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Menone by Plato

Menone (1962)

by Plato

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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The book that I read this dialogue in also contained the Protagoras, which is a good pairing because both of them deal with the question of whether virtue can be taught (the Penguin edition uses the word good, but the better translation would be virtue: I do find that the Penguin editions do tend to dumb down these dialogues, a lot, which sort of defeats the purpose; which is not surprising that my Classics' lecturers tried to stay away from them as much as possible). However, it is interesting as to what they put first because it is clear that the Protagoras was the later text and dealt with an event that occurred thirty years before the Meno, in which Plato was not present, while the Meno was most likely written before the Protagoras about an event that occurred after the Protagoras, one in which it is likely that Plato was present. If you look at both of them you will note that the Protagoras is not a dialogue but a retelling, by Socrates, of an event that occurred thirty years earlier, while the Meno is an actual dialogue which forms a discussion between Socrates and Meno with a slave and Anytas popping in as extras.
The Meno is an interesting work because it demonstrates how Socrates really taught people to think. He is like the teacher that when you ask them a question they do not give you an answer but rather then respond to your question with a question of their own which forces us to come up with an answer all of our own. It reminds me of a bible study leader who would never answer a question but respond with 'that is a really good question, David, what do you think?' (though that went a little overboard afterwards when the response to all of his questions was 'that is a really good question Phil, what do you think?'). Mind you, another reason that he never actually answered my questions was because I was notorious for asking really curly questions.
Now, it seems that the Meno jumps all over the place, and as I was reading it I thought that Socrates was simply getting the whole question of what virtue was wrong. However, the question that Meno asked him was not 'what is virtue?' but rather 'can virtue be taught?'. Socrates is very clever because he then breaks down the question to 'what is virtue?' which means that to understand whether it can be taught we need to understand what it is, and as such for the first part of the dialogue Meno is trying to understand what virtue is and coming up with ideas (such as acquiring good things) which Socrates then turns around and shoots down in flames. For instance, the question of virtue being the acquisition of good things is brought down when you point out that if you acquire a good thing in a bad way, then can that acquisition of that good thing be an example of virtue? Of course not, Meno realises, and then discards that idea.
Now, Anytus makes an entrance (Anytus was one of Socrates' prosecutors, and also Meno's host while Meno was in Athens. Meno was from Thessaly, in far northern Greece). Upon entering Socrates drags him into the discussion, at which point Anytus turns around and pretty much dishes out what he thinks of sophists (the Greek version of lawyers, but in this context, people that go around selling their services as teachers of virtue), and then promptly leaves. However it is an interesting aspect to the discussion because he brings in a completely new dynamic to the entire discussion since by the time he storms out we come to an understanding that these people that go around believing that they can teach virtue really do not know what virtue is. However, Socrates also destroys Anytus' argument by asking in why he hates Sophists, but if he has never actually sat down in one of their classes then how can he know that they are bad.
Now, the conclusion is that virtue can not be taught but it can be only handed out by the Gods. When I got to this point I came to understand, from the dialogue, that Socrates really did have an objective understanding of truth in that he moves truth into the objective sphere. Also, it seems to reflect that which is said in the Bible in that nobody is good and that virtue can only come about in a person by the presence of the Holy Spirit. Personally I believe that people can only love God through the power of the Holy Spirit in the sense that there are lots of good people out there who would never do anything bad to another human.
Oh, and I should also note that Meno actually leaves this discussion with understanding, something which differs from a number of the other dialogues that I have read as the main participant in the discussion does not excuse himself because he is fed up with Socrates destroying his belief and undermining his opinion of what he believes to be true but rather leaves with a greater understanding of virtue, which suggests, that in the end, that virtue can be taught, but only to people who really want to learn. ( )
  David.Alfred.Sarkies | Feb 14, 2014 |
This might be a starting place for our currently divided society since it addresses so MANY of our current controversies ( )
  vegetarian | Oct 6, 2011 |
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» Add other authors (127 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Platoprimary authorall editionscalculated
Anastaplo, GeorgeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Berns, LaurenceTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rouse, W.H.D.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schleiermacher, FriedrichTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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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?
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0915144247, Paperback)

(Aris and Phillips 1985)

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:03 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

A dialogue between Socrates and Meno probes the subject of ethics. Can goodness be taught? If it can, then we should be able to find teachers capable of instructing others about what is good and bad, right and wrong, or just and unjust. Socrates and Meno are unable to identify teachers of ethics, and we are left wondering how such knowledge could be acquired. To answer that puzzle, Socrates questions one of Meno's servants in an attempt to show that we know fundamental ideas by recollecting them.… (more)

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