Classics and the Western Canon discussion

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message 1: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments We start our exploration of three Platonic dialogues with Meno. Thomas and I have allowed three weeks for this dialogue, so we have plenty of time to explore the dialogue in depth.

We will start with one thread for the dialogue, but if as the discussion develops we find that folders for discussing some topics in more detail would be helpful, we will open them.

My freshman seminar tutor, who was one of the preeminent Platonic scholars in the world, made clear that Plato was an extraordinarily precise writer; that every word in a dialogue was meaningful, that there was no padding. So if a part of the dialogue doesn't make sense to you, don't just pass it over as unimportant, but ask others here why they think it is in the dialogue.

There is a passage at 89c which I think may be relevant to our discussion:

S: ... I wonder if we were right to bind ourselves to that.
M: Well, it seemed all right just now.
S: Yes, but to be sound it has got to seem all right not only "just now" but that this moment and in the future.


As we discuss, let's not assume that a first response that seems right just now is necessarily sufficient, but let's look for the answers that are right for this moment and in the future.

As we start, let me emphasize one thing, please. Plato may seem intimidating at first, and those who have read him in the past may also seem intimidating. Please do NOT be intimidated either by Plato himself or by any poster here. Just as the dialogues are themselves discussions, so they are best understood through discussion. There are no right or wrong answers in Plato; there are just important, even potentially life-changing questions to be chewed over, ideas to be shared, all of which will be richer the more people here engage with the dialogue and with each other.

So don't hesitate. Put forward your questions, suggestions, answers, re-questions, comments, confusions, disagreements (following, of course, or core principle to disagree without being disagreeable). Whatever -- just participate. We all, and you yourself, will be better for it.

Let the discussion begin!


message 2: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments One thing Plato teaches us is that you can only get the right answer if you ask the right question. So maybe it would be helpful up front to ask ourselves (or better, perhaps, to ask the dialogue) what exactly are the questions that Plato wants to address in the dialogue.

I suggest that that is a little more complicated, and extensive, than the obvious opening speech of the dialogue, though that's a good place to start.


message 3: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4434 comments The question that Meno asks might be a good place to start, or perhaps we can ask a question about the question itself, because it strikes me as a very odd question to ask.

The question is: Can virtue be taught? Why does Meno ask if it can be taught rather than, say, what virtue is? Is it so obvious what virtue is? But if that is the case, shouldn't it be also obvious whether it can be taught or not?

What does this say about Meno? Is he actually interested in virtue, or is he after something else?


message 4: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4434 comments Yes, it's that pesky word again, arete. In Latin it is translated "virtus", which is how we end up with "virtue." But "excellence" is fine as well.

But what does arete really mean? That is of course one of the questions that Socrates asks Meno, because Socrates says that he doesn't know what it means himself. Thankfully Meno knows, and is able to provide multiple definitions.


message 5: by Laurel (new)

Laurel Hicks (goodreadscomlaurele) | 2438 comments Benjamin Jowett's translation of Meno, along with his introduction, are available here:

http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/1643

LibriVox has an excellent reading of the Jowett's book here:

https://archive.org/details/meno_cc_l...


message 6: by Roger (new)

Roger Burk | 1723 comments Socrates arrives at the conclusion that virtue is knowledge. I suppose he means knowledge of what is good, i.e. virtuous. But is knowing what is right really the same thing as doing what is right?


message 7: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments We're starting with the right question -- what does Plato mean by arete?

In a way, Plato was unfair to Meno. Because arete, which is closer to excellence than to virtue, is broadly applied to many different areas of life. There is the excellence of horseback riding, the excellence of wrestling, the excellence of parenting, the excellence of statesmanship, and on and on.

In one sense, it could be defined as "fulfilling your potential," except one can fulfill one's potential for committing murder, and I don't think that would qualify as arete in Plato's mind. As I understand the term (which is only sort-of!) it has a moral aspect to it -- excellence in horsemanship isn'g just a matter of winning races, but winning them ethically and with regard for the health and well-being of the horse. But it's more than just being morally virtuous; I don't think Plato would consider any of the Christian hermits as having arete, no matter how good they were as hermits, because involvement in civic life and contributions to the civic good are, if I'm correct, an integral aspect of arete.

But as Thomas says, it's a pesky term!

