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The Teaching Of Moral Excellence Philosophy Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Philosophy
Wordcount: 768 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Socrates and Meno have an ongoing debate about virtue. They both find virtue very difficult to define, and in turn, ask the question whether virtue can be taught or whether or not it is acquired naturally. Socrates asks Meno to describe virtue, and continuously ingeniously twists the questions around making Meno have second thoughts about his ideas. Socrates claims that virtue can not be taught, and is only a trait given to a person by God himself. Firstly, I will go into great detail about the debate between Socrates and Meno about virtue. A dialogue between Socrates and Meno’s young slave boy will allow me to prove that virtue cannot be classified as knowledge, and since everything knowledgeable can be taught, virtue cannot be taught.

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In many people’s eyes, virtue can be easily be defined as general moral excellence, but Plato’s Meno asks the question whether virtue can actually be taught. In Plato’s Meno, Meno starts off by asking Socrates if virtue can be taught or if it is unteachable but can be gained naturally or in some other way. Socrates claims he does not even know what virtue is exactly, so he himself can not teach it. He then asks Meno to try and describe virtue to him. Meno says that virtue is to desire fine things such as money and health, and having the power to get them. He also says that virtue is wisdom and courage, but Socrates is not satisfied with Meno’s definition. Socrates asks Meno how virtue can be taught, if he can not give him a clear definition of what virtue is.

Socrates comes up with a theory where he says that the soul is immortal, and it already knows everything that exists because it was born in a previous life, therefore any knowledge gained is truly only remembering the past. This theory is called the theory of recollection, and it states that inquiry is impossible, and when you think you are learning something new, you are only “recollecting” something that has already been known. To prove this theory, Socrates discusses a dialogue with a young boy who is Meno’s slave. Socrates asks this boy to give him a geometrical problem that requires many steps to understand and solve. Socrates asks the boy questions, in order to guide him through the problem to reach a solution. Socrates concludes that since this boy was not knowledgeable in math beforehand, he must have had some knowledge of this subject in a previous life, and the boy must have used this knowledge to solve the problem. Socrates claim is that the only way virtue can be taught is if knowledge counts as virtue, therefore whatever can be known can be taught. Meno agrees with Socrates, but says that he needs better evidence that virtue is knowledge or vice versa. Socrates says that if virtue is capable of being taught, then there are people out there who are able to teach it, but since nobody can define virtue, this means nobody can teach it, therefore virtue cannot be taught. Since virtue cannot be taught, it can not be considered knowledge, because anything knowledgeable can be taught. Socrates therefore concludes that virtue is not natural or attainable, it is only a trait given to a person by God and can not be acquired.

Meno calls Socrates a torpedo fish, in relevance to an electric eel that stuns its prey. He does this because Meno doesn’t know what to say about virtue, he says he knows what it is when he sees it, he just doesn’t know how to describe it. To say what goodness or excellence is, is not the same as saying what in particular is good. According to Meno’s paradox, you can’t learn anything new. You either already knew it, or you didn’t know it, therefore you won’t recognize it when you see it.

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Socrates is not saying that one is not capable of learning virtue; he says the concept of virtue can be learned, but it can’t be taught. In Plato’s Meno, Socrates claims that he knows many virtuous men, but if virtue can be taught, why haven’t these man passed down there virtue to their sons? Every definition of virtue that Meno has presented has been dismantled by Socrates. Therefore, we can conclude that according to Socrates, virtue is impossible to define. Since everything that can be defined can be taught, and Socrates, Meno, and anyone else for that matter, has failed to provide a concrete definition, virtue can not be taught. Socrates claim is that the concept of virtue can be taught, but the trait itself can not be taught, is not innately acquired, and is only a God given characteristic.


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