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Notes and Discussions A PUZZLE CONCERNING THE Meno AND THE Protagoras Virtually all Platonic commentators are agreed that the Meno dialogue is a later work than the Protagoras dialogue. Typical is Raven's view that "The Protagoras is in fact, in almost every respect, a thoroughly Socratic dialogue.., while the Meno marks the beginning of a new and more creative phase. ''x Though some commentators, such as Ryle, regard the Meno as one of "the latest of Plato's eristic dialogues,''2 rather than, as Raven puts it, "the first of the middle group of dialogues ,''8 nevertheless there is almost unanimous agreement that, as Guthrie says, "the Meno is a somewhat later work than the Protagoras. ''4 There is, however, at least one noteworthy dissenter from this prevailing opinion. That dissenter is A. E. Taylor, who claims that "there ought to be no doubt that the Meno is a cruder and earlier work than either of the two great dramatic dialogues with which it is most intimately connected, the Phaedo and the Protagoras. ''~ What I wish to argue is that there exists important textual evidence which strongly suggests that Taylor's view about the chronology of the two dialogues is correct, while the view held by Raven, Ryle, Guthrie, and many others is incorrect. What is especially odd is that none of these commentators nor any other of whom I am aware even discusses the evidence which I am about to present, a fact which may be as surprising as the evidence itself. In the Meno Socrates asserts that "if virtue is knowledge, it is teachable" (89C). 6 But he then presents two reasons for doubting that virtue can be taught. First, he argues that "if there are neither teachers nor students of a subject, we may safely infer that it cannot be taught" (89E). And Socrates says that although he can find teachers of flute-playing and other skills, he is unable to find teachers of virtue.7 Secondly, Socrates claims that if virtue could be taught, then a virtuous man would make sure that his sons were taught virtue. But virtuous men often have sons who are not virtuous. Consider Pericles. "He brought up two sons, Paralus and Xanthippus, and had them taught riding, music, athletics, and all the other skilled pursuits till they were as good as any in Athens. Did he then not want to make them good men? Yes, he wanted that, no doubt, but I am afraid it is something that cannot be done by teaching" (94B). These considerations lead Socrates to abandon his usual view that virtue is knowledge, and at the end of the Meno dialogue Socrates finds himself forced to adopt the view that "whoever has virtue gets it by divine dispensation" (100B). 1 J. E. Raven, Plato's Thought in the Making (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1965), pp. 43, 54. 2 Gilbert Ryle, Plato's Progress (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1966), p. 217. a Raven, p. 75. 4 Protagoras and Meno, trans. W. K. G. Guthrie (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1956), p. 25. 5 A. E. Taylor, Plato: The Man and His Work (New York: Meridian Books, 1956), p. 130. e All quotations from the Meno and the Protagoras are taken from Guthrie's translation, op. cit. 7 90E, 89E. 1535] 536 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY Socrates' line of reasoning is persuasive to Meno and it may be persuasive to many readers of the dialogue, but it would not for a moment persuade anyone who has read the Protagoras. For in that dialogue Socrates presents Protagoras with the very same line of reasoning which is used in the Meno, and Protagoras conclusively refutes Socrates' argument. In the Protagoras Socrates expresses doubt that Protagoras can teach virtue, as Protagoras claims to do, and Socrates defends his view by pointing out that "Pericles, for instance, the father of these two boys, gave them the very best education in everything that depends on teaching, but in his own special kind of wisdom he neither trains them himself nor hands them over to any other instructor: they simply browse around on their own like sacred cattle, on the chance of picking up virtue automatically" (319E...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 535-537
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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