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  • 380BC

    MENO

    byPlatotranslatedbyBenjaminJowett

    PERSONSOFTHEDIALOGUE:

    MENO;SOCRATES;ASLAVEOFMENO;ANYTUS.

    [Meno]Canyoutellme,Socrates,whethervirtueisacquiredbyteachingorbypractice; or if neither by teaching nor practice, then whether it comes to man bynature,orinwhatotherway?

    [Socrates]OMeno,therewasatimewhentheThessalianswerefamousamongtheotherHellenesonlyfortheirrichesandtheirriding;butnow,ifIamnotmistaken,theyareequallyfamousfortheirwisdom,especiallyatLarisa,whichisthenativecityof your friend Aristippus. And this is Gorgias' doing; for when he came there, thefloweroftheAleuadae,amongthemyouradmirerAristippus,andtheotherchiefsofthe Thessalians, fell in love with his wisdom. And he has taught you the habit ofansweringquestionsinagrandandboldstyle,whichbecomesthosewhoknow,andisthestyleinwhichhehimselfanswersallcomers;andanyHellenewholikesmayaskhimanything.Howdifferentisourlot!mydearMeno.HereatAthensthereisadearthofthecommodity,andallwisdomseemstohaveemigratedfromustoyou.Iam certain that if you were to ask any Athenian whether virtue was natural oracquired,hewouldlaughinyourface,andsay:"Stranger,youhavefartoogoodanopinion of me, if you think that I can answer your question. For I literally do notknowwhatvirtueis,andmuchlesswhetheritisacquiredbyteachingornot."AndImyself,Meno, livingasIdo in thisregionofpoverty,amaspooras therestof theworld;andIconfesswithshamethatIknowliterallynothingaboutvirtue;andwhenIdo not know the "quid" of anything how can I know the "quale"? How, if I knewnothing at all of Meno, could I tell if he was fair, or the opposite of fair; rich andnoble,orthereverseofrichandnoble?DoyouthinkthatIcould?

    [Men.]No, Indeed.Butareyou inearnest,Socrates, in saying thatyoudonotknowwhatvirtueis?AndamItocarrybackthisreportofyoutoThessaly?

    [Soc.] Not only that, my dear boy, but you may say further that I have neverknownofanyoneelsewhodid,inmyjudgment.

    [Men.]ThenyouhavenevermetGorgiaswhenhewasatAthens?

    [Soc.]Yes,Ihave.

    [Men.]Anddidyounotthinkthatheknew?

    [Soc.]Ihavenotagoodmemory,Meno,andthereforeIcannotnowtellwhatIthoughtofhimatthetime.AndIdaresaythathedidknow,andthatyouknowwhat

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  • hesaid:please,therefore,toremindmeofwhathesaid;or,ifyouwouldrather,tellmeyourownview;forIsuspectthatyouandhethinkmuchalike.

    [Men.]Verytrue.

    [Soc.]Thenasheisnothere,nevermindhim,anddoyoutellme:Bythegods,Meno, be generous, and tell me what you say that virtue is; for I shall be trulydelightedtofindthatIhavebeenmistaken,andthatyouandGorgiasdoreallyhavethis knowledge; although I have been just saying that I have never found anybodywhohad.

    [Men.]Therewillbenodifficulty,Socrates,inansweringyourquestion.Letustakefirstthevirtueofaman-heshouldknowhowtoadministerthestate,andintheadministrationofittobenefithisfriendsandharmhisenemies;andhemustalsobecarefulnottosufferharmhimself.Awoman'svirtue,ifyouwishtoknowaboutthat,mayalsobeeasilydescribed:herdutyistoorderherhouse,andkeepwhatisindoors,and obey her husband. Every age, every condition of life, young or old, male orfemale,bondorfree,hasadifferentvirtue:therearevirtuesnumberless,andnolackofdefinitionsofthem;forvirtueisrelativetotheactionsandagesofeachofusinallthatwedo.Andthesamemaybesaidofvice,Socrates.

    [Soc.]HowfortunateIam,Meno!WhenIaskyouforonevirtue,youpresentmewithaswarmofthem,whichareinyourkeeping.SupposethatIcarryonthefigureoftheswarm,andaskofyou,Whatisthenatureofthebee?andyouanswerthatthereare many kinds of bees, and I reply: But do bees differ as bees, because there aremanyanddifferentkindsofthem;oraretheynotrathertobedistinguishedbysomeotherquality,asforexamplebeauty,size,orshape?Howwouldyouanswerme?

    [Men.]Ishouldanswerthatbeesdonotdifferfromoneanother,asbees.

    [Soc.]AndifIwentontosay:ThatiswhatIdesiretoknow,Meno;tellmewhatis the quality in which they do not differ, but are all alike;-would you be able toanswer?

    [Men.]Ishould.

    [Soc.]Andsoofthevirtues,howevermanyanddifferenttheymaybe,theyhaveallacommonnaturewhichmakesthemvirtues;andonthishewhowouldanswerthequestion,"Whatisvirtue?"woulddowelltohavehiseyefixed:Doyouunderstand?

    [Men.] I am beginning to understand; but I do not as yet take hold of thequestionasIcouldwish.

    [Soc.] When you say, Meno, that there is one virtue of a man, another of awoman,anotherofachild,andsoon,doesthisapplyonlytovirtue,orwouldyousaythesameofhealth,andsize,andstrength?Oristhenatureofhealthalwaysthesame,whetherinmanorwoman?

    [Men.]Ishouldsaythathealthisthesame,bothinmanandwoman.

    [Soc.]Andisnotthistrueofsizeandstrength?Ifawomanisstrong,shewillbestrongbyreasonofthesameformandof thesamestrengthsubsistinginherwhichthere is in the man. I mean to say that strength, as strength, whether of man orwoman,isthesame.Isthereanydifference?