Are you satisfied that Plato ever properly defines it?


message 8: by Catherine (new)

Catherine That was precisely the topic of my Senior Essay, Everyman. What is virtue? I think that Meno's second definition of virtue, that it is "both to rejoice and be capable in beautiful things" comes the closest, provided we add in the caveat that one must also know what things are truly beautiful.

As for the difference between Arete and Virtue... Plato has Socrates speak elsewhere about how the virtue/excellence of each thing depends on the type of thing that it is, and on its own particular telos. Thus, the 'virtue' of a knife is to cut well because knives are for cutting. For inanimate things, like the knife mentioned above, I agree that 'arete' might be best rendered as 'excellence' -- after all, it does seem a little silly/meaningless to talk of the virtue of a knife.

However, when we seek to apply 'arete' to man, we must ask ourselves what man's telos is. What is man's purpose or end? What qualities contribute to the eidos of man? Thus, rather than looking at a murderer as one who has fulfilled his potential to commit murder, I would claim that, in committing murder, he has slipped further from the eidos of manhood. He has approached beastliness. The same holds true of the man without civic duty. There is a line, I think from Antigone, that sums up the sentiment very well, about how outside the city one is either a beast or a god. In any case, one is not a Man. All of this is to say that I think that, when applied to men, Arete truly is best translated by 'virtue'. After all, one who is virtuous is one who approaches the Ideal of Man.


message 9: by Theresa (new)

Theresa | 856 comments Catherine wrote: "...All of this is to say that I think that, when applied to men, Arete truly is best translated by 'virtue'. After all, one who is virtuous is one who approaches the Ideal of Man"

and woman too?


message 10: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Catherine wrote: " I think that Meno's second definition of virtue, that it is "both to rejoice and be capable in beautiful things" comes the closest, provided we add in the caveat that one must also know what things are truly beautiful."

The problem I see with that definition is that beauty is highly subjective. If I think spiders are gorgeous (I don't, but some people do) and you think they're horrible, will you still think that I have arete if I rejoice in and am capable of being a highly expert student of entomology? Can I grant virtue to an art expert who has written expertly on Duchamp's urinal if I believe it is not beautiful but stupid and ugly?


message 11: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Theresa wrote: "and woman too?"

I was going to say of course, but then I stopped myself, because wouldn't Plato have said that the virtue of a man and the virtue of a woman are very different things? And that what is virtue in a male (prowess in battle) is not virtue in a female (unless she's a goddess)?

In contemporary society, some people can recognize virtue in some Episcopal bishops whether that bishop is male or female. But other people definitely do not.

So it is indeed a legitimate question. Can we find a definition for arete which encompasses both the male and the female in both Platonic and contemporary society?


message 12: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Theresa wrote: "and woman too?"

I was going to say of course, but then I stopped myself, because wouldn't Plato have said that the virtue of a man and the virtue of a woman are very different things? And that what is virtue in a male (prowess in battle) is not virtue in a female (unless she's a goddess)?

In contemporary society, some people can recognize virtue in some Episcopal bishops whether that bishop is male or female. But other people definitely do not.

So it is indeed a legitimate question. Can we find a definition for arete which encompasses both the male and the female in both Platonic and contemporary society?


message 13: by Roger (new)

Roger Burk | 1723 comments Everyman wrote: "Theresa wrote: "and woman too?"

I was going to say of course, but then I stopped myself, because wouldn't Plato have said that the virtue of a man and the virtue of a woman are very different thin..."


At 73, Socrates gets Meno to agree that virtue is the same in a man and in a woman.


message 14: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4434 comments At 73d Meno asserts that justice is virtue. (Interestingly, Meno's first definition is that virtue is "to do well by one's friends and harm to one's enemies," which is Polemarchus's definition of justice in the Republic.)

But after further consideration, Meno agrees that justice is just one virtue. Courage, moderation, wisdom, magnificence -- all these are virtues, even though they are not virtue itself. The virtue of a man and the virtue of a woman may not be identical in their particulars, but they are both called virtue because they share something in common.

The project here seems to be to discover what all virtuous things have in common. This is something we think we know. We make judgments about the excellence or shabbiness of everything all the time, from sandwiches to foreign policy. Do we really know what we're talking about?


message 15: by Cass (last edited May 02, 2014 05:20AM) (new)

Cass | 533 comments Was anyone else bothered by Socrates pushing Meno into interchanging the word 'good' with 'goods'.

