am not altogether confident.' (Compare Phaedo.) 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. The germs of two valuable principles of education may also
be gathered from the 'words of priests and priestesses:' (1) that
true knowledge is a knowledge of causes (compare Aristotle's theory of
episteme); and (2) that the process of learning consists not in what is
brought to the learner, but in what is drawn out of him.

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 definition of virtue as 'the power and
desire of attaining things honourable,' like the first definition
of justice in the Republic, is taken from a poet. 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. Perhaps Plato may have been desirous of showing
that the accusation of Socrates was not to be attributed to badness or
malevolence, but rather to a tendency in men's minds. Or he may have
been regardless of the historical truth of the characters of his
dialogue, as in the case of Meno and Critias. Like Chaerephon (Apol.)
the real Anytus was a democrat, and had joined Thrasybulus in the
conflict with the thirty.

The Protagoras arrived at a sort of hypothetical conclusion, that if
'virtue is knowledge, it can be taught.' In the Euthydemus, Socrates
himself offered an example of the manner in which the true teacher
may draw out the mind of youth; this was in contrast to the quibbling
follies of the Sophists. 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. 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. There is another sort of progress from the
general notions of Socrates, who asked simply, 'what is friendship?'
'what is temperance?' 'what is courage?' as in the Lysis, Charmides,
Laches, to the transcendentalism of Plato, who, in the second stage of
his philosophy, sought to find the nature of knowledge in a prior and
future state of existence.

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. They are no longer allowed to
have a divine insight, but, though acknowledged to have been clever men
and good speakers, are denounced as 'blind leaders of the blind.' The
doctrine of the immortality of the soul is also carried further, being
made the foundation not only of a theory of knowledge, but of a doctrine
of rewards and punishments. 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
repulsive picture which is given of him in the Anabasis of Xenophon,
where he also appears as the friend of Aristippus 'and a fair youth
having lovers,' has no other trait of likeness to the Meno of Plato.

The place of the Meno in the series is doubtfully indicated by internal
evidence. The main character of the Dialogue is Socrates; but to the
'general definitions' of Socrates is added the Platonic doctrine of
reminiscence. 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.



Plato's doctrine of ideas has attained an imaginary clearness and
definiteness which is not to be found in his own writings. 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: 'Truth consists
not in particulars, but in universals, which have a place in the mind of
God, or in some far-off heaven. 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.' These unmeaning
propositions are hardly suspected to be a caricature of a great theory
of knowledge, which Plato in various ways and under many figures of
speech is seeking to unfold. Poetry has been converted into dogma; and
it is not remarked that the Platonic ideas are to be found only in about
a third of Plato's writings and are not confined to him. 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: they are also the causes of things; and they are even
transformed into the demons or spirits by whose help God made the world.
And the idea of good (Republic) may without violence be converted into
the Supreme Being, who 'because He was good' created all things (Tim.).

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.

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.g. in the Phaedrus, Phaedo, Republic; to which may be added the
criticism of them in the Parmenides, the personal form which is
attributed to them in the Timaeus, the logical character which they
assume in the Sophist and Philebus, and the allusion to them in the
Laws. 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. This is proved by
an experiment tried on one of Meno's slaves, from whom Socrates elicits
truths of arithmetic and geometry, which he had never learned in this
world. 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. It was the natural
answer to two questions, 'Whence came the soul? What is the origin of
evil?' and prevailed far and wide in the east. It found its way into
Hellas probably through the medium of Orphic and Pythagorean rites and
mysteries. It was easier to think of a former than of a future life,
because such a life has really existed for the race though not for the
individual, and all men come into the world, if not 'trailing clouds of
glory,' at any rate able to enter into the inheritance of the past. 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. Yet there is one
little trait in the description which shows that they are present to
Plato's mind, namely, the remark that the soul, which had seen truths
in the form of the universal, cannot again return to the nature of an

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.
'If the soul existed in a previous state, then it will exist in a future
state, for a law of alternation pervades all things.' And, 'If the ideas
exist, then the soul exists; if not, not.' It is to be observed, both
in the Meno and the Phaedo, that Socrates expresses himself with
diffidence. He speaks in the Phaedo of the words with which he has
comforted himself and his friends, and will not be too confident that
the description which he has given of the soul and her mansions is
exactly true, but he 'ventures to think that something of the kind is
true.' And in the Meno, after dwelling upon the immortality of the
soul, he adds, 'Of some things which I have said I am not altogether
confident' (compare Apology; Gorgias). 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. This and similar illustrations or
explanations are put forth, not for their own sake, or as an exposition
of Plato's theory of ideas, but with a view of showing that poetry and
the mimetic arts are concerned with an inferior part of the soul and a
lower kind of knowledge. 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.

In the Timaeus, which in the series of Plato's works immediately follows
the Republic, though probably written some time afterwards, no mention
occurs of the doctrine of ideas. 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. The IDEA of good likewise disappears and is
superseded by the conception of a personal God, who works according to
a final cause or principle of goodness which he himself is. No doubt is
expressed by Plato, either in the Timaeus or in any other dialogue, of
the truths which he conceives to be the first and highest. It is not the
existence of God or the idea of good which he approaches in a tentative
or hesitating manner, but the investigations of physiology. These he
regards, not seriously, as a part of philosophy, but as an innocent
recreation (Tim.).

Passing on to the Parmenides, we find in that dialogue not an exposition
or defence of the doctrine of ideas, but an assault upon them, which is
put into the mouth of the veteran Parmenides, and might be ascribed to
Aristotle himself, or to one of his disciples. The doctrine which is
assailed takes two or three forms, but fails in any of them to escape
the dialectical difficulties which are urged against it. It is admitted
that there are ideas of all things, but the manner in which individuals
partake of them, whether of the whole or of the part, and in which
they become like them, or how ideas can be either within or without
the sphere of human knowledge, or how the human and divine can have any
relation to each other, is held to be incapable of explanation. And
yet, if there are no universal ideas, what becomes of philosophy?
(Parmenides.) In the Sophist the theory of ideas is spoken of as a
doctrine held not by Plato, but by another sect of philosophers, called
'the Friends of Ideas,' probably the Megarians, who were very distinct
from him, if not opposed to him (Sophist). Nor in what may be termed
Plato's abridgement of the history of philosophy (Soph.), is any mention
made such as we find in the first book of Aristotle's Metaphysics,
of the derivation of such a theory or of any part of it from the
Pythagoreans, the Eleatics, the Heracleiteans, or even from Socrates. In
the Philebus, probably one of the latest of the Platonic Dialogues,
the conception of a personal or semi-personal deity expressed under the
figure of mind, the king of all, who is also the cause, is retained. The
one and many of the Phaedrus and Theaetetus is still working in the mind
of Plato, and the correlation of ideas, not of 'all with all,' but of
'some with some,' is asserted and explained. But they are spoken of in
a different manner, and are not supposed to be recovered from a former
state of existence. The metaphysical conception of truth passes into a
psychological one, which is continued in the Laws, and is the final
form of the Platonic philosophy, so far as can be gathered from his own
writings (see especially Laws). In the Laws he harps once more on the
old string, and returns to general notions:--these he acknowledges to
be many, and yet he insists that they are also one. The guardian must be
made to recognize the truth, for which he has contended long ago in the
Protagoras, that the virtues are four, but they are also in some sense
one (Laws; compare Protagoras).

So various, and if regarded on the surface only, inconsistent, are the
statements of Plato respecting the doctrine of ideas. If we attempted to
harmonize or to combine them, we should make out of them, not a system,
but the caricature of a system. They are the ever-varying expression
of Plato's Idealism. The terms used in them are in their substance and
general meaning the same, although they seem to be different. They
pass from the subject to the object, from earth (diesseits) to
heaven (jenseits) without regard to the gulf which later theology and
philosophy have made between them. They are also intended to supplement
or explain each other. They relate to a subject of which Plato himself
would have said that 'he was not confident of the precise form of his
own statements, but was strong in the belief that something of the kind
was true.' It is the spirit, not the letter, in which they agree--the
spirit which places the divine above the human, the spiritual above the
material, the one above the many, the mind before the body.

The stream of ancient philosophy in the Alexandrian and Roman times
widens into a lake or sea, and then disappears underground to reappear
after many ages in a distant land. It begins to flow again under new
conditions, at first confined between high and narrow banks, but finally
spreading over the continent of Europe. It is and is not the same with
ancient philosophy. There is a great deal in modern philosophy which is
inspired by ancient. There is much in ancient philosophy which was 'born
out of due time; and before men were capable of understanding it. To the
fathers of modern philosophy, their own thoughts appeared to be new
and original, but they carried with them an echo or shadow of the past,
coming back by recollection from an elder world. Of this the enquirers
of the seventeenth century, who to themselves appeared to be working out
independently the enquiry into all truth, were unconscious. They stood
in a new relation to theology and natural philosophy, and for a time
maintained towards both an attitude of reserve and separation. Yet the
similarities between modern and ancient thought are greater far than the
differences. All philosophy, even that part of it which is said to be
based upon experience, is really ideal; and ideas are not only derived
from facts, but they are also prior to them and extend far beyond them,
just as the mind is prior to the senses.

Early Greek speculation culminates in the ideas of Plato, or rather in
the single idea of good. His followers, and perhaps he himself, having
arrived at this elevation, instead of going forwards went backwards from
philosophy to psychology, from ideas to numbers. But what we perceive to
be the real meaning of them, an explanation of the nature and origin
of knowledge, will always continue to be one of the first problems of

Plato also left behind him a most potent instrument, the forms of
logic--arms ready for use, but not yet taken out of their armoury. They
were the late birth of the early Greek philosophy, and were the only
part of it which has had an uninterrupted hold on the mind of Europe.
Philosophies come and go; but the detection of fallacies, the framing
of definitions, the invention of methods still continue to be the main
elements of the reasoning process.

