Saturday, November 10, 2007

Plato's Meno

In Ancient Greece, or more specifically Athens, the exponentially growing principles of thought and reason became most likely the greatest influential achievement of the people of Greece; this is particularly significant in perspective of how much they accomplished in their entirety. The philosophers and theologians of Athens were the leaders of knowledge and teaching in their society, as they opened windows unexplored by the average person. Pupils of these philosophers would carry on knowledge gained from their teachers and usually create writings and dialogues for cultures to come, leaving the thought of their time to be taught and expanded upon. This is why the values taught by great philosophers of ancient Greece are still represented as examples for our modern society. The individual I will be taking into note is Plato and his Meno. (Source 1, Source 2)

One of the most famed philosophers of Ancient Greece, Plato, a pupil of Socrates (probably the most renown and influential philosopher, so much so that thought and philosophers before him were called "pre-socratic"), carried on the teachings of his educator and eventually created his own academy of philosophy and thought, which was attended by pupils who would carry on the ideology and principles of Plato, one of which was another great philosopher: Aristotle. As Plato progressed through his career he started to rely on his own thinking and values, and instead of prodding and questioning the peoples' logic and thinking as Socrates did, he held his focal point on actually teaching his philosophy in his academy. His material used for teaching was comprised of dialogues of Socrates and other men, discussing commonly asked questions which required deep thought and formidable intellect. Plato was a great influence on Western civilization, and two of his most influential works, The Republic and the Apology, were probably the most significant of Plato's works. The Apology is Plato's dialogue of Socrates refuting of the accusations against him. The Republic is an extensively lengthy dialogue which is considered to be Plato's greatest work of philosophy. Overall it is Plato's philosophy and political theory, which addresses and discusses issues such as the definition of justice. Definitely one of his shorter dialogues, Plato's Meno is a dialogue of Socrates and Meno, a young man from Thessaly. (Source)

"[Plato's dialogues] vividly portray Socrates as it seems he was in real life, the self-styled 'gadfly' who went around Athens finding difficulties in everyone's views, demanding definitions and then refuting them all, exposing everyone's ignorance but apparently leaving the difficulties than when he started. . . However, in the Meno Plato goes on, in the slave-boy episode, to show how being refuted can lead to positive results - which is certainly not the outcome in these other dialogues." (Plato's Meno in Focus, Day pg. 10)
Other minor characters of Plato's Meno include a boy slave of Meno and Anytus, a wealthy aristocratic man who is also one of Socrates' main accusers in Plato's Apology. The main characters are Socrates and Meno, of course, with Socrates manipulating the discussion and taunting and jabbing at Meno's thinking and debating. This is considered to be typical of Socrates, as he used way of critical analysis to waver the logic of his people and make them feel uncomfortable so that he may dominate disputes and make people really think about matters of life. Meno (in Plato's Meno) even grew aggitated of Socrates method of arguing, as he describes him as a swordfish who numbs. Socrates truly was the major spark which set the philosophers minds aflame with knowledge and a new kind of thinking, a kind of thinking which expanded all aspects of philosophy and ideology. Socrates had an apparent influence on younger culture; many children of Athens were drawn to him and adored him, even offering him payments for his teachings which were always turned down by Socrates, as he didn't accept the belief of material success. Although Socrates received positive recognition from the younger culture, most of the adults of Athens disdained him and thought his teachings were corrupting their children; this thinking led to Socrates being seen as a controversial figure in society, meandering around the city giving bad influence on the people. The cause of Socrates' death was, in fact, because of his endeavors upon society; he was condemned and executed as depicted in Plato's Apology, Crito, and Phaedos. (Source)

The Meno is commenced abruptly with the immediate question of Meno, whether virtue, or in Greek: arete, is attained with practice or if it can be taught. Socrates indefinitely replies by saying a definition for virtue cannot be found. Throughout the dialogue Socrates and Meno bring up questions with fluctuating complexity, and ultimately nothing is truly established, as even the ending of the dialogue was hollow. Although inconclusive, the Meno addressed serious questions which are still undoubtedly very disputable and which hold difficulty in answering. What the Meno does establish is that Socrates acknowledged and took action upon the fact that the seemingly all-knowing world has so much undiscovered and unexplained. Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle were the "founding fathers" of philosophy, thought, reason, and attaining the unattained. (Source 1, Source 2)

Translated by Jowett, Benjamin; Plato. Meno. Kessinger Publishing, 2004.

Day, Jane M. Plato's Meno in Focus. Routledge Publishing, 1994.