SOCRATES: And yet, were you not saying just now that virtue is the desire and power of attaining good?
...
SOCRATES: Then, according to your definition, virtue would appear to be the power of attaining good?
...
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?

The varied defintion of the words 'good', 'goods', and 'virtue' can change this dialogue.

e.g. If we take virtue to mean 'excellence' and 'good' to include worldly goods (such as wealth) then the sentence takes on a different meaning...

SOCRATES: And yet, were you not saying just now that excellence is the desire and power of attaining goods such as health and wealth and the possession of gold and silver, and having office and honour in the state?

I would agree with this (even if attained unjustly and through vice... it is still excellent). but this is a different sentence to what is written. I would never use the word good, in this context, to mean anything tangible

After all, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named did great things — terrible, yes, but great... (from Harry Potter)


message 16: by Cass (new)

Cass | 533 comments I don't like Socrates. He is twists and chops things, distorting them into who-knows-what... it seems that both Meno and Socrates are completely perplexed.

The whole conversation reminds me of watching my mother and father fight. My mother was very intelligent and quick, my father was not. Many times I would watch him lose an argument in which he was in the right... simply because she could chop logic and twist words and have him not knowing if he was going up or down. At some point in the argument she would be making statements that were untrue, but because she had twisted his words to fit the statement he would have no choice but to admit that the statement was true. It was mind-boggling to watch.

Or it reminds me of having these sort of philosophical conversations with a friend (even worse.. with a group of friends and a bottle of wine!!)... They go around in circles, drawing logical conclusions with words, the whole time ignoring the limitations of the language, trying to squeeze words into boxes to draw conclusions that make no sense if you step back.

(I am enjoying this, but I also find it really ridiculous.).

I think the most truthful thing that Socrates has said was "I perplex others, not because I am clear, but because I am utterly perplexed myself."


message 17: by Cass (new)

Cass | 533 comments Patrice wrote: "The word translated as "virtue", am I right that it's "arete"? Closer to "excellence"?"

Would "moral excellence" be closer?

I researched the use of "arete" in the bible, in order to see the word in context. It occurs 5 times in the bible. This link leads to the 5 occurrences and shows the many English translations of the scripture. http://biblehub.com/greek/703.htm

I am sharing these in the ESV transation (for no particular reason), but I find it really interesting that the translators chose to use the word 'excellence' as a translation in all cases except the last... where it might sound a little too much like what Socrates is talking about.

Phil 4:8
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

1 Peter 2:9
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

2 Peter 1:3
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence,

2 Peter 1:5
For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge,


message 18: by Roger (new)

Roger Burk | 1723 comments Cass wrote: "Was anyone else bothered by Socrates pushing Meno into interchanging the word 'good' with 'goods'.

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


I think the translation is suspect here. The Greek has the same word, "ta agatha," literally "the good things," in all three places.


message 19: by Roger (new)

Roger Burk | 1723 comments Cass wrote: "I don't like Socrates. He is twists and chops things, distorting them into who-knows-what... it seems that both Meno and Socrates are completely perplexed.

The whole conversation reminds me of wat..."


I've had the same feeling about Socrates from time to time. It seems like he's more interested in making his interlocutor look foolish rather than discovering truth, and he hides behind a pretense of not knowing anything when he really has very decided opinions. But is he right about virtue here, or is Meno?


message 20: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Cass wrote: "I don't like Socrates. He is twists and chops things, distorting them into who-knows-what... it seems that both Meno and Socrates are completely perplexed."

I suggest you look more deeply. You are, I believe, meant to argue against Socrates in many instances, which, if you argue seriously, will mean, or at least sometimes means for me, unexpected insights.


message 21: by Cass (new)

Cass | 533 comments Everyman wrote: "I suggest you look more deeply. You are, I believe, meant to argue against Socrates in many instances, which, if you argue seriously, will mean, or at least sometimes means for me, unexpected insights. ."

Don't misinterpret me. I understand the book is a process, and I am enjoying it. I am very interested to see what I think of him in a few days when the book is finished (or later when I understand more of him). I am very much enjoying his argumentative nature, I can relate to it, and yet I don't like it.


message 22: by Elizabeth (new)

Elizabeth (ElizabethHammond) | 233 comments Everyman wrote @ msg 2: "One thing Plato teaches us is that you can only get the right answer if you ask the right question. So maybe it would be helpful up front to ask ourselves (or better, perhaps, to ask the dialogue)..."