Modern philosophy, like ancient, begins with very simple conceptions.
It is almost wholly a reflection on self. It might be described as
a quickening into life of old words and notions latent in the
semi-barbarous Latin, and putting a new meaning into them. Unlike
ancient philosophy, it has been unaffected by impressions derived from
outward nature: it arose within the limits of the mind itself. From the
time of Descartes to Hume and Kant it has had little or nothing to do
with facts of science. On the other hand, the ancient and mediaeval
logic retained a continuous influence over it, and a form like that
of mathematics was easily impressed upon it; the principle of ancient
philosophy which is most apparent in it is scepticism; we must doubt
nearly every traditional or received notion, that we may hold fast one
or two. The being of God in a personal or impersonal form was a mental
necessity to the first thinkers of modern times: from this alone all
other ideas could be deduced. There had been an obscure presentiment of
'cognito, ergo sum' more than 2000 years previously. The Eleatic notion
that being and thought were the same was revived in a new form by
Descartes. But now it gave birth to consciousness and self-reflection:
it awakened the 'ego' in human nature. The mind naked and abstract has
no other certainty but the conviction of its own existence. 'I think,
therefore I am;' and this thought is God thinking in me, who has also
communicated to the reason of man his own attributes of thought and
extension--these are truly imparted to him because God is true (compare
Republic). It has been often remarked that Descartes, having begun by
dismissing all presuppositions, introduces several: he passes almost
at once from scepticism to dogmatism. It is more important for the
illustration of Plato to observe that he, like Plato, insists that God
is true and incapable of deception (Republic)--that he proceeds from
general ideas, that many elements of mathematics may be found in him. A
certain influence of mathematics both on the form and substance of their
philosophy is discernible in both of them. After making the greatest
opposition between thought and extension, Descartes, like Plato,
supposes them to be reunited for a time, not in their own nature but by
a special divine act (compare Phaedrus), and he also supposes all
the parts of the human body to meet in the pineal gland, that alone
affording a principle of unity in the material frame of man. It is
characteristic of the first period of modern philosophy, that having
begun (like the Presocratics) with a few general notions, Descartes
first falls absolutely under their influence, and then quickly discards
them. At the same time he is less able to observe facts, because they
are too much magnified by the glasses through which they are seen.
The common logic says 'the greater the extension, the less the
comprehension,' and we may put the same thought in another way and say
of abstract or general ideas, that the greater the abstraction of them,
the less are they capable of being applied to particular and concrete

Not very different from Descartes in his relation to ancient philosophy
is his successor Spinoza, who lived in the following generation. The
system of Spinoza is less personal and also less dualistic than that
of Descartes. In this respect the difference between them is like that
between Xenophanes and Parmenides. The teaching of Spinoza might be
described generally as the Jewish religion reduced to an abstraction
and taking the form of the Eleatic philosophy. Like Parmenides, he is
overpowered and intoxicated with the idea of Being or God. The greatness
of both philosophies consists in the immensity of a thought which
excludes all other thoughts; their weakness is the necessary separation
of this thought from actual existence and from practical life. In
neither of them is there any clear opposition between the inward and
outward world. The substance of Spinoza has two attributes, which alone
are cognizable by man, thought and extension; these are in extreme
opposition to one another, and also in inseparable identity. They may be
regarded as the two aspects or expressions under which God or substance
is unfolded to man. Here a step is made beyond the limits of the Eleatic
philosophy. The famous theorem of Spinoza, 'Omnis determinatio est
negatio,' is already contained in the 'negation is relation' of Plato's
Sophist. The grand description of the philosopher in Republic VI, as the
spectator of all time and all existence, may be paralleled with
another famous expression of Spinoza, 'Contemplatio rerum sub specie
eternitatis.' According to Spinoza finite objects are unreal, for they
are conditioned by what is alien to them, and by one another. Human
beings are included in the number of them. Hence there is no reality
in human action and no place for right and wrong. Individuality is
accident. The boasted freedom of the will is only a consciousness of
necessity. Truth, he says, is the direction of the reason towards the
infinite, in which all things repose; and herein lies the secret of
man's well-being. In the exaltation of the reason or intellect, in the
denial of the voluntariness of evil (Timaeus; Laws) Spinoza approaches
nearer to Plato than in his conception of an infinite substance. As
Socrates said that virtue is knowledge, so Spinoza would have maintained
that knowledge alone is good, and what contributes to knowledge useful.
Both are equally far from any real experience or observation of nature.
And the same difficulty is found in both when we seek to apply their
ideas to life and practice. There is a gulf fixed between the infinite
substance and finite objects or individuals of Spinoza, just as there is
between the ideas of Plato and the world of sense.

Removed from Spinoza by less than a generation is the philosopher
Leibnitz, who after deepening and intensifying the opposition between
mind and matter, reunites them by his preconcerted harmony (compare
again Phaedrus). To him all the particles of matter are living beings
which reflect on one another, and in the least of them the whole is
contained. Here we catch a reminiscence both of the omoiomere, or
similar particles of Anaxagoras, and of the world-animal of the Timaeus.

In Bacon and Locke we have another development in which the mind of
man is supposed to receive knowledge by a new method and to work by
observation and experience. But we may remark that it is the idea
of experience, rather than experience itself, with which the mind is
filled. It is a symbol of knowledge rather than the reality which is
vouchsafed to us. The Organon of Bacon is not much nearer to actual
facts than the Organon of Aristotle or the Platonic idea of good. Many
of the old rags and ribbons which defaced the garment of philosophy have
been stripped off, but some of them still adhere. A crude conception of
the ideas of Plato survives in the 'forms' of Bacon. And on the other
hand, there are many passages of Plato in which the importance of the
investigation of facts is as much insisted upon as by Bacon. Both are
almost equally superior to the illusions of language, and are constantly
crying out against them, as against other idols.

Locke cannot be truly regarded as the author of sensationalism any more
than of idealism. His system is based upon experience, but with him
experience includes reflection as well as sense. His analysis and
construction of ideas has no foundation in fact; it is only the
dialectic of the mind 'talking to herself.' The philosophy of Berkeley
is but the transposition of two words. For objects of sense he would
substitute sensations. He imagines himself to have changed the relation
of the human mind towards God and nature; they remain the same as
before, though he has drawn the imaginary line by which they are divided
at a different point. He has annihilated the outward world, but it
instantly reappears governed by the same laws and described under the
same names.

A like remark applies to David Hume, of whose philosophy the central
principle is the denial of the relation of cause and effect. He would
deprive men of a familiar term which they can ill afford to lose; but
he seems not to have observed that this alteration is merely verbal and
does not in any degree affect the nature of things. Still less did he
remark that he was arguing from the necessary imperfection of language
against the most certain facts. And here, again, we may find a parallel
with the ancients. He goes beyond facts in his scepticism, as they did
in their idealism. Like the ancient Sophists, he relegates the more
important principles of ethics to custom and probability. But crude and
unmeaning as this philosophy is, it exercised a great influence on his
successors, not unlike that which Locke exercised upon Berkeley and
Berkeley upon Hume himself. All three were both sceptical and ideal in
almost equal degrees. Neither they nor their predecessors had any true
conception of language or of the history of philosophy. Hume's
paradox has been forgotten by the world, and did not any more than the
scepticism of the ancients require to be seriously refuted. Like some
other philosophical paradoxes, it would have been better left to die
out. It certainly could not be refuted by a philosophy such as Kant's,
in which, no less than in the previously mentioned systems, the history
of the human mind and the nature of language are almost wholly ignored,
and the certainty of objective knowledge is transferred to the subject;
while absolute truth is reduced to a figment, more abstract and narrow
than Plato's ideas, of 'thing in itself,' to which, if we reason
strictly, no predicate can be applied.

The question which Plato has raised respecting the origin and nature of
ideas belongs to the infancy of philosophy; in modern times it would no
longer be asked. Their origin is only their history, so far as we know
it; there can be no other. We may trace them in language, in philosophy,
in mythology, in poetry, but we cannot argue a priori about them. We may
attempt to shake them off, but they are always returning, and in every
sphere of science and human action are tending to go beyond facts. They
are thought to be innate, because they have been familiar to us all our
lives, and we can no longer dismiss them from our mind. Many of them
express relations of terms to which nothing exactly or nothing at all in
rerum natura corresponds. We are not such free agents in the use of
them as we sometimes imagine. Fixed ideas have taken the most complete
possession of some thinkers who have been most determined to renounce
them, and have been vehemently affirmed when they could be least
explained and were incapable of proof. The world has often been led away
by a word to which no distinct meaning could be attached. Abstractions
such as 'authority,' 'equality,' 'utility,' 'liberty,' 'pleasure,'
'experience,' 'consciousness,' 'chance,' 'substance,' 'matter,' 'atom,'
and a heap of other metaphysical and theological terms, are the source
of quite as much error and illusion and have as little relation
to actual facts as the ideas of Plato. Few students of theology or
philosophy have sufficiently reflected how quickly the bloom of a
philosophy passes away; or how hard it is for one age to understand the
writings of another; or how nice a judgment is required of those who are
seeking to express the philosophy of one age in the terms of another.
The 'eternal truths' of which metaphysicians speak have hardly ever
lasted more than a generation. In our own day schools or systems of
philosophy which have once been famous have died before the founders of
them. We are still, as in Plato's age, groping about for a new method
more comprehensive than any of those which now prevail; and also more
permanent. And we seem to see at a distance the promise of such a
method, which can hardly be any other than the method of idealized
experience, having roots which strike far down into the history of
philosophy. It is a method which does not divorce the present from the
past, or the part from the whole, or the abstract from the concrete,
or theory from fact, or the divine from the human, or one science
from another, but labours to connect them. Along such a road we have
proceeded a few steps, sufficient, perhaps, to make us reflect on the
want of method which prevails in our own day. In another age, all the
branches of knowledge, whether relating to God or man or nature, will
become the knowledge of 'the revelation of a single science' (Symp.),
and all things, like the stars in heaven, will shed their light upon one


PERSONS OF THE DIALOGUE: Meno, Socrates, A Slave of Meno (Boy), Anytus.

