CREDOS : Meno — I

The Meno is one of Plato’s earlier Socratic dialogues, which seek to define the nature of virtue. The attempt here is to define virtue in general, or a definition that applies to

all particular forms of virtue like justice, courage, or piety. The dialogue also deals with epistemology — the nature and methods through which we acquire knowledge.

The dialogue starts with Meno asking Socrates if and how virtue can be taught, but Socrates replies that in order to teach something one must first know what it is that they wish to teach. This catches Meno off guard, for he assumes he knows what virtue is and finds the thought of defining virtue to be perplexing.

Meno suggests to Socrates that there are many different forms of virtue.

He claims that there is a different virtue for men and women, politicians and slaves, children and adults. Socrates disagrees and states that there must be a common quality between all these virtues that entitle them to be called virtues.

Socrates explains that a definition cannot contain the term it is defining, and thus when Meno uses virtuous acts like justice to define virtue, it leads to a circular argument. If justice is a virtue, then it cannot be used to define virtue. After a number of attempts, Meno finally comes up with a definition that fits Socrates’ requirements of a definition. He states that virtue is the acquisition of beautiful things.