Recollecting Socrates: Reading Plato's "Meno"

Dissertation, Depaul University (1992)

Plato's Meno both represents an introduction to philosophy and attempts to introduce philosophy . My reading proceeds against the background of another, traditional way of understanding the Meno and Socratic inquiry, the "received view." While the "received view" understands the Meno as a philosophical inquiry that fails to arrive at an end, an answer to the question of human excellence, I interpret the dialogue as recounting an inquiry that fails to begin. Throughout the dialogue Socrates is trying to get Meno to engage in inquiry, to ask the question of excellence; throughout Meno refuses to do so. The dialogue gives us this refusal to think. ;Part Two of the dissertation offers an interpretation of Socratic inquiry by way of an interpretation of the encounter between Socrates and Meno. Against the "received view" of Socratic inquiry as an attempt at discovering a knowledge of the essence of arete that would bring inquiry to a close, I argue that Socrates understands inquiry as itself a mode of knowing, indeed what we have of knowledge of the "greatest things." It is in the light of inquiry into excellence that we are able to examine our opinions of excellence and to discern their specific limitations. Socratic inquiry is directed against thoughtlessness, or forgetfulness, rather than ignorance. Socrates' interprets philosophical inquiry as recollection, returning to what we have in mind, minding what we know. ;Part Three addresses the Meno as a philosophical writing by raising the question of the relationship between Socratic speech and Platonic writing. The Meno offers a reflection on philosophical writing by having Socrates "write" and "read" a philosophical text on recollection. Why philosophical writing is called for and how it should be read are a subject of the text itself. Meno's way of reading the "text of recollection" and the "received view" of the Meno turn out to be the same, refusals of philosophy. As Meno comes to Socrates, so the reader comes to the Meno
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