To paraphrase, Meno asks Socrates if virtue can be taught or if it is something we acquire by our nature as humans (men). He asks the question because he thinks that he knows what virtue is - being taught it's qualities by Georgia, a sophist. The dialogue goes on to reveal that Meno is confused about the definition of virtue, and in fact he offers conflicting definitions.

So why does he ask Socrates if virtue can be taught? My answer does not offer my own thoughts, but the information (opinion) which I recently received from a Coursera course "Reason & Persuasion", that Socrates believes that Meno asks this question because he wants to be a sophist; he wants to 'sell/teach' virtue to others for money. I'm under the impression that Socrates and Plato hold distain for sophists.


message 23: by Elizabeth (new)

Elizabeth (ElizabethHammond) | 233 comments Thomas wrote: "Yes, it's that pesky word again, arete. In Latin it is translated "virtus", which is how we end up with "virtue." But "excellence" is fine as well.

But what does arete really mean? That is of course one of the questions that Socrates asks Meno, because Socrates says that he doesn't know what it means himself. Thankfully Meno knows, and is able to provide multiple definitions.
..."


Lol. Meno sure does have multiple definitions, but he doesn't even realize it until Socrates asks him very pointed questions under the guise of trying to understand virtue, when I believe he has given the subject a great deal of thought. Socrates is sly like a fox.


message 24: by Elizabeth (new)

Elizabeth (ElizabethHammond) | 233 comments Roger wrote: "Socrates arrives at the conclusion that virtue is knowledge. I suppose he means knowledge of what is good, i.e. virtuous. But is knowing what is right really the same thing as doing what is right?"

At my last reading of Meno, I came to the conclusion that virtue was a component of justice, so I'm wondering how Roger arrived at "virtue is knowledge"? I felt that Socrates led Meno down a number of paths to refute Meno's definition, and found the text challenging to follow. Now, I'm not sure if I arrived at my own conclusion as to Socrates' definition of virtue or whether I was led to my conclusion by the professor -- a good reason to re-read the text again.

Socrates ties temperance and justice to virtue and to goodness, and he demonstrates that the quality of virtue has a common denominator that applies to men and women, young and old in the following text.

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.

Plato (2012-03-19). The Complete Works of Plato [Annotated] (Kindle Locations 19255-19262). Latus ePublishing. Kindle Edition.

I remember the first time I read Meno I was horrified at Socrates' method of pointing out to Meno that possibly he and Gorgias do not "know" what virtue is, but rather "say" what they think it is, without having carefully considered its definition. Now I read his conversation and am able to laugh. At this point we don't even know whether these characteristics that are incorporated into virtue are his actual definition of virtue.


message 25: by Whitney (new)

Whitney (whitneychakara) | 74 comments virtue and justice are both in the eye of the beholder in a way.


message 26: by Cass (new)

Cass | 533 comments Patrice wrote: "But isn't it tricky to work from the Bible backwards?"

I am not quite sure what you mean. I didn't look up the word "virtue" in the bible index (if that is what you mean). I searched for the word "arete" in the greek text and from that I was able to review the English transalations of those 5 particular passages.

But yes I do agree that it may be a different mindset. I turned to the bible only because I knew it was a heavily translated and easily accessible way to gain a bit of an idea into the use of the original word (contextually), and also to be able to see how 20 different scholars translated the word.


message 27: by Cass (new)

Cass | 533 comments Patrice wrote: "But what the heck is "justice"... defining virtue with a word like "justice" leaves us in the same place we started! "

I agree !!


message 28: by Whitney (new)

Whitney (whitneychakara) | 74 comments I'm not sure if this is the best thing for someone starting out with Plato but its short and I've already started so here goes nothing.


message 29: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4434 comments Elizabeth wrote: "At my last reading of Meno, I came to the conclusion that virtue was a component of justice, so I'm wondering how Roger arrived at "virtue is knowledge"? I felt that Socrates led Meno down a number of paths to refute Meno's definition, and found the text challenging to follow. "

I agree -- the text is challenging to follow, but at the same time we need to challenge it. The argument flows like a river, so it's difficult to say what, if anything, Socrates really believes at any given point. He argues later on in the dialogue that virtue is knowledge, but then he turns around and says, wait a minute. If virtue is knowledge, why are there no teachers of it?

