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Meno-Plato Essay

Meno begins his quest to have Socrates explain virtue by nature by stating that having beautiful things is to have virtue. “So I say that virtue is to desire beautiful things and have the power to acquire them” (77b). To help him to understand that this statement is not complete, Socrates inquires about specific characteristics that might comprise having something beautiful. These characteristics include wealth, a position of honor, justice, and the pursuit of happiness.

Only in perfect combination to all of these specific characteristics assert “virtue as a whole” (77a) To desire beautiful things means to secure a good thing for oneself, according to Socrates. Under this explanation, all men desire good things and the men who desire bad things want to attain bad things for some benefit despite the fact that misery is a potential result. Therefore the act of desiring is with the intention of pursuing happiness as a virtue.

“No one then wants what is bad, Meno, unless he wants to be such. For what else is being miserable but to desire bad things and secure them? ” (78a). This characteristic of attempting to have happiness through securing good things and having power over them is a component of “virtue as a whole” (77a). Wealth and positions of power, under Socrates’ definition of “virtue as a whole” (77a), are only considered to be components of the nature of virtue if they are accomplished through just means.

“It seems then that the acquisition must be accompanied by justice or moderation or piety or some other part of virtue; if it is not, it will not be virtue, even though it provides good things. ” (78d-e) this reveals that the intention and process of acquiring good things is important to the nature of virtue as a whole. Without just process wealth nor positions of honor are not attributes of virtue because regardless of their significance as good or beautiful, they cannot be truly appreciated as virtuous without morally righteous intentions.

“Then to provide these goods would not be virtue anymore than not to provide these goods would not to be virtue any more than not to provide them, but apparently whatever is done with justice will be virtue…” (79a) justice and good intention are required to be the basis of any good thing in order for it to be considered truly virtuous. However, in true response to Meno’s search to know the nature of virtue Socrates states that although that virtue as a whole is still under question.

In order to understand virtue you must understand each characteristic that makes up virtue. “…that by answering in terms of the parts of virtue you can make its nature clear…” (79e) Virtue is not defined by any one definition, rather it is the characteristics and process of attaining these characteristics that comprises the nature of virtue. Socrates refutes Meno’s assertion that to attain beautiful things is to have virtue.

Through this rejection he goes on to examine this differences between wanting good and beautiful things and, attaining bad things under the belief or idea that they are, in some way, good. However, having good things is not enough. These good things must be attained justly otherwise their significance to “virtue as a whole” (77a) is obsolete. These characteristics of wealth, a position of honor, justice, and the pursuit of happiness are mutually inclusive and together, begin to describe the nature of virtue.


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