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Socrates and Virtue Essay

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At the beginning of Meno Socrates and Meno are discussing what they think the true definition of virtue is. They debate over this matter for quite some time and Meno continues to throw definitions, of what he thinks virtue is, at Socrates. It seems like every time Meno would come up with what he thought virtue was Socrates would shoot it down. Socrates would not come out and say this is not right, he would merely ask him a series of questions in order for Meno to realize it on his own.

One after another Socrates continues to find problems with Meno’s reasoning behind his definitions. After the fourth attempt they finally decide they would try to start over with a clean slate in order to find out what virtue truly is. At this point Socrates and Meno have not quite come close to defining virtue they have just made definition in general much more clear. Early on the closest that Socrates and Meno come closest, in my opinion, to defining virtue is when they conclude that virtue is the desire for good things in order to do good.

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While there are many people out there who desire good things in order to do bad, there are just as many that desire good things in order to do some good. According to my interpretation of the text here, virtue is the desire for good or powerful things in order to do good for others. At the end of this passage though, Socrates shoots down this idea by asking a series of questions putting Meno in a state of “perplexity” and “numbness”, as Socrates does best (Section 77c ? 80b). Now having gone through all of that, Meno asks Socrates, how will know you found virtue if you do not know what it truly is?

Socrates then goes on to tell Meno about the immortal soul and recollection. This is a belief that your soul is all knowing because it has been through an infinite amount of lives, consuming all kinds of knowledge and information. According to this, the soul is said to be all knowing. According to this theory, learning is just a matter of recalling all the knowledge from previous lives. So if this was true, then we all already have the true definition of virtue within all of us, we just have to ask the right questions in order for us to remember it (Section 80d ?

81e). Now in order to prove his point of recollection, Socrates brings over a slave boy and proceeds to ask him a series of questions in order to prove that learning is just a matter of recollection. This goes on for some time until Socrates is satisfied with the slave boy and his so called recollection of knowledge from his souls from previous lives. Socrates says we should continue to pursue knowledge and ask questions until we supposedly “recall” past knowledge. Today this theory is viewed as being somewhat far fetched and totally implausible (Sections 83a ?85e).

Now soon after all this takes place they continue to discuss knowledge and virtue, contemplating the true definition of virtue. Socrates and Meno decide that virtue is something that can be beneficial to ones self, which is true. Socrates then talks about all the things that are beneficial to us: health, strength, beauty, and wealth. Those are all things which can be very beneficial to everyone or they can have the opposite effect and can be quite detrimental. The outcome of these things is determined by the use of them; good or bad.

If used correctly then they would benefit us, if used improperly then they would have quite the opposite effect. Wealth would be a good example of this. It can be for the good or the bad that just depends. If you direct things by wisdom then that is how you get something to be beneficial to yourself or others. If you foolishly direct things in your life and are not careful then they become harmful. Socrates says that all activities done by humans depends on the soul itself, and if you are going to do some beneficial then it involves wisdom to a certain extent.

So if in order to do something beneficial you need wisdom and they defined virtue as being something beneficial, therefore making the valid point that virtue is wisdom, for the most part ( Sections 87e ? 89b). Virtue is what you make of it. Yes, to some extent, I agree with Socrates with virtue as wisdom, but that is about as far as you can go with it. Really it is what you are willing to make of it in your own life. There are good types of virtues and then there are harmful types of virtue. Now you cannot really say that there are beneficial types of virtue and bad types of virtue.

The reason behind this is because, to some people, virtue can be beneficial in a bad way instead of the beneficial that most people first think of. It varies from person to person. There is really no way of putting one basic definition on virtue. Virtue encompasses so many different things, it would be nearly impossible for us to slap a definition on it without finding a glitch or something wrong with the definition. There will always be someone there to find a problem with it, because is that not the way our society works?

Somebody comes up with one thing, then after a while someone comes up something wrong with that idea and proposes a new, better, and far superior idea. So virtue can be defined in mere generalization, I do believe, rather than throwing some specific definition of virtue out there. It is not possible to put a single definition on virtue. For generalizations sake, I will have to say that virtue is wisdom, but there are so many more things that are included under wisdom, that the possibilities are endless.

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