MENO: Can you tell me, Socrates, whether virtue is acquired by teaching
or by practice; or if neither by teaching nor by practice, then whether
it comes to man by nature, or in what other way?

SOCRATES: O Meno, there was a time when the Thessalians were famous
among the other Hellenes only for their riches and their riding; but
now, if I am not mistaken, they are equally famous for their wisdom,
especially at Larisa, which is the native city of your friend
Aristippus. And this is Gorgias' doing; for when he came there, the
flower of the Aleuadae, among them your admirer Aristippus, and the
other chiefs of the Thessalians, fell in love with his wisdom. And he
has taught you the habit of answering questions in a grand and bold
style, which becomes those who know, and is the style in which he
himself answers all comers; and any Hellene who likes may ask him
anything. How different is our lot! my dear Meno. Here at Athens there
is a dearth of the commodity, and all wisdom seems to have emigrated
from us to you. I am certain that if you were to ask any Athenian
whether virtue was natural or acquired, he would laugh in your face,
and say: 'Stranger, you have far too good an opinion of me, if you think
that I can answer your question. For I literally do not know what virtue
is, and much less whether it is acquired by teaching or not.' And I
myself, Meno, living as I do in this region of poverty, am as poor as
the rest of the world; and I confess with shame that I know literally
nothing about virtue; and when I do not know the 'quid' of anything how
can I know the 'quale'? How, if I knew nothing at all of Meno, could
I tell if he was fair, or the opposite of fair; rich and noble, or the
reverse of rich and noble? Do you think that I could?

MENO: No, indeed. But are you in earnest, Socrates, in saying that you
do not know what virtue is? And am I to carry back this report of you to

SOCRATES: Not only that, my dear boy, but you may say further that I
have never known of any one else who did, in my judgment.

MENO: Then you have never met Gorgias when he was at Athens?

SOCRATES: Yes, I have.

MENO: And did you not think that he knew?

SOCRATES: I have not a good memory, Meno, and therefore I cannot now
tell what I thought of him at the time. And I dare say that he did know,
and that you know what he said: please, therefore, to remind me of what
he said; or, if you would rather, tell me your own view; for I suspect
that you and he think much alike.

MENO: Very true.

SOCRATES: Then as he is not here, never mind him, and do you tell me:
By the gods, Meno, be generous, and tell me what you say that virtue is;
for I shall be truly delighted to find that I have been mistaken, and
that you and Gorgias do really have this knowledge; although I have been
just saying that I have never found anybody who had.

MENO: There will be no difficulty, Socrates, in answering your question.
Let us take first the virtue of a man--he should know how to administer
the state, and in the administration of it to benefit his friends
and harm his enemies; and he must also be careful not to suffer harm
himself. A woman's virtue, if you wish to know about that, may also
be easily described: her duty is to order her house, and keep what is
indoors, and obey her husband. Every age, every condition of life, young
or old, male or female, bond or free, has a different virtue: 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. And
the same may be said of vice, Socrates (Compare Arist. Pol.).

SOCRATES: How fortunate I am, Meno! When I ask you for one virtue, you
present me with a swarm of them (Compare Theaet.), which are in your
keeping. Suppose that I carry on the figure of the swarm, and ask of
you, What is the nature of the bee? and you answer that there are many
kinds of bees, and I reply: But do bees differ as bees, because there
are many and different kinds of them; or are they not rather to be
distinguished by some other quality, as for example beauty, size, or
shape? How would you answer me?

MENO: I should answer that bees do not differ from one another, as bees.

SOCRATES: And if I went on to say: That is what I desire to know, Meno;
tell me what is the quality in which they do not differ, but are all
alike;--would you be able to answer?

MENO: I should.

SOCRATES: And so of the virtues, however many and different they may be,
they have all a common nature which makes them virtues; and on this he
who would answer the question, 'What is virtue?' would do well to have
his eye fixed: Do you understand?

MENO: I am beginning to understand; but I do not as yet take hold of the
question as I could wish.

SOCRATES: When you say, Meno, that there is one virtue of a man, another
of a woman, another of a child, and so on, does this apply only to
virtue, or would you say the same of health, and size, and strength? Or
is the nature of health always the same, whether in man or woman?

MENO: I should say that health is the same, both in man and woman.

SOCRATES: And is not this true of size and strength? If a woman is
strong, she will be strong by reason of the same form and of the same
strength subsisting in her which there is in the man. I mean to say that
strength, as strength, whether of man or woman, is the same. Is there
any difference?

MENO: I think not.

SOCRATES: And will not virtue, as virtue, be the same, whether in a
child or in a grown-up person, in a woman or in a man?

MENO: I cannot help feeling, Socrates, that this case is different from
the others.

SOCRATES: But why? Were you not saying that the virtue of a man was to
order a state, and the virtue of a woman was to order a house?

MENO: I did say so.

SOCRATES: And can either house or state or anything be well ordered
without temperance and without justice?

MENO: Certainly not.

SOCRATES: Then they who order a state or a house temperately or justly
order them with temperance and justice?

MENO: Certainly.

SOCRATES: Then both men and women, if they are to be good men and women,
must have the same virtues of temperance and justice?

MENO: True.

SOCRATES: And can either a young man or an elder one be good, if they
are intemperate and unjust?

MENO: They cannot.

SOCRATES: They must be temperate and just?

MENO: Yes.

SOCRATES: Then all men are good in the same way, and by participation in
the same virtues?

MENO: Such is the inference.

SOCRATES: And they surely would not have been good in the same way,
unless their virtue had been the same?

MENO: They would not.

SOCRATES: Then now that the sameness of all virtue has been proven, try
and remember what you and Gorgias say that virtue is.

MENO: Will you have one definition of them all?

SOCRATES: That is what I am seeking.

MENO: If you want to have one definition of them all, I know not what to
say, but that virtue is the power of governing mankind.

SOCRATES: And does this definition of virtue include all virtue? Is
virtue the same in a child and in a slave, Meno? Can the child govern
his father, or the slave his master; and would he who governed be any
longer a slave?

MENO: I think not, Socrates.

SOCRATES: No, indeed; there would be small reason in that. Yet once
more, fair friend; according to you, virtue is 'the power of governing;'
but do you not add 'justly and not unjustly'?

MENO: Yes, Socrates; I agree there; for justice is virtue.

SOCRATES: Would you say 'virtue,' Meno, or 'a virtue'?

MENO: What do you mean?

SOCRATES: I mean as I might say about anything; that a round, for
example, is 'a figure' and not simply 'figure,' and I should adopt this
mode of speaking, because there are other figures.

MENO: Quite right; and that is just what I am saying about virtue--that
there are other virtues as well as justice.

SOCRATES: What are they? tell me the names of them, as I would tell you
the names of the other figures if you asked me.

MENO: Courage and temperance and wisdom and magnanimity are virtues; and
there are many others.

SOCRATES: Yes, Meno; and again we are in the same case: in searching
after one virtue we have found many, though not in the same way as
before; but we have been unable to find the common virtue which runs
through them all.

MENO: Why, Socrates, even now I am not able to follow you in the attempt
to get at one common notion of virtue as of other things.

SOCRATES: No wonder; but I will try to get nearer if I can, for you know
that all things have a common notion. Suppose now that some one asked
you the question which I asked before: Meno, he would say, what is
figure? And if you answered 'roundness,' he would reply to you, in
my way of speaking, by asking whether you would say that roundness is
'figure' or 'a figure;' and you would answer 'a figure.'

MENO: Certainly.

SOCRATES: And for this reason--that there are other figures?

MENO: Yes.

SOCRATES: And if he proceeded to ask, What other figures are there? you
would have told him.

MENO: I should.

SOCRATES: And if he similarly asked what colour is, and you answered
whiteness, and the questioner rejoined, Would you say that whiteness is
colour or a colour? you would reply, A colour, because there are other
colours as well.

MENO: I should.

SOCRATES: And if he had said, Tell me what they are?--you would have
told him of other colours which are colours just as much as whiteness.

MENO: Yes.

SOCRATES: And suppose that he were to pursue the matter in my way, he
would say: Ever and anon we are landed in particulars, but this is not
what I want; tell me then, since you call them by a common name, and
say that they are all figures, even when opposed to one another, what
is that common nature which you designate as figure--which contains
straight as well as round, and is no more one than the other--that would
be your mode of speaking?

MENO: Yes.

SOCRATES: And in speaking thus, you do not mean to say that the round
is round any more than straight, or the straight any more straight than

MENO: Certainly not.

SOCRATES: You only assert that the round figure is not more a figure
than the straight, or the straight than the round?

MENO: Very true.

SOCRATES: To what then do we give the name of figure? Try and answer.
Suppose that when a person asked you this question either about figure
or colour, you were to reply, Man, I do not understand what you want,
or know what you are saying; he would look rather astonished and say:
Do you not understand that I am looking for the 'simile in multis'? And
then he might put the question in another form: Meno, he might say, what
is that 'simile in multis' which you call figure, and which includes
not only round and straight figures, but all? Could you not answer that
question, Meno? I wish that you would try; the attempt will be good
practice with a view to the answer about virtue.

MENO: I would rather that you should answer, Socrates.

SOCRATES: Shall I indulge you?

MENO: By all means.

SOCRATES: And then you will tell me about virtue?

MENO: I will.

SOCRATES: Then I must do my best, for there is a prize to be won.

MENO: Certainly.

SOCRATES: Well, I will try and explain to you what figure is. What do
you say to this answer?--Figure is the only thing which always follows
colour. Will you be satisfied with it, as I am sure that I should be, if
you would let me have a similar definition of virtue?

MENO: But, Socrates, it is such a simple answer.

SOCRATES: Why simple?

MENO: Because, according to you, figure is that which always follows

(SOCRATES: Granted.)

