A Return to the Cave: How Socrates Educates Meno

Dissertation, The Ohio State University (2000)

In Plato's Meno, the title character asks Socrates how virtue is obtained. However, Socrates does not provide a straightforward answer to Meno. Instead, he helps Meno learn how to think about virtue. What results is an interaction that serves as an introduction and basic training for Meno in a Socratic approach to issues like virtue. ;To guide Meno in his training, Socrates' challenge is to help Meno move away from his old way of thinking about virtue. Meno has developed a habitual mode of operating and for the first two thirds of the dialogue, he returns to that mode continually as he interacts with Socrates. For Socrates, Meno's manner acts as a barrier to the kind of inquiry needed to understand virtue. While that manner is in part a product of Meno's character, it is very strongly influenced by Meno's previous traditional and Gorgianic training. ;In this study, we examine Meno as a product of his education and how Socrates tries to move him toward a new Socratic method. We begin in chapter one with an outline of the traditional and sophistic education that provides the perspective from which Meno views virtue. ;Next, in chapter two, we consider how Meno is characterized as reflecting his previous education as he interacts with Socrates during their discussion of virtue. ;In chapters three and four, we consider the methods and strategies Socrates uses as he tries to lead Meno toward a new mode of philosophical investigation. Chapter three consists of an examination of Socrates' and Meno's discussion of what virtue is. Throughout this discussion, Meno relies on his previous education to provide definitions for virtue. Socrates works with Meno to show him that his previous training is not adequate for providing an account of virtue. In doing so, Socrates leads Meno to a state of perplexity, a clean state from which they can begin anew. ;In chapter four we see that Socrates prepares Meno to go beyond perplexity by introducing a pedagogical replacement based on recollection. In addition, Socrates teaches Meno a method for testing beliefs, and they proceed to consider Meno's original question using the new method. At this point, Meno no longer relies on his old training, nor does he block Socrates' efforts for the remaining third of the dialogue. Our examination then of the pedagogical dynamic ends, and we conclude in chapter five with an overview of what Socrates has tried to accomplish in the interaction
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