But we might be getting ahead of ourselves here. First we should probably look at the discussion of how we acquire knowledge in the first place.


message 30: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4434 comments Cass wrote: "Patrice wrote: "But isn't it tricky to work from the Bible backwards?"

I am not quite sure what you mean. I didn't look up the word "virtue" in the bible index (if that is what you mean). I search..."


Even Socrates doesn't know what "arete" is, or at least he won't come out and say it. So how are we supposed to know?


message 31: by Roger (new)

Roger Burk | 1723 comments Elizabeth wrote: "Roger wrote: "Socrates arrives at the conclusion that virtue is knowledge. I suppose he means knowledge of what is good, i.e. virtuous. But is knowing what is right really the same thing as doing..."

Looking at it again, I see that at 87 Socrates advances the idea that virtue is knowledge, but only as an hypothesis. In the following dicussion (including the one with Anytus), he comes to the conclusion that virtue is not taught, and since knowledge is taught, virtue cannot be knowledge (96).

The following section brings up right opinion an an alternate guide to virtuous action, besides knowledge. At the end of the dialogue, in his second-last speech, Socrates concludes that virtue is "an instinct given by God to the virtuous," a kind of divine right opinion and not true knowledge, and that that is why virtuous statesmen are not able to educate their sons into virtue. But then in his last speech Socrates says, "But we shall never know the certain truth until, before asking how virtue is given, we enquire into the actual nature of virtue." It seems to me he's been doing exactly that.


message 32: by Cass (last edited May 03, 2014 11:32PM) (new)

Cass | 533 comments Thomas wrote: "Cass wrote: "Patrice wrote: "But isn't it tricky to work from the Bible backwards?"

I am not quite sure what you mean. I didn't look up the word "virtue" in the bible index (if that is what you me..."


I feel like I may have offended or done something wrong... but I am not sure what. This is a great conversation.

So to answer your question of "how are we supposed to know". Well, I think we know by reading the text, following along with the arguments, and trying to see if we agree or disagree with the statements being made.

There was a discussion at the beginning about the word "arete" because, obviously, everything we are reading was originally written in Greek. So not only do we have the challenge of reading this text, but we have to also make decisions about whether the translator has translated the words correctly.

So although we keep saying "virtue", because that is the word the translators chose, there is room for discussion about whether the word "virtue" in its modern English form is a good translation for "arete" as Plato intended it.

It occurred to me that the New Testament was also written in Greek.. and it was written (somewhat) closer in time so I thought it would be of interest. It gives us a chance to see the greek word "arete" used in-context. Whether or not we agree on the definition/translation we can at least see what other words were used in the same sentence, and what the intended meaning of the sentence was. The bible is unique in that is has been translated so many times that reviewing a page on the site I showed gives us a tiny incite into the mind of a greek scholar trying to interpret the bible... so we get a brief glimpse into the minds of 10-15 greek scholars translating the same scripture differently (or what I think is of interest to us... translating the same word "arete" differently).

I find this helps because as I am reading the text I can place the word contextually, as well as remind myself that "excellence" and "moral excellence" have been considered alternative translations.

From what I am understanding of this work... every word has meaning. Socrates does not seem to think it good enough to allow a person to "get it" unless it can be defined logically using concrete evidence. So if the translator has not done a perfect job, it must surely change what the text that we are reading actually means.


message 33: by Cass (new)

Cass | 533 comments *phew* I feel relieved. :)

And I agree the bible has a different spin, not to mention it was written hundreds of years after Plato... Ample time for the meaning of words to change. (Which I only noticed afterwards as I looked up when Plato was written).


message 34: by Whitney (new)

Whitney (whitneychakara) | 74 comments interesting about the bible being written in greek id only heard of latin and then the latin being translated into the common vernacular but this is way later as others have mentioned enough time for meanings to change.
I find Meno and Sacrates discussiin interesting though im no stressing out about the question posed. it seems to be on of those philosophical questiins with either no answer or many answers depending in the person answering and asking and their own life experinces. simikar to the questions what is good?what does ut mean to be good? what is bad? what does it mean to be bad? what is art? and many other similiar questions.


message 35: by Thomas (last edited May 04, 2014 09:16AM) (new)

Thomas | 4434 comments Cass wrote: "I feel like I may have offended or done something wrong... but I am not sure what. This is a great conversation."

Searching for what "arete" means goes to the heart of the dialogue, so there can hardly be anything wrong with that!