MENO: But if a person were to say that he does not know what colour is,
any more than what figure is--what sort of answer would you have given

SOCRATES: I should have told him the truth. And if he were a philosopher
of the eristic and antagonistic sort, I should say to him: You have my
answer, and if I am wrong, your business is to take up the argument and
refute me. But if we were friends, and were talking as you and I are
now, I should reply in a milder strain and more in the dialectician's
vein; that is to say, I should not only speak the truth, but I should
make use of premises which the person interrogated would be willing to
admit. And this is the way in which I shall endeavour to approach you.
You will acknowledge, will you not, that there is such a thing as an
end, or termination, or extremity?--all which words I use in the same
sense, although I am aware that Prodicus might draw distinctions about
them: but still you, I am sure, would speak of a thing as ended or
terminated--that is all which I am saying--not anything very difficult.

MENO: Yes, I should; and I believe that I understand your meaning.

SOCRATES: And you would speak of a surface and also of a solid, as for
example in geometry.

MENO: Yes.

SOCRATES: Well then, you are now in a condition to understand my
definition of figure. I define figure to be that in which the solid
ends; or, more concisely, the limit of solid.

MENO: And now, Socrates, what is colour?

SOCRATES: You are outrageous, Meno, in thus plaguing a poor old man to
give you an answer, when you will not take the trouble of remembering
what is Gorgias' definition of virtue.

MENO: When you have told me what I ask, I will tell you, Socrates.

SOCRATES: A man who was blindfolded has only to hear you talking, and he
would know that you are a fair creature and have still many lovers.

MENO: Why do you think so?

SOCRATES: Why, because you always speak in imperatives: like all
beauties when they are in their prime, you are tyrannical; and also,
as I suspect, you have found out that I have weakness for the fair, and
therefore to humour you I must answer.

MENO: Please do.

SOCRATES: Would you like me to answer you after the manner of Gorgias,
which is familiar to you?

MENO: I should like nothing better.

SOCRATES: Do not he and you and Empedocles say that there are certain
effluences of existence?

MENO: Certainly.

SOCRATES: And passages into which and through which the effluences pass?

MENO: Exactly.

SOCRATES: And some of the effluences fit into the passages, and some of
them are too small or too large?

MENO: True.

SOCRATES: And there is such a thing as sight?

MENO: Yes.

SOCRATES: And now, as Pindar says, 'read my meaning:'--colour is an
effluence of form, commensurate with sight, and palpable to sense.

MENO: That, Socrates, appears to me to be an admirable answer.

SOCRATES: Why, yes, because it happens to be one which you have been in
the habit of hearing: and your wit will have discovered, I suspect, that
you may explain in the same way the nature of sound and smell, and of
many other similar phenomena.

MENO: Quite true.

SOCRATES: The answer, Meno, was in the orthodox solemn vein, and
therefore was more acceptable to you than the other answer about figure.

MENO: Yes.

SOCRATES: And yet, O son of Alexidemus, I cannot help thinking that
the other was the better; and I am sure that you would be of the
same opinion, if you would only stay and be initiated, and were not
compelled, as you said yesterday, to go away before the mysteries.

MENO: But I will stay, Socrates, if you will give me many such answers.

SOCRATES: Well then, for my own sake as well as for yours, I will do
my very best; but I am afraid that I shall not be able to give you very
many as good: and now, in your turn, you are to fulfil your promise, and
tell me what virtue is in the universal; and do not make a singular into
a plural, as the facetious say of those who break a thing, but deliver
virtue to me whole and sound, and not broken into a number of pieces: I
have given you the pattern.

MENO: Well then, Socrates, virtue, as I take it, is when he, who desires
the honourable, is able to provide it for himself; so the poet says, and
I say too--

'Virtue is the desire of things honourable and the power of attaining

SOCRATES: And does he who desires the honourable also desire the good?

MENO: Certainly.

SOCRATES: Then are there some who desire the evil and others who desire
the good? Do not all men, my dear sir, desire good?

MENO: I think not.

SOCRATES: There are some who desire evil?

MENO: Yes.

SOCRATES: Do you mean that they think the evils which they desire, to be
good; or do they know that they are evil and yet desire them?

MENO: Both, I think.

SOCRATES: And do you really imagine, Meno, that a man knows evils to be
evils and desires them notwithstanding?

MENO: Certainly I do.

SOCRATES: And desire is of possession?

MENO: Yes, of possession.

SOCRATES: And does he think that the evils will do good to him who
possesses them, or does he know that they will do him harm?

MENO: There are some who think that the evils will do them good, and
others who know that they will do them harm.

SOCRATES: And, in your opinion, do those who think that they will do
them good know that they are evils?

MENO: Certainly not.

SOCRATES: Is it not obvious that those who are ignorant of their nature
do not desire them; but they desire what they suppose to be goods
although they are really evils; and if they are mistaken and suppose the
evils to be goods they really desire goods?

MENO: Yes, in that case.

SOCRATES: Well, and do those who, as you say, desire evils, and think
that evils are hurtful to the possessor of them, know that they will be
hurt by them?

MENO: They must know it.

SOCRATES: And must they not suppose that those who are hurt are
miserable in proportion to the hurt which is inflicted upon them?

MENO: How can it be otherwise?

SOCRATES: But are not the miserable ill-fated?

MENO: Yes, indeed.

SOCRATES: And does any one desire to be miserable and ill-fated?

MENO: I should say not, Socrates.

SOCRATES: But if there is no one who desires to be miserable, there is
no one, Meno, who desires evil; for what is misery but the desire and
possession of evil?

MENO: That appears to be the truth, Socrates, and I admit that nobody
desires evil.

SOCRATES: And yet, were you not saying just now that virtue is the
desire and power of attaining good?

MENO: Yes, I did say so.

SOCRATES: But if this be affirmed, then the desire of good is common to
all, and one man is no better than another in that respect?

MENO: True.

SOCRATES: And if one man is not better than another in desiring good, he
must be better in the power of attaining it?

MENO: Exactly.

SOCRATES: Then, according to your definition, virtue would appear to be
the power of attaining good?

MENO: I entirely approve, Socrates, of the manner in which you now view
this matter.

SOCRATES: Then let us see whether what you say is true from another
point of view; for very likely you may be right:--You affirm virtue to
be the power of attaining goods?

MENO: Yes.

SOCRATES: And the goods which you mean are such as health and wealth and
the possession of gold and silver, and having office and honour in the
state--those are what you would call goods?

MENO: Yes, I should include all those.

SOCRATES: Then, according to Meno, who is the hereditary friend of the
great king, virtue is the power of getting silver and gold; and would
you add that they must be gained piously, justly, or do you deem this to
be of no consequence? And is any mode of acquisition, even if unjust and
dishonest, equally to be deemed virtue?

MENO: Not virtue, Socrates, but vice.

SOCRATES: Then justice or temperance or holiness, or some other part
of virtue, as would appear, must accompany the acquisition, and without
them the mere acquisition of good will not be virtue.

MENO: Why, how can there be virtue without these?

SOCRATES: And the non-acquisition of gold and silver in a dishonest
manner for oneself or another, or in other words the want of them, may
be equally virtue?

MENO: True.

SOCRATES: Then the acquisition of such goods is no more virtue than the
non-acquisition and want of them, but whatever is accompanied by justice
or honesty is virtue, and whatever is devoid of justice is vice.

MENO: It cannot be otherwise, in my judgment.

SOCRATES: And were we not saying just now that justice, temperance, and
the like, were each of them a part of virtue?

MENO: Yes.

SOCRATES: And so, Meno, this is the way in which you mock me.

MENO: Why do you say that, Socrates?

SOCRATES: Why, because I asked you to deliver virtue into my hands whole
and unbroken, and I gave you a pattern according to which you were to
frame your answer; and you have forgotten already, and tell me that
virtue is the power of attaining good justly, or with justice; and
justice you acknowledge to be a part of virtue.

MENO: Yes.

SOCRATES: Then it follows from your own admissions, that virtue is doing
what you do with a part of virtue; for justice and the like are said by
you to be parts of virtue.

MENO: What of that?

SOCRATES: What of that! Why, did not I ask you to tell me the nature
of virtue as a whole? And you are very far from telling me this; but
declare every action to be virtue which is done with a part of virtue;
as though you had told me and I must already know the whole of virtue,
and this too when frittered away into little pieces. And, therefore, my
dear Meno, I fear that I must begin again and repeat the same question:
What is virtue? for otherwise, I can only say, that every action done
with a part of virtue is virtue; what else is the meaning of saying
that every action done with justice is virtue? Ought I not to ask the
question over again; for can any one who does not know virtue know a
part of virtue?

MENO: No; I do not say that he can.

SOCRATES: Do you remember how, in the example of figure, we rejected any
answer given in terms which were as yet unexplained or unadmitted?

MENO: Yes, Socrates; and we were quite right in doing so.

SOCRATES: But then, my friend, do not suppose that we can explain to any
one the nature of virtue as a whole through some unexplained portion of
virtue, or anything at all in that fashion; we should only have to ask
over again the old question, What is virtue? Am I not right?

MENO: I believe that you are.

SOCRATES: Then begin again, and answer me, What, according to you and
your friend Gorgias, is the definition of virtue?

MENO: O Socrates, I used to be told, before I knew you, that you were
always doubting yourself and making others doubt; and now you are
casting your spells over me, and I am simply getting bewitched and
enchanted, and am at my wits' end. And if I may venture to make a jest
upon you, you seem to me both in your appearance and in your power over
others to be very like the flat torpedo fish, who torpifies those who
come near him and touch him, as you have now torpified me, I think. For
my soul and my tongue are really torpid, and I do not know how to answer
you; and though I have been delivered of an infinite variety of speeches
about virtue before now, and to many persons--and very good ones they
were, as I thought--at this moment I cannot even say what virtue is. And
I think that you are very wise in not voyaging and going away from home,
for if you did in other places as you do in Athens, you would be cast
into prison as a magician.

SOCRATES: You are a rogue, Meno, and had all but caught me.

