The Bucket List Book Adventure: Book 17 - Meno - Plato


Dear Henry,

Book 17 of the Bucket List is DONE! Let me tell you all about Meno by Plato. 

Meno by Plato.....rather fun to say out loud.

Plato was born into an aristocratic family in Athens, Greece, around 428/427 BC. He was a student of Socrates and the teacher of Aristotle. Plato's greatest claim to fame is his founding of The Academy, a center for learning in ancient Greece and the foundation of today's universities.

Plato was heavily influenced by Socrates, the philosopher and Athenian teacher who lived from 470 to 399 BC. Despite his influence on the foundations of Greek thought and philosophy, Socrates really seemed to rub many people the wrong way, and his teaching style was often parodied by comedic writers of the time. However, Aristophanes' "Clouds" is the only surviving work.  

Meno was a leading aristocratic family from Thessaly and an ally of the Athenian nobility, and in this writing, Plato crafted a dialogue between a soldier of the Meno family and Socrates centered around the question of Virtue. 

At the time, the Greek idea of virtue was to be a good person who managed their public affairs well enough to benefit themselves and the people that they loved while also hurting their enemies. Of course, this idea of virtue only applied to the free male citizens of Athens. Women, slaves, and children were believed to have different virtues based on their ages, stations, and duties.  

Socrates challenges this definition of virtue and then takes a long and wandering road to establish a new definition.

It begins with Socrates admitting that he didn't know what virtue was or whether it could be taught. He proposes to try to reason it out, which prompts a rather long period of questions and contradictions, including guiding an illiterate slave through a geometry problem.

Throughout the dialogue, Socrates established some basic 'tenants' of virtue: that it is universal, that it requires justice and moderation, that virtue is a form of wisdom, and that it can be taught and observed.  

At least, I thought he established basic tenants.  At the very end, Socrates seems to throw his hands up and decides, more or less, that virtue is a gift from the gods and can't really be known or taught.

After two or three re-reads, I understand why so many people don't particularly like Socrates.  

Throughout the question-and-answer period, I felt some reasonable idea of virtue was established (Universality, justice, moderation, etc.), and I agree that virtue is a form of wisdom. But then, Socrates decided it was a gift from the gods, hard stop, and I disagree. Although you may need God's grace to obtain virtue, unless you have seen an example or have otherwise been exposed to "virtue," I don't think you will adopt it. I think it has to be learned.

I've found I'm not a fan of the Socratic method.  I find the technique argumentative and wonder if I would have thrown a chair at the great philosopher sometime during his many cross-examinations and retractions.  

Unfortunately, I still have several more dialogues to get through.

Wish me luck as I try to get through Gorgias.

xoxo a.d. elliott

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