The first line, and sometimes the first word, of a Platonic dialogue is often indicative of the theme Plato will present. In the Meno, the first words spoken are "Echeis moi epein," which means "Can you tell me..." This is essentially what we are asking about the meaning of "arete", isn't it?

Socrates's response to Meno is that he doesn't know what arete is, so he can't possibly tell Meno if it can be taught. Meno is shocked at Socrates's ignorance, and asks him if he has not met Gorgias, the sophist, and learned what arete is from him. Socrates responds with a pun on Meno's name when he says that he does not have a very good memory. (the Greek for "memory" is mnemon.)

I expect that if Meno asked Socrates what "arete" means today that he would respond in the same way, though perhaps today Meno would say, "Have you not Googled it?"


message 36: by Laurel (new)

Laurel Hicks (goodreadscomlaurele) | 2438 comments Cass wrote: "Thomas wrote: "Cass wrote: "Patrice wrote: "But isn't it tricky to work from the Bible backwards?"

I am not quite sure what you mean. I didn't look up the word "virtue" in the bible index (if that..."


I think your post was excellent, Cass. I personally think that Philippians 4:8, which your research found, says more about philosophy than Plato, Meno, and Socrates combined. Here it is in the King James Version:

"Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things."


message 37: by Cass (last edited May 04, 2014 04:58PM) (new)

Cass | 533 comments Chakara wrote: "interesting about the bible being written in greek id only heard of latin and then the latin being translated into the common vernacular but this is way later as others have mentioned enough time f..."

Only the New Testamant (was written in Greek). The Old Testament was written in Hebrew (and a tiny bit of Aramaic).


message 38: by Whitney (new)

Whitney (whitneychakara) | 74 comments Cass wrote: "Chakara wrote: "interesting about the bible being written in greek id only heard of latin and then the latin being translated into the common vernacular but this is way later as others have mention..."

Interesting I've always wanted to study the bible from a literary and historical view point but haven't had the time to start that project.


message 39: by Nemo (new)

Nemo (nemoslibrary) | 2456 comments I wonder how serious Socrates is about his argument that virtue is not knowledge because it cannot be taught. The virtuous men of Athens, e.g., Themistocles and Aristides, Pericles and Thucydides, have all failed to raise virtuous sons, though their sons were well instructed in many other things.

Firstly, how can we know that those famous statesmen of Athens are good/virtuous, if we don't know what is good/virtue? Pericles and Thucydides were political rivals, and so were Themistocles and Aristides, how can they both be good statesmen when they promote contrary policies for the state?

Secondly, as Plato argues in Republic, knowledge cannot be learned by all men, but only the elite. Not all great scientists raise their children as scientists. Why should we expect eminent statesmen to raise their sons to be statesmen?


message 40: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Patrice wrote: " It's akin to saying that the essence of an individual is his hand or his foot. In fact, every cell in an individual's body has the same DNA. The foot, the hand, a strand of hair. I think that's what Socrates is looking for when he's looking for the essence of virtue. "

And yet, when we have isolated DNA, what does that tell us about the individual? Really, nothing of importance. It can tell us whether this drop of DNA came from that individual or not. But what can it tell us of meaning about the individual?


message 41: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Chakara wrote: "virtue and justice are both in the eye of the beholder in a way."

And yet that leaves us nowhere.


message 42: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Thomas wrote: "But we might be getting ahead of ourselves here. First we should probably look at the discussion of how we acquire knowledge in the first place.
"


Which is a major component of Platonic thought.

It's interesting, perhaps, that the etymology of the term educate comes from the Latin educere, to lead out. So to one extent what education is is to draw learning out of the person, not, as many modern teachers tend to think, to stuff learning into them.

I've been fascinated by some recent research into infants and their conception of fairness and justice. If the research is to be believed, infants, long before they start to acquire any language or learning, already have an innate sense of justice and fairness. Where does this come from? Plato would tell us that, well of course, they are recollecting it from their previous life. And if not that, then from where does it come? Is it possible that Plato is actually right???


message 43: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Chakara wrote: "interesting about the bible being written in greek his is way later as others have mentioned enough time f..."

Well, the New Testament, at least. And New Testament Greek is quite a bit different from classical Greek (makes sense since it's separated by over 500 years, which is about the distance in time between Shakespeare and us). The nuances, and even meanings, of some Greek words will have changed significantly over those years, just as the nuances and meanings of some words in Shakespeare is quite different from the meaning of those words today.


message 44: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Nemo wrote: "Firstly, how can we know that those famous statesmen of Athens are good/virtuous, if we don't know what is good/virtue? "

Well, we may have trouble defining in a single phrase what goodness and virtue are. But that doesn't mean we don't know what they are.