MENO: What do you mean, Socrates?

SOCRATES: I can tell why you made a simile about me.

MENO: Why?

SOCRATES: In order that I might make another simile about you. For I
know that all pretty young gentlemen like to have pretty similes made
about them--as well they may--but I shall not return the compliment. As
to my being a torpedo, if the torpedo is torpid as well as the cause of
torpidity in others, then indeed I am a torpedo, but not otherwise;
for I perplex others, not because I am clear, but because I am utterly
perplexed myself. And now I know not what virtue is, and you seem to be
in the same case, although you did once perhaps know before you touched
me. However, I have no objection to join with you in the enquiry.

MENO: And how will you enquire, Socrates, into that which you do not
know? What will you put forth as the subject of enquiry? And if you find
what you want, how will you ever know that this is the thing which you
did not know?

SOCRATES: I know, Meno, what you mean; but just see what a tiresome
dispute you are introducing. You argue that a man cannot enquire either
about that which he knows, or about that which he does not know; for if
he knows, he has no need to enquire; and if not, he cannot; for he does
not know the very subject about which he is to enquire (Compare Aristot.
Post. Anal.).

MENO: Well, Socrates, and is not the argument sound?

SOCRATES: I think not.

MENO: Why not?

SOCRATES: I will tell you why: I have heard from certain wise men and
women who spoke of things divine that--

MENO: What did they say?

SOCRATES: They spoke of a glorious truth, as I conceive.

MENO: What was it? and who were they?

SOCRATES: Some of them were priests and priestesses, who had studied how
they might be able to give a reason of their profession: there have been
poets also, who spoke of these things by inspiration, like Pindar, and
many others who were inspired. And they say--mark, now, and see whether
their words are true--they say that the soul of man is immortal, and at
one time has an end, which is termed dying, and at another time is born
again, but is never destroyed. And the moral is, that a man ought to
live always in perfect holiness. 'For in the ninth year Persephone sends
the souls of those from whom she has received the penalty of ancient
crime back again from beneath into the light of the sun above, and these
are they who become noble kings and mighty men and great in wisdom
and are called saintly heroes in after ages.' The soul, then, as being
immortal, and having been born again many times, and having seen all
things that exist, whether in this world or in the world below, has
knowledge of them all; and it is no wonder that she should be able
to call to remembrance all that she ever knew about virtue, and about
everything; for as all nature is akin, and the soul has learned all
things; there is no difficulty in her eliciting or as men say learning,
out of a single recollection all the rest, if a man is strenuous and
does not faint; for all enquiry and all learning is but recollection.
And therefore we ought not to listen to this sophistical argument about
the impossibility of enquiry: for it will make us idle; and is sweet
only to the sluggard; but the other saying will make us active and
inquisitive. In that confiding, I will gladly enquire with you into the
nature of virtue.

MENO: Yes, Socrates; but what do you mean by saying that we do not
learn, and that what we call learning is only a process of recollection?
Can you teach me how this is?

SOCRATES: I told you, Meno, just now that you were a rogue, and now you
ask whether I can teach you, when I am saying that there is no teaching,
but only recollection; and thus you imagine that you will involve me in
a contradiction.

MENO: Indeed, Socrates, I protest that I had no such intention. I only
asked the question from habit; but if you can prove to me that what you
say is true, I wish that you would.

SOCRATES: It will be no easy matter, but I will try to please you to
the utmost of my power. Suppose that you call one of your numerous
attendants, that I may demonstrate on him.

MENO: Certainly. Come hither, boy.

SOCRATES: He is Greek, and speaks Greek, does he not?

MENO: Yes, indeed; he was born in the house.

SOCRATES: Attend now to the questions which I ask him, and observe
whether he learns of me or only remembers.

MENO: I will.

SOCRATES: Tell me, boy, do you know that a figure like this is a square?

BOY: I do.

SOCRATES: And you know that a square figure has these four lines equal?

BOY: Certainly.

SOCRATES: And these lines which I have drawn through the middle of the
square are also equal?

BOY: Yes.

SOCRATES: A square may be of any size?

BOY: Certainly.

SOCRATES: And if one side of the figure be of two feet, and the other
side be of two feet, how much will the whole be? Let me explain: if in
one direction the space was of two feet, and in the other direction of
one foot, the whole would be of two feet taken once?

BOY: Yes.

SOCRATES: But since this side is also of two feet, there are twice two

BOY: There are.

SOCRATES: Then the square is of twice two feet?

BOY: Yes.

SOCRATES: And how many are twice two feet? count and tell me.

BOY: Four, Socrates.

SOCRATES: And might there not be another square twice as large as this,
and having like this the lines equal?

BOY: Yes.

SOCRATES: And of how many feet will that be?

BOY: Of eight feet.

SOCRATES: And now try and tell me the length of the line which forms the
side of that double square: this is two feet--what will that be?

BOY: Clearly, Socrates, it will be double.

SOCRATES: Do you observe, Meno, that I am not teaching the boy anything,
but only asking him questions; and now he fancies that he knows how long
a line is necessary in order to produce a figure of eight square feet;
does he not?

MENO: Yes.

SOCRATES: And does he really know?

MENO: Certainly not.

SOCRATES: He only guesses that because the square is double, the line is

MENO: True.

SOCRATES: Observe him while he recalls the steps in regular order. (To
the Boy:) Tell me, boy, do you assert that a double space comes from
a double line? Remember that I am not speaking of an oblong, but of a
figure equal every way, and twice the size of this--that is to say
of eight feet; and I want to know whether you still say that a double
square comes from double line?

BOY: Yes.

SOCRATES: But does not this line become doubled if we add another such
line here?

BOY: Certainly.

SOCRATES: And four such lines will make a space containing eight feet?

BOY: Yes.

SOCRATES: Let us describe such a figure: Would you not say that this is
the figure of eight feet?

BOY: Yes.

SOCRATES: And are there not these four divisions in the figure, each of
which is equal to the figure of four feet?

BOY: True.

SOCRATES: And is not that four times four?

BOY: Certainly.

SOCRATES: And four times is not double?

BOY: No, indeed.

SOCRATES: But how much?

BOY: Four times as much.

SOCRATES: Therefore the double line, boy, has given a space, not twice,
but four times as much.

BOY: True.

SOCRATES: Four times four are sixteen--are they not?

BOY: Yes.

SOCRATES: What line would give you a space of eight feet, as this gives
one of sixteen feet;--do you see?

BOY: Yes.

SOCRATES: And the space of four feet is made from this half line?

BOY: Yes.

SOCRATES: Good; and is not a space of eight feet twice the size of this,
and half the size of the other?

BOY: Certainly.

SOCRATES: Such a space, then, will be made out of a line greater than
this one, and less than that one?

BOY: Yes; I think so.

SOCRATES: Very good; I like to hear you say what you think. And now tell
me, is not this a line of two feet and that of four?

BOY: Yes.

SOCRATES: Then the line which forms the side of eight feet ought to be
more than this line of two feet, and less than the other of four feet?

BOY: It ought.

SOCRATES: Try and see if you can tell me how much it will be.

BOY: Three feet.

SOCRATES: Then if we add a half to this line of two, that will be the
line of three. Here are two and there is one; and on the other side,
here are two also and there is one: and that makes the figure of which
you speak?

BOY: Yes.

SOCRATES: But if there are three feet this way and three feet that way,
the whole space will be three times three feet?

BOY: That is evident.

SOCRATES: And how much are three times three feet?

BOY: Nine.

SOCRATES: And how much is the double of four?

BOY: Eight.

SOCRATES: Then the figure of eight is not made out of a line of three?

BOY: No.

SOCRATES: But from what line?--tell me exactly; and if you would rather
not reckon, try and show me the line.

BOY: Indeed, Socrates, I do not know.

SOCRATES: Do you see, Meno, what advances he has made in his power of
recollection? He did not know at first, and he does not know now, what
is the side of a figure of eight feet: but then he thought that he knew,
and answered confidently as if he knew, and had no difficulty; now he
has a difficulty, and neither knows nor fancies that he knows.

MENO: True.

SOCRATES: Is he not better off in knowing his ignorance?

MENO: I think that he is.

SOCRATES: If we have made him doubt, and given him the 'torpedo's
shock,' have we done him any harm?

MENO: I think not.

SOCRATES: We have certainly, as would seem, assisted him in some degree
to the discovery of the truth; and now he will wish to remedy his
ignorance, but then he would have been ready to tell all the world again
and again that the double space should have a double side.

MENO: True.

SOCRATES: But do you suppose that he would ever have enquired into or
learned what he fancied that he knew, though he was really ignorant of
it, until he had fallen into perplexity under the idea that he did not
know, and had desired to know?

MENO: I think not, Socrates.

SOCRATES: Then he was the better for the torpedo's touch?

MENO: I think so.

SOCRATES: Mark now the farther development. I shall only ask him, and
not teach him, and he shall share the enquiry with me: and do you watch
and see if you find me telling or explaining anything to him, instead of
eliciting his opinion. Tell me, boy, is not this a square of four feet
which I have drawn?

BOY: Yes.

SOCRATES: And now I add another square equal to the former one?

BOY: Yes.

SOCRATES: And a third, which is equal to either of them?

BOY: Yes.

SOCRATES: Suppose that we fill up the vacant corner?

BOY: Very good.

SOCRATES: Here, then, there are four equal spaces?

BOY: Yes.

SOCRATES: And how many times larger is this space than this other?

BOY: Four times.

SOCRATES: But it ought to have been twice only, as you will remember.

BOY: True.

SOCRATES: And does not this line, reaching from corner to corner, bisect
each of these spaces?

BOY: Yes.

SOCRATES: And are there not here four equal lines which contain this

BOY: There are.

SOCRATES: Look and see how much this space is.

BOY: I do not understand.

SOCRATES: Has not each interior line cut off half of the four spaces?

BOY: Yes.

SOCRATES: And how many spaces are there in this section?

