MENO by Plato, Part 02
Soc. 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 premisses 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 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.
Men. Yes, I should; and I believe that I understand your meaning.
Soc. And you would speak of a surface and also of a solid, as for example in geometry.
Soc. 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.
Men. And now, Socrates, what is colour?
Soc. 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.
Men. When you have told me what I ask, I will tell you, Socrates.
Soc. 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.
Men. Why do you think so?
Soc. 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.
Men. Please do.
Soc. Would you like me to answer you after the manner of Gorgias, which is familiar to you?
Men. I should like nothing better.
Soc. Do not he and you and Empedocles say that there are certain effluences of existence?
Soc. And passages into which and through which the effluences pass?
Soc. And some of the effluences fit into the passages, and some of them are too small or too large?
Soc. And there is such a thing as sight?
Soc. And now, as Pindar says, "read my meaning" colour is an effluence of form, commensurate with sight, and palpable to sense.
Men. That, Socrates, appears to me to be an admirable answer.
Soc. 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.
Men. Quite true.
Soc. The answer, Meno, was in the orthodox solemn vein, and therefore was more acceptable to you than the other answer about figure.
Soc. 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.
Men. But I will stay, Socrates, if you will give me many such answers.
Soc. 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.
Men. 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 them.
Soc. And does he who desires the honourable also desire the good?
Soc. Then are there some who desire the evil and others who desire the good? Do not all men, my dear sir, desire good?
Men. I think not.
Soc. There are some who desire evil?
Soc. 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?
Men. Both, I think.
Soc. And do you really imagine, Meno, that a man knows evils to be evils and desires them notwithstanding?
Men. Certainly I do.
Soc. And desire is of possession?
Men. Yes, of possession.
Soc. 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?
Men. There are some who think that the evils will do them good, and others who know that they will do them harm.
Soc. And, in your opinion, do those who think that they will do them good know that they are evils?
Men. Certainly not.
Soc. 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 good they really desire goods?
Men. Yes, in that case.
Soc. 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?
Men. They must know it.
Soc. And must they not suppose that those who are hurt are miserable in proportion to the hurt which is inflicted upon them?
Men. How can it be otherwise?
Soc. But are not the miserable ill-fated?
Men. Yes, indeed.
Soc. And does any one desire to be miserable and ill-fated?
Men. I should say not, Socrates.
Soc. 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?
Men. That appears to be the truth, Socrates, and I admit that nobody desires evil.
Soc. And yet, were you not saying just now that virtue is the desire and power of attaining good?
Men. Yes, I did say so.
Soc. 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?
Soc. And if one man is not better than another in desiring good, he must be better in the power of attaining it?
Soc. Then, according to your definition, virtue would appear to be the power of attaining good?
Men. I entirely approve, Socrates, of the manner in which you now view this matter.
Soc. 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?
Soc. And the goods which 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?
Men. Yes, I should include all those.
Soc. 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?
Men. Not virtue, Socrates, but vice.
Soc. 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.
Men. Why, how can there be virtue without these?
Soc. 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?
Soc. 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.
Men. It cannot be otherwise, in my judgment.
Soc. And were we not saying just now that justice, temperance, and the like, were each of them a part of virtue?
Soc. And so, Meno, this is the way in which you mock me.
Men. Why do you say that, Socrates?
Soc. 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.
Soc. 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.
Men. What of that?
Soc. 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 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?
Men. No; I do not say that he can.
Soc. Do you remember how, in the example of figure, we rejected any answer given in terms which were as yet unexplained or unadmitted?
Men. Yes, Socrates; and we were quite right in doing so.
Soc. 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?
Men. I believe that you are.
Soc. Then begin again, and answer me, What, according to you and your friend Gorgias, is the definition of virtue?
Men. 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 do in Athens, you would be cast into prison as a magician.
Soc. You are a rogue, Meno, and had all but caught me.
Men. What do you mean, Socrates?
Soc. I can tell why you made a simile about me.
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