Saturday, February 04, 2006

Meno 70c-72a

Here's a longish passage from my translation of the Meno. It begins in the middle of a speech by Socrates.

But here, friend Meno, it has turned out the opposite. It’s as though there has been some drought of wisdom, and it’s possible [71a] for wisdom to have gone from these places to yours. At any rate, if you wish to ask someone here about this, there is no one who will not laugh and say, “Stranger, it’s possible I seem to you to be someone blessed -- at any rate, to know whether virtue is taught or what manner it comes to be -- but I stand very much in need of knowing whether virtue is taught or not taught, and am not as one who happens at all to know what virtue is.”

[b] So I, Meno, am even one such as this; I am poor with my fellow citizens about this matter, and I find great fault with myself thus, not knowing about virtue at all. But if I do not know what a thing is, how do I know what sort of thing it really* is? Or does it seem to you to to be like this: if anyone does not learn to know at all who Meno is, this one’s to know whether [Meno] is beautiful or rich or even well-born, or the opposite of these? Does it seem to you to be thus?

Meno: Not to me. But you, Socrates, do you truly [c] not know what virtue is, and is this what we’re to report about you back home?

Socrates: Not only this, comrade, but also that I have not met another who it seems to me did know.

Meno: What then? Did you not meet Gorgias when he was here?

Socrates: I did indeed.

Meno: Then he seemed not to you to know?

Socrates: I am not entirely mindful,** Meno, so I am not able to say in present circumstances how it seemed to me then. But it’s equally possible he does know, and that you know what he spoke; so remind [d] me how he spoke. And if you wish say yourself, for doubtless it seems to you however [it seemed] to him.

Meno: To me, yes indeed.

Socrates: Therefore, let’s be done with him, since he is not here, but you yourself, by the gods, Meno, what do you declare virtue to be? Speak and do not be grudging so that I will have fabricated a most fortunate lie if you and Gorgias, as ones who know, were to bring it to light, though I’ve stated I never yet have met with one who knows.

[e] Meno: But it’s not difficult, Socrates, to say. First then, if you wish, the virtue of a man, it’s easy; this is the virtue of a man: to be competent to manage the city, managing to do good to friends and harm to enemies, and himself taking care not to suffer any such thing. But if you wish the virtue of a woman, it’s not difficult to go through: she must economize the household, both preserving what is in the home and listening to the man. And there is also virtue of a child, both female and male, and of the old man, if you wish, of the free, or if you wish, [72a] of the slave. And there are very many other virtues, so that there is no impasse to speaking about what virtue is. For according to each of the practices and stages of life there is a virtue for each work of each of us. And I suppose it’s like this, Socrates, for badness, too.

* Including “really” because of the force of “an . . . ge . . .” Or perhaps it should read, “how do I really know what sort of thing it is”?
** Chosen instead of the usual “I’m rather forgetful” or some such to bring out the continuing ambiguity of “entirely,” “at all,” etc. (cf. to parapon at 71b3 and 71b5). I.e., does Socrates not remember at all, or does he just not remember all of it?

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