BOY: Four.

SOCRATES: And how many in this?

BOY: Two.

SOCRATES: And four is how many times two?

BOY: Twice.

SOCRATES: And this space is of how many feet?

BOY: Of eight feet.

SOCRATES: And from what line do you get this figure?

BOY: From this.

SOCRATES: That is, from the line which extends from corner to corner of
the figure of four feet?

BOY: Yes.

SOCRATES: And that is the line which the learned call the diagonal.
And if this is the proper name, then you, Meno's slave, are prepared to
affirm that the double space is the square of the diagonal?

BOY: Certainly, Socrates.

SOCRATES: What do you say of him, Meno? Were not all these answers given
out of his own head?

MENO: Yes, they were all his own.

SOCRATES: And yet, as we were just now saying, he did not know?

MENO: True.

SOCRATES: But still he had in him those notions of his--had he not?

MENO: Yes.

SOCRATES: Then he who does not know may still have true notions of that
which he does not know?

MENO: He has.

SOCRATES: And at present these notions have just been stirred up in him,
as in a dream; but if he were frequently asked the same questions, in
different forms, he would know as well as any one at last?

MENO: I dare say.

SOCRATES: Without any one teaching him he will recover his knowledge for
himself, if he is only asked questions?

MENO: Yes.

SOCRATES: And this spontaneous recovery of knowledge in him is

MENO: True.

SOCRATES: And this knowledge which he now has must he not either have
acquired or always possessed?

MENO: Yes.

SOCRATES: But if he always possessed this knowledge he would always have
known; or if he has acquired the knowledge he could not have acquired it
in this life, unless he has been taught geometry; for he may be made to
do the same with all geometry and every other branch of knowledge. Now,
has any one ever taught him all this? You must know about him, if, as
you say, he was born and bred in your house.

MENO: And I am certain that no one ever did teach him.

SOCRATES: And yet he has the knowledge?

MENO: The fact, Socrates, is undeniable.

SOCRATES: But if he did not acquire the knowledge in this life, then he
must have had and learned it at some other time?

MENO: Clearly he must.

SOCRATES: Which must have been the time when he was not a man?

MENO: Yes.

SOCRATES: And if there have been always true thoughts in him, both at
the time when he was and was not a man, which only need to be awakened
into knowledge by putting questions to him, his soul must have always
possessed this knowledge, for he always either was or was not a man?

MENO: Obviously.

SOCRATES: And if the truth of all things always existed in the soul,
then the soul is immortal. Wherefore be of good cheer, and try to
recollect what you do not know, or rather what you do not remember.

MENO: I feel, somehow, that I like what you are saying.

SOCRATES: And I, Meno, like what I am saying. Some things I have said
of which I am not altogether confident. But that we shall be better and
braver and less helpless if we think that we ought to enquire, than
we should have been if we indulged in the idle fancy that there was no
knowing and no use in seeking to know what we do not know;--that is a
theme upon which I am ready to fight, in word and deed, to the utmost of
my power.

MENO: There again, Socrates, your words seem to me excellent.

SOCRATES: Then, as we are agreed that a man should enquire about that
which he does not know, shall you and I make an effort to enquire
together into the nature of virtue?

MENO: By all means, Socrates. And yet I would much rather return to my
original question, Whether in seeking to acquire virtue we should regard
it as a thing to be taught, or as a gift of nature, or as coming to men
in some other way?

SOCRATES: Had I the command of you as well as of myself, Meno, I would
not have enquired whether virtue is given by instruction or not,
until we had first ascertained 'what it is.' But as you think only
of controlling me who am your slave, and never of controlling
yourself,--such being your notion of freedom, I must yield to you,
for you are irresistible. And therefore I have now to enquire into the
qualities of a thing of which I do not as yet know the nature. At any
rate, will you condescend a little, and allow the question 'Whether
virtue is given by instruction, or in any other way,' to be argued upon
hypothesis? As the geometrician, when he is asked whether a certain
triangle is capable being inscribed in a certain circle (Or, whether a
certain area is capable of being inscribed as a triangle in a certain
circle.), will reply: 'I cannot tell you as yet; but I will offer a
hypothesis which may assist us in forming a conclusion: If the figure be
such that when you have produced a given side of it (Or, when you apply
it to the given line, i.e. the diameter of the circle (autou).), the
given area of the triangle falls short by an area corresponding to
the part produced (Or, similar to the area so applied.), then one
consequence follows, and if this is impossible then some other; and
therefore I wish to assume a hypothesis before I tell you whether
this triangle is capable of being inscribed in the circle':--that is
a geometrical hypothesis. And we too, as we know not the nature and
qualities of virtue, must ask, whether virtue is or is not taught, under
a hypothesis: as thus, if virtue is of such a class of mental goods,
will it be taught or not? Let the first hypothesis be that virtue is or
is not knowledge,--in that case will it be taught or not? or, as we were
just now saying, 'remembered'? For there is no use in disputing about
the name. But is virtue taught or not? or rather, does not every one see
that knowledge alone is taught?

MENO: I agree.

SOCRATES: Then if virtue is knowledge, virtue will be taught?

MENO: Certainly.

SOCRATES: Then now we have made a quick end of this question: if virtue
is of such a nature, it will be taught; and if not, not?

MENO: Certainly.

SOCRATES: The next question is, whether virtue is knowledge or of
another species?

MENO: Yes, that appears to be the question which comes next in order.

SOCRATES: Do we not say that virtue is a good?--This is a hypothesis
which is not set aside.

MENO: Certainly.

SOCRATES: Now, if there be any sort of good which is distinct from
knowledge, virtue may be that good; but if knowledge embraces all good,
then we shall be right in thinking that virtue is knowledge?

MENO: True.

SOCRATES: And virtue makes us good?

MENO: Yes.

SOCRATES: And if we are good, then we are profitable; for all good
things are profitable?

MENO: Yes.

SOCRATES: Then virtue is profitable?

MENO: That is the only inference.

SOCRATES: Then now let us see what are the things which severally profit
us. Health and strength, and beauty and wealth--these, and the like of
these, we call profitable?

MENO: True.

SOCRATES: And yet these things may also sometimes do us harm: would you
not think so?

MENO: Yes.

SOCRATES: And what is the guiding principle which makes them profitable
or the reverse? Are they not profitable when they are rightly used, and
hurtful when they are not rightly used?

MENO: Certainly.

SOCRATES: Next, let us consider the goods of the soul: they are
temperance, justice, courage, quickness of apprehension, memory,
magnanimity, and the like?

MENO: Surely.

SOCRATES: And such of these as are not knowledge, but of another sort,
are sometimes profitable and sometimes hurtful; as, for example, courage
wanting prudence, which is only a sort of confidence? When a man has no
sense he is harmed by courage, but when he has sense he is profited?

MENO: True.

SOCRATES: And the same may be said of temperance and quickness of
apprehension; whatever things are learned or done with sense are
profitable, but when done without sense they are hurtful?

MENO: Very true.

SOCRATES: And in general, all that the soul attempts or endures, when
under the guidance of wisdom, ends in happiness; but when she is under
the guidance of folly, in the opposite?

MENO: That appears to be true.

SOCRATES: If then virtue is a quality of the soul, and is admitted to be
profitable, it must be wisdom or prudence, since none of the things of
the soul are either profitable or hurtful in themselves, but they are
all made profitable or hurtful by the addition of wisdom or of folly;
and therefore if virtue is profitable, virtue must be a sort of wisdom
or prudence?

MENO: I quite agree.

SOCRATES: And the other goods, such as wealth and the like, of which we
were just now saying that they are sometimes good and sometimes evil,
do not they also become profitable or hurtful, accordingly as the soul
guides and uses them rightly or wrongly; just as the things of the soul
herself are benefited when under the guidance of wisdom and harmed by

MENO: True.

SOCRATES: And the wise soul guides them rightly, and the foolish soul

MENO: Yes.

SOCRATES: And is not this universally true of human nature? All other
things hang upon the soul, and the things of the soul herself hang upon
wisdom, if they are to be good; and so wisdom is inferred to be that
which profits--and virtue, as we say, is profitable?

MENO: Certainly.

SOCRATES: And thus we arrive at the conclusion that virtue is either
wholly or partly wisdom?

MENO: I think that what you are saying, Socrates, is very true.

SOCRATES: But if this is true, then the good are not by nature good?

MENO: I think not.

SOCRATES: If they had been, there would assuredly have been discerners
of characters among us who would have known our future great men; and on
their showing we should have adopted them, and when we had got them, we
should have kept them in the citadel out of the way of harm, and set a
stamp upon them far rather than upon a piece of gold, in order that no
one might tamper with them; and when they grew up they would have been
useful to the state?

MENO: Yes, Socrates, that would have been the right way.

SOCRATES: But if the good are not by nature good, are they made good by

MENO: There appears to be no other alternative, Socrates. On the
supposition that virtue is knowledge, there can be no doubt that virtue
is taught.

SOCRATES: Yes, indeed; but what if the supposition is erroneous?

MENO: I certainly thought just now that we were right.

SOCRATES: Yes, Meno; but a principle which has any soundness should
stand firm not only just now, but always.

MENO: Well; and why are you so slow of heart to believe that knowledge
is virtue?

SOCRATES: I will try and tell you why, Meno. I do not retract the
assertion that if virtue is knowledge it may be taught; but I fear that
I have some reason in doubting whether virtue is knowledge: for consider
now and say whether virtue, and not only virtue but anything that is
taught, must not have teachers and disciples?

MENO: Surely.

SOCRATES: And conversely, may not the art of which neither teachers nor
disciples exist be assumed to be incapable of being taught?

MENO: True; but do you think that there are no teachers of virtue?

