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PHIL 103 C, Monday, 10-16-17

Plato, "The Meno", Part 3: "Is virtue taught?"

audio/mpeg PHIL_103_C_10_16_17.mp3 — 64247 KB


Transcription of podcast for Philosophy 103 Monday, October 16 2017


Anybody looking to these transcriptions recently wonder anybody look and listening to the podcast recording . Are they okay? They are getting there late right. Cut off after a few minutes so there wasn’t much material.  Part of what delays it is this transcription because the person who checks it in the equipment room and he gets rid of any nasty language that obviously doesn’t belong there it’s a well brought up person as I talk like that and then then they don’t upload it till I look at it and when I’ve been reading your essay.


Today’s discussion is on the third of Plato’s Meno.  I might want to begin by asking you a question which is, what are the relations of this third part to the first two parts?  In the old days when they didn’t have signs like that up there and I smoked a pipe stopped doing many years ago; it’s not good for you but I considered it part of my equipment as a professor to smoke a pipe in class.  I would ask a question like that and then I could light up my pipe and relax.  Now I don’t have such stalling devices, so what’s the relation between part two, either the first two parts; what is the third part about?  Mr. Alvarez service was that yes the whole.  If I want to be fussy I would point out if you look on page 79, the transition from the second part to the third part  Socrates I mean, oh I’m asking a question, what does Socrates want to do at the start of the third part?  Does he want to continue the discussion or does he want to take a break for lunch or what? Mr. Voltaire right . Socrates never asks for anything but what what conversations what topic does he want to content that’s that’s not what Socrates wants that is what they talk about is. 


Mr. Alvarez is already  right but that’s not what Socrates wants to talk about when the dialogue began. Meno asked Socrates about that right and so I ask you what are these alternatives mean I was giving Socrates of society is virtue.  The ways in which people come to have a virtue.  So he was asking a question about how it is acquired.  What was Socrates’ response to Meno’s question?  that so am let’s take advantage of our of our cultural diversity.  So would we eat anything that we’ve never heard of?  I’ll let alone eaten so can you give me a name of the food that you think I probably am never eaten what yeah what what I look like an idiot to come up with something to you out oh yeah you must USA got dumpling not the enemy seriously I I am you know New York is a place where people learn need a lot of different things without what it comes to dinner we all get along fine.  rice so but is sometimes there’re things that you know even though people may have beaten and ended your tradition they might not our it is because it’s not something you can just walk down the street and going to a restaurant and get I thought you might come up with something like that so yeah I don’t need it in English because I’m knocking on the sandwiches anyway that’s the whole point you see what I’m saying is why I’m doing this if somebody says to me would you like to eat some “pfqzw”, I would ask what it is.


Think about Socrates’ responses he’s responding not something peculiar like like that with the food you never heard of combination letters make any sense, he’s responding that way about  something that most people think they do know.   That’s the beauty of Socrates’ response.  So when Socrates asks Euthyphro to tell him what piety, he is happy to tell him.   But Meno is surprised that Soc does not know what virtue is.  Meno ask Socrates how virtue is acquired but Socrates says how can I know if I don’t know what it is?  Virtue is the translation for a Greek word the Greek word in some of the earlier me Lisa virtue had to do it with manliness you know where were talking about tough guy citizen community and something that is correct rea virtue of natural history good character.   


The whole spirit of Plato here is to get us to think about things that we take for granted and we do maybe some people know more than others, but we all kind think we know this stuff.   But this is not all always received in a friendly way.  In his trial, there’re some indications that there are people jeering when he tells them  that he does not know anything.   Some people ask, are you pulling my leg?  You don’t know anything, Mr. smarty-pants who always asks impossible questions?  So Socrates is taking the posture of not knowing though most of us think we do know, not only experts, but any human being who grows up that has to have a party or equipment some understanding of what it means to be a good human being if for no other reason your parents that so that you can be that kind of human being and also you can avoid you can’t grow up without having gotten some ideas about time that’s what the word virtue reversed most people take for granted so but mean I’ll actually doesn’t when Socrates says I don’t know what is mean I was surprised not because he doesn’t say Socrates kind of answer that melody this gives them in the apology and then with Anytus near the end of the Meno, which is the kind of thing I just referred to say a decent person brought up in this society, anywhere in the world, the whole world.  I just found little part of it that that any person would know but that’s all that’s not the way that’s not the way Meno remembers the guy who goes around to lectures these events and find out what these guys are saying and he is heard Gorgias.   


Gorgias is a figure in the history of philosophy most of his writings have been lost but we have some fragments and we have an outline of the book that he wrote which is a very puzzling outline and I won’t go into it because I want to keep focused.  So Meno’s reaction when he says he doesn’t know is, Socrates have you not heard Gorgias’s lectures?  For the clear implication is that Gorgias knows.   Socrates says he doesn’t remember what Gorgias said.   Why is that important? I need and what level is just a reason why he can’t answer that’s important that’s what ask Mr. Alvarez well it it is typical Socrates in the sense that he’s always saying he doesn’t know he doesn’t remember whatever so the other guy have to give the answer and there’re a lot of people get annoyed with him like that you never did answer Socrates you haven’t actually seen that in anything you’ve reds at 70 getting annoyed like that but it happens and in the Republic in and tells him that he’ll give them the answer in that case the question is what is justice and Thrasymachus says he’ll give Socrates the answer if he pays him.  He was really annoyed that’s the kind of thing we say when we get angry with each other.   You want to know what I think? 


