As evidenced in four of Plato’s early Socratic dialogues: Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, and Meno, Plato believes that although people are capable of having right opinions regarding virtue, which are acquired by divine intervention, people are incapable of having right knowledge of virtue. Although Plato often relates virtue to knowledge or wisdom, unlike knowledge virtue is unteachable as evidenced by its lack of teachers or moral experts capable of forming a proper definition of virtue. Despite this, people still aim to be virtuous and thus must rely on opinions to determine what is or is not virtuous. But because people are unable to distinguish virtue for themselves, the opinions people choose to act on come from a higher, non-human authority.
Throughout the early dialogues, Plato draws comparisons between virtue and knowledge. These Socratic dialogues often refer to virtue “as an expertise (science, art, craft)” like any other that requires more than simple knowledge of how to but also an ability to explain or teach. Much of his comparison of knowledge and virtue revolves around the ability, or lack thereof, to teach virtue. If the comparison between knowledge and virtue is accurate, then it would follow that like knowledge, virtue can be taught. This is how the Meno begins. Meno asks Socrates whether virtue is teachable, and the pair spend the remainder of the dialogue determining whether virtue can be taught or if it must be acquired other ways. In order to answer this question, Socrates and Meno first discuss the definition of virtue.
Meno makes several attempts to define virtue, but every definition Meno presents Socrates dismantles because he often finds “many virtues while looking for one…but...
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... a sufficient definition of virtue required to be knowledgeable enough to teach it. Despite being unteachable and undefinable, it is possible for humans to be virtuous because they can have true opinions regarding virtue that are just as adequate as true knowledge of virtue with regards to deciding how to act virtuously.
Penner, Terry. “Socrates and The Early Dialogues.” In The Cambridge Companion to Plato, edited by Richard Kraut, 121–129. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.
Fine, Gail “Inquiry in the Meno.” In The Cambridge Companion to Plato, edited by Richard Kraut, 200-226. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.
Irwin, Terence. Plato 's Moral Theory: The Early and Middle Dialogues. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1977.
Vasiliou, Iakovos. "Platonic Virtue: An Alternative Approach."Philosophy Compass 9, no. 9 (2014): 605–14.
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