SOCRATES: I have certainly often enquired whether there were any, and
taken great pains to find them, and have never succeeded; and many have
assisted me in the search, and they were the persons whom I thought the
most likely to know. Here at the moment when he is wanted we fortunately
have sitting by us Anytus, the very person of whom we should make
enquiry; to him then let us repair. In the first place, he is the son
of a wealthy and wise father, Anthemion, who acquired his wealth, not
by accident or gift, like Ismenias the Theban (who has recently made
himself as rich as Polycrates), but by his own skill and industry, and
who is a well-conditioned, modest man, not insolent, or overbearing, or
annoying; moreover, this son of his has received a good education, as
the Athenian people certainly appear to think, for they choose him to
fill the highest offices. And these are the sort of men from whom you
are likely to learn whether there are any teachers of virtue, and who
they are. Please, Anytus, to help me and your friend Meno in answering
our question, Who are the teachers? Consider the matter thus: If we
wanted Meno to be a good physician, to whom should we send him? Should
we not send him to the physicians?

ANYTUS: Certainly.

SOCRATES: Or if we wanted him to be a good cobbler, should we not send
him to the cobblers?


SOCRATES: And so forth?


SOCRATES: Let me trouble you with one more question. When we say that we
should be right in sending him to the physicians if we wanted him to be
a physician, do we mean that we should be right in sending him to those
who profess the art, rather than to those who do not, and to those who
demand payment for teaching the art, and profess to teach it to any one
who will come and learn? And if these were our reasons, should we not be
right in sending him?


SOCRATES: And might not the same be said of flute-playing, and of the
other arts? Would a man who wanted to make another a flute-player refuse
to send him to those who profess to teach the art for money, and be
plaguing other persons to give him instruction, who are not professed
teachers and who never had a single disciple in that branch of knowledge
which he wishes him to acquire--would not such conduct be the height of

ANYTUS: Yes, by Zeus, and of ignorance too.

SOCRATES: Very good. And now you are in a position to advise with me
about my friend Meno. He has been telling me, Anytus, that he desires
to attain that kind of wisdom and virtue by which men order the state or
the house, and honour their parents, and know when to receive and when
to send away citizens and strangers, as a good man should. Now, to
whom should he go in order that he may learn this virtue? Does not the
previous argument imply clearly that we should send him to those who
profess and avouch that they are the common teachers of all Hellas, and
are ready to impart instruction to any one who likes, at a fixed price?

ANYTUS: Whom do you mean, Socrates?

SOCRATES: You surely know, do you not, Anytus, that these are the people
whom mankind call Sophists?

ANYTUS: By Heracles, Socrates, forbear! I only hope that no friend or
kinsman or acquaintance of mine, whether citizen or stranger, will ever
be so mad as to allow himself to be corrupted by them; for they are
a manifest pest and corrupting influence to those who have to do with

SOCRATES: What, Anytus? Of all the people who profess that they know how
to do men good, do you mean to say that these are the only ones who not
only do them no good, but positively corrupt those who are entrusted to
them, and in return for this disservice have the face to demand money?
Indeed, I cannot believe you; for I know of a single man, Protagoras,
who made more out of his craft than the illustrious Pheidias, who
created such noble works, or any ten other statuaries. How could that
be? A mender of old shoes, or patcher up of clothes, who made the shoes
or clothes worse than he received them, could not have remained thirty
days undetected, and would very soon have starved; whereas during more
than forty years, Protagoras was corrupting all Hellas, and sending his
disciples from him worse than he received them, and he was never found
out. For, if I am not mistaken, he was about seventy years old at his
death, forty of which were spent in the practice of his profession;
and during all that time he had a good reputation, which to this day he
retains: and not only Protagoras, but many others are well spoken of;
some who lived before him, and others who are still living. Now, when
you say that they deceived and corrupted the youth, are they to be
supposed to have corrupted them consciously or unconsciously? Can those
who were deemed by many to be the wisest men of Hellas have been out of
their minds?

ANYTUS: Out of their minds! No, Socrates; the young men who gave their
money to them were out of their minds, and their relations and guardians
who entrusted their youth to the care of these men were still more out
of their minds, and most of all, the cities who allowed them to come in,
and did not drive them out, citizen and stranger alike.

SOCRATES: Has any of the Sophists wronged you, Anytus? What makes you so
angry with them?

ANYTUS: No, indeed, neither I nor any of my belongings has ever had, nor
would I suffer them to have, anything to do with them.

SOCRATES: Then you are entirely unacquainted with them?

ANYTUS: And I have no wish to be acquainted.

SOCRATES: Then, my dear friend, how can you know whether a thing is good
or bad of which you are wholly ignorant?

ANYTUS: Quite well; I am sure that I know what manner of men these are,
whether I am acquainted with them or not.

SOCRATES: You must be a diviner, Anytus, for I really cannot make out,
judging from your own words, how, if you are not acquainted with them,
you know about them. But I am not enquiring of you who are the teachers
who will corrupt Meno (let them be, if you please, the Sophists); I only
ask you to tell him who there is in this great city who will teach him
how to become eminent in the virtues which I was just now describing. He
is the friend of your family, and you will oblige him.

ANYTUS: Why do you not tell him yourself?

SOCRATES: I have told him whom I supposed to be the teachers of these
things; but I learn from you that I am utterly at fault, and I dare say
that you are right. And now I wish that you, on your part, would tell me
to whom among the Athenians he should go. Whom would you name?

ANYTUS: Why single out individuals? Any Athenian gentleman, taken at
random, if he will mind him, will do far more good to him than the

SOCRATES: And did those gentlemen grow of themselves; and without having
been taught by any one, were they nevertheless able to teach others that
which they had never learned themselves?

ANYTUS: I imagine that they learned of the previous generation of
gentlemen. Have there not been many good men in this city?

SOCRATES: Yes, certainly, Anytus; and many good statesmen also there
always have been and there are still, in the city of Athens. But
the question is whether they were also good teachers of their own
virtue;--not whether there are, or have been, good men in this part of
the world, but whether virtue can be taught, is the question which we
have been discussing. Now, do we mean to say that the good men of our
own and of other times knew how to impart to others that virtue
which they had themselves; or is virtue a thing incapable of being
communicated or imparted by one man to another? That is the question
which I and Meno have been arguing. Look at the matter in your own way:
Would you not admit that Themistocles was a good man?

ANYTUS: Certainly; no man better.

SOCRATES: And must not he then have been a good teacher, if any man ever
was a good teacher, of his own virtue?

ANYTUS: Yes certainly,--if he wanted to be so.

SOCRATES: But would he not have wanted? He would, at any rate, have
desired to make his own son a good man and a gentleman; he could not
have been jealous of him, or have intentionally abstained from
imparting to him his own virtue. Did you never hear that he made his son
Cleophantus a famous horseman; and had him taught to stand upright on
horseback and hurl a javelin, and to do many other marvellous things;
and in anything which could be learned from a master he was well
trained? Have you not heard from our elders of him?

ANYTUS: I have.

SOCRATES: Then no one could say that his son showed any want of

ANYTUS: Very likely not.

SOCRATES: But did any one, old or young, ever say in your hearing that
Cleophantus, son of Themistocles, was a wise or good man, as his father

ANYTUS: I have certainly never heard any one say so.

SOCRATES: And if virtue could have been taught, would his father
Themistocles have sought to train him in these minor accomplishments,
and allowed him who, as you must remember, was his own son, to be
no better than his neighbours in those qualities in which he himself

ANYTUS: Indeed, indeed, I think not.

SOCRATES: Here was a teacher of virtue whom you admit to be among
the best men of the past. Let us take another,--Aristides, the son of
Lysimachus: would you not acknowledge that he was a good man?

ANYTUS: To be sure I should.

SOCRATES: And did not he train his son Lysimachus better than any other
Athenian in all that could be done for him by the help of masters? But
what has been the result? Is he a bit better than any other mortal?
He is an acquaintance of yours, and you see what he is like. There is
Pericles, again, magnificent in his wisdom; and he, as you are aware,
had two sons, Paralus and Xanthippus.

ANYTUS: I know.

SOCRATES: And you know, also, that he taught them to be unrivalled
horsemen, and had them trained in music and gymnastics and all sorts of
arts--in these respects they were on a level with the best--and had
he no wish to make good men of them? Nay, he must have wished it. But
virtue, as I suspect, could not be taught. And that you may not suppose
the incompetent teachers to be only the meaner sort of Athenians and
few in number, remember again that Thucydides had two sons, Melesias and
Stephanus, whom, besides giving them a good education in other things,
he trained in wrestling, and they were the best wrestlers in Athens: one
of them he committed to the care of Xanthias, and the other of Eudorus,
who had the reputation of being the most celebrated wrestlers of that
day. Do you remember them?

ANYTUS: I have heard of them.

SOCRATES: Now, can there be a doubt that Thucydides, whose children were
taught things for which he had to spend money, would have taught them
to be good men, which would have cost him nothing, if virtue could have
been taught? Will you reply that he was a mean man, and had not many
friends among the Athenians and allies? Nay, but he was of a great
family, and a man of influence at Athens and in all Hellas, and, if
virtue could have been taught, he would have found out some Athenian
or foreigner who would have made good men of his sons, if he could not
himself spare the time from cares of state. Once more, I suspect, friend
Anytus, that virtue is not a thing which can be taught?

ANYTUS: Socrates, I think that you are too ready to speak evil of men:
and, if you will take my advice, I would recommend you to be careful.
Perhaps there is no city in which it is not easier to do men harm than
to do them good, and this is certainly the case at Athens, as I believe
that you know.

SOCRATES: O Meno, think that Anytus is in a rage. And he may well be
in a rage, for he thinks, in the first place, that I am defaming these
gentlemen; and in the second place, he is of opinion that he is one
of them himself. But some day he will know what is the meaning of
defamation, and if he ever does, he will forgive me. Meanwhile I will
return to you, Meno; for I suppose that there are gentlemen in your
region too?

MENO: Certainly there are.

SOCRATES: And are they willing to teach the young? and do they profess
to be teachers? and do they agree that virtue is taught?