Socrates says something like that in here in the Meno . I wonder if any of you remember when remember I depicted Meno to you as a guy whose like a cultured tourist and he likes to watch these performers – singers, dancers, philosophers, whatever.  He gets Socrates to give the definition of figure.  To help Meno understand how a definition gives you the one thing that different examples of what you’re talking about all have in common.  An example we used was triangles.  Socrates that defines figure to illustrate that but he starts off by giving not a good definition to illustrate a point he defines figure as that which always follows color. In other words, you can always, if you find a color, find a shape.  But that doesn’t tell you what figure is because they are find one like somebody think how you can meet somebody and you don’t know in a crowded restaurant or something like that and in the old the old corny way when people always dressing up in suits and you don’t recognize him but he’s identified by the white carnations in his lapel.  Similarly, you don’t know what figure is from Socrates’ definition, but you would know how to find one and he gives you an idea of what it is because it’s pointing to the fact that every patch of color has a shape.  So Meno says what if somebody didn’t know what color is, he could challenge the definition.  He’s giving Socrates a hard time but really he’s trying to get Socrates to produce more entertainment.  Socrates says if this were an unfriendly discussion, if this person was trying just to reject everything that he said, he would tell him that it is a true definition and if he disagrees he has to prove it is not.  But in a friendly discussion, Socrates would not go on from any point unless his interlocutor understood it and agreed to it.


All of this shows how Meno insists on returning to the question of how virtue is acquired before they have answered the question what virtue is.  Soc has shown him that they cannot know how it is acquired if they do not know what it is, but that does not mean they cannot have an opinion of what it is and determine how it is acquire on the supposition that the opinion is true.  This is a familiar method to you, the method of hypotheses.


So Soc builds a hypothesis around the idea that virtue is acquired by teaching.  He first asserts that only knowledge can be taught.  We think of teaching more broadly than that.  But if someone tells you some opinions without giving reasons for them,  it is reasonable to say that is not teaching in the full sense.  If only knowledge can be taught, then virtue can be taught only if it is knowledge.  So the next step is for Socrates to see if there is any reason to think of virtue as knowledge.


To do that, he considers kinds of goods.  Virtue is a good of the mind: virtuous people are people of good character, which means they have minds of a certain kind.  There are other kinds of goods, such as possessions and goods of the body.  He considers these various kinds of goods, wealth, health, beauty, strength, and virtue, showing that in each case what is good, beneficial, can easily be bad, harmful, if not used properly.  So the goodness of good things depends upon knowledge.


Now he is ready to test his hypothesis (that virtue is taught) by bringing it into contact with the facts.  He does this by asking “who?”  I. e., “who teaches virtue?”  He always starts by questioning people who claim to know something – Euthyphro on piety, Meno on virtue, etc.  Here he does something similar by considering those who claim to teach virtue, who actually advertise that as their business, viz. the Sophists.  Their name means “those who are wise”, i. e., who know what is good and how to get it.  In English we say “professors”.  Here is where we become aware that Anytus (who is one of Socrates’ accusers in The Apology) has joined the group.  He is completely aggravated by this suggestion.  We see him misunderstanding by thinking that Socrates thinks the Sophists teach virtue rather than getting ready to question that claim. 


Socrates’ second attempt to find facts to confirm his hypothesis, i. e. to find someone who teaches virtue turns to examples of people that almost everybody agrees were virtuous people, indeed, the great leaders who saved Athens, first from the Persian invaders and then from the Spartans, viz. Themistocles and Pericles.  They may not have advertised themselves as teachers of virtue, the way the Sophists do, but surely they would have wanted to teach their virtue to their own sons.  The evidence for this intention is the known fact that they had their sons learn so many other useful things, like archery.  If they had virtue, and their virtue was knowledge, so that they could teach it, surely they would have taught it to their sons.  But they did not, because their sons were either ordinary or even bad, not virtuous.


The failure to find facts to confirm a hypothesis is reason to doubt it but never really proves that it is a false hypothesis.  There may be other, unknown facts.  Socrates explains how Themistocles and Pericles could have been so virtuous and yet unable to teach their virtue by inferring that their virtue was true opinion rather than knowledge.  In his demonstration of the possibility of learning with the servant boy in order to persuade Meno to continue to seek the knowledge of what virtue is, Socrates clarified this distinction between knowledge and true opinion in terms of two different ways in which we remember what we have forgotten.  One way has not method, is spontaneous and just pops into our heads.  The other connects what we do remember to related events that lead to still other connections until we find the one for which we are looking.  The first is a kind of inspiration, a gift of the god.  The other is divine in a different sense, obedience to the divine command to seek knowledge that was given to Socrates by the Oracle at Delphi. 


The human being who has a true opinion has something good, but her virtue is inferior to the virtue of one who knowledge.  Socrates ends the evaluation of his hypothesis by saying they have found virtuous men whose virtue is a mere shadow of the real thing: as knowledge is to true opinion, so is the reality of virtue to its shadow.