    [Men.]Ithinknot.

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  • [Soc.] And will not virtue, as virtue, be the same, whether in a child or in agrown-upperson,inawomanorinaman?

    [Men.]Icannothelpfeeling,Socrates,thatthiscaseisdifferentfromtheothers.

    [Soc.]But why? Were you not saying that the virtue of a man was to order astate,andthevirtueofawomanwastoorderahouse?

    [Men.]Ididsayso.

    [Soc.] And can either house or state or anything be well ordered withouttemperanceandwithoutjustice?

    [Men.]Certainlynot.

    [Soc.]Thentheywhoorderastateorahousetemperatelyorjustlyorder themwithtemperanceandjustice?

    [Men.]Certainly.

    [Soc.]Thenbothmenandwomen,iftheyaretobegoodmenandwomen,musthavethesamevirtuesoftemperanceandjustice?

    [Men.]True.

    [Soc.] And can either a young man or an elder one be good, if they areintemperateandunjust?

    [Men.]Theycannot.

    [Soc.]Theymustbetemperateandjust?

    [Men.]Yes.

    [Soc.]Thenallmenaregoodinthesameway,andbyparticipationinthesamevirtues?

    [Men.]Suchistheinference.

    [Soc.]Andtheysurelywouldnothavebeengoodinthesameway,unlesstheirvirtuehadbeenthesame?

    [Men.]Theywouldnot.

    [Soc.] Then now that the sameness of all virtue has been proven, try andrememberwhatyouandGorgiassaythatvirtueis.

    [Men.]Willyouhaveonedefinitionofthemall?

    [Soc.]ThatiswhatIamseeking.

    [Men.]Ifyouwant tohaveonedefinitionofthemall, Iknownotwhat tosay,butthatvirtueisthepowerofgoverningmankind.

    [Soc.]Anddoesthisdefinitionofvirtueincludeallvirtue?Isvirtuethesameinachildandinaslave,Meno?Canthechildgovernhisfather,ortheslavehismaster;andwouldhewhogovernedbeanylongeraslave?

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  • [Men.]Ithinknot,Socrates.

    [Soc.] No, indeed; there would be small reason in that. Yet once more, fairfriend; according to you, virtue is "the power of governing"; but do you not add"justlyandnotunjustly"?

    [Men.]Yes,Socrates;Iagreethere;forjusticeisvirtue.

    [Soc.]Wouldyousay"virtue,"Meno,or"avirtue"?

    [Men.]Whatdoyoumean?

    [Soc.] I mean as I might say about anything; that a round, for example, is "afigure" andnot simply "figure,"and I shouldadopt thismodeof speaking, becausethereareotherfigures.

    [Men.]Quiteright;andthatisjustwhatIamsayingaboutvirtue-thatthereareothervirtuesaswellasjustice.

    [Soc.]Whatarethey?tellmethenamesofthem,asIwouldtellyouthenamesoftheotherfiguresifyouaskedme.

    [Men.]Courageandtemperanceandwisdomandmagnanimityarevirtues;andtherearemanyothers.

    [Soc.] Yes, Meno; and again we are in the same case: in searching after onevirtuewehavefoundmany,thoughnotinthesamewayasbefore;butwehavebeenunabletofindthecommonvirtuewhichrunsthroughthemall.

    [Men.]Why,Socrates,evennowIamnotableto followyouin theattempttogetatonecommonnotionofvirtueasofotherthings.

    [Soc.] No wonder; but I will try to get nearer if I can, for you know that allthings have a common notion. Supposenow that someone asked you the questionwhich I asked before: Meno, he would say, what is figure? And if you answered"roundness,"hewouldreplytoyou, inmywayofspeaking,byaskingwhetheryouwouldsaythatroundnessis"figure"or"afigure";andyouwouldanswer"afigure."

    [Men.]Certainly.

    [Soc.]Andforthisreason-thatthereareotherfigures?

    [Men.]Yes.

    [Soc.]Andifheproceededtoask,Whatotherfiguresarethere?youwouldhavetoldhim.

    [Men.]Ishould.

    [Soc.]Andifhesimilarlyaskedwhatcolouris,andyouansweredwhiteness,andthe questioner rejoined, Would you say that whiteness is colour or a colour? youwouldreply,Acolour,becausethereareothercoloursaswell.

    [Men.]Ishould.

    [Soc.]Andifhehadsaid,Tellmewhat theyare?-youwouldhave toldhimofothercolourswhicharecoloursjustasmuchaswhiteness.

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  • [Men.]Yes.

    [Soc.]Andsupposethatheweretopursuethematterinmyway,hewouldsay:Everandanonwearelandedinparticulars,butthisisnotwhatIwant;tellmethen,sinceyoucallthembyacommonname,andsaythattheyareallfigures,evenwhenopposedtooneanother,whatisthatcommonnaturewhichyoudesignateasfigure-whichcontainsstraightaswellasround,andisnomoreonethantheother-thatwouldbeyourmodeofspeaking?

    [Men.]Yes.

    [Soc.]Andinspeakingthus,youdonotmeantosaythattheroundisroundanymorethanstraight,orthestraightanymorestraightthanround?

    [Men.]Certainlynot.

    [Soc.]Youonlyassertthattheroundfigureisnotmoreafigurethanthestraight,orthestraightthantheround?

    [Men.]Verytrue.

    [Soc.]Towhat thendowegive thenameof figure?Tryandanswer.Supposethatwhenapersonaskedyouthisquestioneitheraboutfigureorcolour,youweretoreply, Man, I do not understand what you want, or know what you are saying; hewouldlookratherastonishedandsay:Doyounotunderstand