MENO: No indeed, Socrates, they are anything but agreed; you may hear
them saying at one time that virtue can be taught, and then again the

SOCRATES: Can we call those teachers who do not acknowledge the
possibility of their own vocation?

MENO: I think not, Socrates.

SOCRATES: And what do you think of these Sophists, who are the only
professors? Do they seem to you to be teachers of virtue?

MENO: I often wonder, Socrates, that Gorgias is never heard promising to
teach virtue: and when he hears others promising he only laughs at them;
but he thinks that men should be taught to speak.

SOCRATES: Then do you not think that the Sophists are teachers?

MENO: I cannot tell you, Socrates; like the rest of the world, I am in
doubt, and sometimes I think that they are teachers and sometimes not.

SOCRATES: And are you aware that not you only and other politicians have
doubts whether virtue can be taught or not, but that Theognis the poet
says the very same thing?

MENO: Where does he say so?

SOCRATES: In these elegiac verses (Theog.):

'Eat and drink and sit with the mighty, and make yourself agreeable to
them; for from the good you will learn what is good, but if you mix with
the bad you will lose the intelligence which you already have.'

Do you observe that here he seems to imply that virtue can be taught?

MENO: Clearly.

SOCRATES: But in some other verses he shifts about and says (Theog.):

'If understanding could be created and put into a man, then they' (who
were able to perform this feat) 'would have obtained great rewards.'

And again:--

'Never would a bad son have sprung from a good sire, for he would have
heard the voice of instruction; but not by teaching will you ever make a
bad man into a good one.'

And this, as you may remark, is a contradiction of the other.

MENO: Clearly.

SOCRATES: And is there anything else of which the professors are
affirmed not only not to be teachers of others, but to be ignorant
themselves, and bad at the knowledge of that which they are professing
to teach? or is there anything about which even the acknowledged
'gentlemen' are sometimes saying that 'this thing can be taught,' and
sometimes the opposite? Can you say that they are teachers in any true
sense whose ideas are in such confusion?

MENO: I should say, certainly not.

SOCRATES: But if neither the Sophists nor the gentlemen are teachers,
clearly there can be no other teachers?


SOCRATES: And if there are no teachers, neither are there disciples?

MENO: Agreed.

SOCRATES: And we have admitted that a thing cannot be taught of which
there are neither teachers nor disciples?

MENO: We have.

SOCRATES: And there are no teachers of virtue to be found anywhere?

MENO: There are not.

SOCRATES: And if there are no teachers, neither are there scholars?

MENO: That, I think, is true.

SOCRATES: Then virtue cannot be taught?

MENO: Not if we are right in our view. But I cannot believe, Socrates,
that there are no good men: And if there are, how did they come into

SOCRATES: I am afraid, Meno, that you and I are not good for much, and
that Gorgias has been as poor an educator of you as Prodicus has been of
me. Certainly we shall have to look to ourselves, and try to find
some one who will help in some way or other to improve us. This I say,
because I observe that in the previous discussion none of us remarked
that right and good action is possible to man under other guidance than
that of knowledge (episteme);--and indeed if this be denied, there is no
seeing how there can be any good men at all.

MENO: How do you mean, Socrates?

SOCRATES: I mean that good men are necessarily useful or profitable.
Were we not right in admitting this? It must be so.

MENO: Yes.

SOCRATES: And in supposing that they will be useful only if they are
true guides to us of action--there we were also right?

MENO: Yes.

SOCRATES: But when we said that a man cannot be a good guide unless he
have knowledge (phrhonesis), this we were wrong.

MENO: What do you mean by the word 'right'?

SOCRATES: I will explain. If a man knew the way to Larisa, or anywhere
else, and went to the place and led others thither, would he not be a
right and good guide?

MENO: Certainly.

SOCRATES: And a person who had a right opinion about the way, but had
never been and did not know, might be a good guide also, might he not?

MENO: Certainly.

SOCRATES: And while he has true opinion about that which the other
knows, he will be just as good a guide if he thinks the truth, as he who
knows the truth?

MENO: Exactly.

SOCRATES: Then true opinion is as good a guide to correct action as
knowledge; and that was the point which we omitted in our speculation
about the nature of virtue, when we said that knowledge only is the
guide of right action; whereas there is also right opinion.

MENO: True.

SOCRATES: Then right opinion is not less useful than knowledge?

MENO: The difference, Socrates, is only that he who has knowledge will
always be right; but he who has right opinion will sometimes be right,
and sometimes not.

SOCRATES: What do you mean? Can he be wrong who has right opinion, so
long as he has right opinion?

MENO: I admit the cogency of your argument, and therefore, Socrates, I
wonder that knowledge should be preferred to right opinion--or why they
should ever differ.

SOCRATES: And shall I explain this wonder to you?

MENO: Do tell me.

SOCRATES: You would not wonder if you had ever observed the images of
Daedalus (Compare Euthyphro); but perhaps you have not got them in your

MENO: What have they to do with the question?

SOCRATES: Because they require to be fastened in order to keep them, and
if they are not fastened they will play truant and run away.

MENO: Well, what of that?

SOCRATES: I mean to say that they are not very valuable possessions if
they are at liberty, for they will walk off like runaway slaves; but
when fastened, they are of great value, for they are really beautiful
works of art. Now this is an illustration of the nature of true
opinions: while they abide with us they are beautiful and fruitful,
but they run away out of the human soul, and do not remain long, and
therefore they are not of much value until they are fastened by the tie
of the cause; and this fastening of them, friend Meno, is recollection,
as you and I have agreed to call it. But when they are bound, in the
first place, they have the nature of knowledge; and, in the second
place, they are abiding. And this is why knowledge is more honourable
and excellent than true opinion, because fastened by a chain.

MENO: What you are saying, Socrates, seems to be very like the truth.

SOCRATES: I too speak rather in ignorance; I only conjecture. And yet
that knowledge differs from true opinion is no matter of conjecture with
me. There are not many things which I profess to know, but this is most
certainly one of them.

MENO: Yes, Socrates; and you are quite right in saying so.

SOCRATES: And am I not also right in saying that true opinion leading
the way perfects action quite as well as knowledge?

MENO: There again, Socrates, I think you are right.

SOCRATES: Then right opinion is not a whit inferior to knowledge, or
less useful in action; nor is the man who has right opinion inferior to
him who has knowledge?

MENO: True.

SOCRATES: And surely the good man has been acknowledged by us to be

MENO: Yes.

SOCRATES: Seeing then that men become good and useful to states, not
only because they have knowledge, but because they have right opinion,
and that neither knowledge nor right opinion is given to man by nature
or acquired by him--(do you imagine either of them to be given by

MENO: Not I.)

SOCRATES: Then if they are not given by nature, neither are the good by
nature good?

MENO: Certainly not.

SOCRATES: And nature being excluded, then came the question whether
virtue is acquired by teaching?

MENO: Yes.

SOCRATES: If virtue was wisdom (or knowledge), then, as we thought, it
was taught?

MENO: Yes.

SOCRATES: And if it was taught it was wisdom?

MENO: Certainly.

SOCRATES: And if there were teachers, it might be taught; and if there
were no teachers, not?

MENO: True.

SOCRATES: But surely we acknowledged that there were no teachers of

MENO: Yes.

SOCRATES: Then we acknowledged that it was not taught, and was not

MENO: Certainly.

SOCRATES: And yet we admitted that it was a good?

MENO: Yes.

SOCRATES: And the right guide is useful and good?

MENO: Certainly.

SOCRATES: And the only right guides are knowledge and true
opinion--these are the guides of man; for things which happen by chance
are not under the guidance of man: but the guides of man are true
opinion and knowledge.

MENO: I think so too.

SOCRATES: But if virtue is not taught, neither is virtue knowledge.

MENO: Clearly not.

SOCRATES: Then of two good and useful things, one, which is knowledge,
has been set aside, and cannot be supposed to be our guide in political

MENO: I think not.

SOCRATES: And therefore not by any wisdom, and not because they were
wise, did Themistocles and those others of whom Anytus spoke govern
states. This was the reason why they were unable to make others like
themselves--because their virtue was not grounded on knowledge.

MENO: That is probably true, Socrates.

SOCRATES: But if not by knowledge, the only alternative which remains
is that statesmen must have guided states by right opinion, which is in
politics what divination is in religion; for diviners and also prophets
say many things truly, but they know not what they say.

MENO: So I believe.

SOCRATES: And may we not, Meno, truly call those men 'divine' who,
having no understanding, yet succeed in many a grand deed and word?

MENO: Certainly.

SOCRATES: Then we shall also be right in calling divine those whom we
were just now speaking of as diviners and prophets, including the whole
tribe of poets. Yes, and statesmen above all may be said to be divine
and illumined, being inspired and possessed of God, in which condition
they say many grand things, not knowing what they say.

MENO: Yes.

SOCRATES: And the women too, Meno, call good men divine--do they not?
and the Spartans, when they praise a good man, say 'that he is a divine

MENO: And I think, Socrates, that they are right; although very likely
our friend Anytus may take offence at the word.

SOCRATES: I do not care; as for Anytus, there will be another
opportunity of talking with him. To sum up our enquiry--the result
seems to be, if we are at all right in our view, that virtue is neither
natural nor acquired, but an instinct given by God to the virtuous. Nor
is the instinct accompanied by reason, unless there may be supposed to
be among statesmen some one who is capable of educating statesmen. And
if there be such an one, he may be said to be among the living
what Homer says that Tiresias was among the dead, 'he alone has
understanding; but the rest are flitting shades'; and he and his virtue
in like manner will be a reality among shadows.

MENO: That is excellent, Socrates.

SOCRATES: Then, Meno, the conclusion is that virtue comes to the
virtuous by the gift of God. But we shall never know the certain truth
until, before asking how virtue is given, we enquire into the actual
nature of virtue. I fear that I must go away, but do you, now that you
are persuaded yourself, persuade our friend Anytus. And do not let him
be so exasperated; if you can conciliate him, you will have done good
service to the Athenian people.

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