Teiresias in Athens: Socrates as Educator and the Kinship of Physis in Plato’s Meno

Abstract

This paper seeks to steer a way between a dogmatic and a skeptical reading of the Meno by taking up the performative dimension of Socrates’ responseto Meno. How does the philosophical inquiry into the definition of virtue promise to radicalize Meno’s alleged concern with the genesis of virtue? The paper shows that Socrates is acting, in a way, as an educator, in the sense that he attempts to awaken Meno to the task of self-knowledge as it bears upon the possibility of virtue in his own life. Thus, a dogmatic response to Meno’s question could not succeed in interrupting his tendentious memorizing approach to philosophical questions. But the paper also develops this reading by retracing the way in which nature undergoes a transformation, or a doubling, during the course of the dialogue. It becomes evident that the apparently inconclusive answer at the end of the dialogue, which states that the origin of virtue is to be found in “divine dispensation” and “correct opinion,” is only understandable in light of this transformation or doubling of nature that is made manifest dialogically andmythically in Socrates’ interaction with the young and handsome Meno. Socrates thus appears as a kind of “Teiresias in Athens,” but his clear failure inimpacting Meno in any lasting way only demonstrates that the possibility of political health is irreducible to any and all technical production

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Peter A. Warnek
University of Oregon

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