Socrates doesn't disagree with that Meno is giving examples of virtuous behavior (at least in some of his definitions). He only disagrees that those don't adequately define the full extent of virtue.

I suspect that we can get a fairly good consensus as to whether a given sunset is or is not beautiful. But that is a far different thing from being able to define in precise words "a beautiful sunset can be defined as ..." (Try it if you doubt me.)


message 45: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Patrice wrote: "You betcha! ;-)"

Uh, you were referring to what?


message 46: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4434 comments Nemo wrote: "I wonder how serious Socrates is about his argument that virtue is not knowledge because it cannot be taught. The virtuous men of Athens, e.g., Themistocles and Aristides, Pericles and Thucydides, ..."

I'm not sure how serious it is either, particularly since he makes this argument to Anytus. But the sense of it is, as far as I can tell, that parents do not willingly teach their children to be vicious, just as people do not willingly wish for the bad. The argument is certainly not airtight though, because parents can be mistaken about what the good is, or they could simply be bad teachers. Or their children could be bad students.

Socrates leaves a lot of holes in his argument, but it is interesting that he makes a political argument to Anytus, who would later be one of Socrates's accusers. (In his ironic defense of sophists, Socrates even echoes one of the charges that will be made against him: "should we declare, according to your argument, that they knowingly deceived and ruined the youth...?"


message 47: by Nemo (new)

Nemo (nemoslibrary) | 2456 comments Nemo wrote: "How can we know that those famous statesmen of Athens are good/virtuous, if we don't know what is good/virtue?"

Socrates anticipated my first question. At 75d he says that the dialectical method is to make use of those points that the interlocutor acknowledges he knows. Since Anytus believes/knows that those famous Athenians are good statesmen, Socrates chooses not to question that belief, but accept it as valid, in order to conduct Meno's inquiry, "not whether there are, or formerly have been, good men here amongst us or not, but whether virtue is teachable;"(93b)

One way to inquire into whether virtue is teachable is to look for commonly known instances of virtue being taught. They find no such instances: none of the virtuous men in Athens can teach virtue. Thomas pointed out that there could be bad teachers and bad students, but there are always the elite who can teach and learn in every branch of knowledge. Therefore, virtue is not knowledge and cannot be taught.

If virtue cannot be acquired by learning nor does it come by nature, as Socrates seems to suggest, abandon all hope (of becoming virtuous).


message 48: by Nemo (new)

Nemo (nemoslibrary) | 2456 comments Everyman wrote: "Well, we may have trouble defining in a single phrase what goodness and virtue are. But that doesn't mean we don't know what they are. "

But we don't know virtue in a way that our knowledge of it can be passed on to others. In other words, we don't have rational knowledge of virtue, if we cannot define it in a logically consistent manner.

We "know" beauty subjectively, because beautiful objects have certain psychological effect on us, not unlike pornography. (Is that what Justice Stewart meant by "I know it when I see it"?) But that is different from rational knowledge of beauty.


message 49: by Roger (new)

Roger Burk | 1723 comments Everyman wrote: "Nemo wrote: "Firstly, how can we know that those famous statesmen of Athens are good/virtuous, if we don't know what is good/virtue? "

Well, we may have trouble defining in a single phrase what go..."


It seems we don't have knowledge of what virtue is, but we have right opinion about some of its instances.


message 50: by Whitney (new)

Whitney (whitneychakara) | 74 comments Everyman wrote: "Chakara wrote: "virtue and justice are both in the eye of the beholder in a way."

And yet that leaves us nowhere."


exactly. this is not a problem to be solved. It's not something that can ever be solved. Even if Menos ( or anyone) felt that they knew what virtue was Socrates admits that he doesn't really know himself so how could he even tell him if he is right or wrong. There is no such thing. It's a question to ponder over yes but it is not something to be solved.

I find this a lot in our western culture to think that every thing should have an answer and that our human brain should be able to solve it. Somethings just are. Will I continue to think on it and gather what I think virtue is through out my life? sure. Just as certain people will continue to look for the Holy Grail.

Does this make any sense? it may or may not but its not wrong.


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