Supplement to  Selection From Plato's Meno 77c-78b [pages 66-67 of our text] 1

Copyright 2017 Bruce W. Hauptli

1. What is (are) the thesis (theses)? 

People knowingly desire bad things. [Memo

People do not knowingly desire bad things. [Socrates] 

2. What are the stages of the argument?  

(A) Meno enunciates his thesis. [77 c]  

(B) Socrates asks: "Do you mean that they believe the bad things to be good, or that they know they are bad and nevertheless desire them?"  It is agreed that it is the latter which is in question between them--the former is simply something that calls for education or training. 

  -This point points to the important role which "conceptual clarification" plays in philosophical dialectics. 

(C) Those who know things are bad and nonetheless desire these things must recognize that they will be harmed, miserable, ill-fated, and unhappy if they get these things (e.g., the bad). 

(D) But, since no one wants to be such, no one wants the bad knowingly! 

3. Evaluation:

Man as a partly rational animal--the role of passions in determining the will, role of reason (are there other things which influence our action in addition to passion and reason).  Cases of addiction pose a clear problem for Plato, don't they?" 

-Well, do the addicts knowingly choose to become such?  If not, then, perhaps, this counter-example doesn't tell against Plato's claim. 

What about the human motivation of revenge?  Don't some people knowingly pursue it even though they know full well it is "bad," know they will be harmed and miserable, and know that they will harm themselves as they pursue such a course of action? 

Other cases? 

4. Clarify why the question considered here is important. Given the early Plato's "faith in reason," it is important that knowledge be sufficient to ensure right action.  In the Republic, Plato allows that knowledge alone might not be sufficient.  In the earlier stage, however, Plato appears to believe that knowledge would be sufficient for right action.  

Clarify, also, that one can not simply assume that a thinker's views remain the same throughout her life. 

Note: (click on note number to return to the text for the note)

1 The marginal page references in the text like 77c-78b refer to a collection of Plato's works (Platonis Opera [Paris: 1578]) edited by Henri Stephanus.  This edition's pagination has become the standard way of identifying and referring to Plato.  The passage is found on pp. 66-67 of the class text: Plato: Five Dialogues: Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Meno, Phaedo (second edition), trans. G.M.A. Grube, revised by John M. Cooper (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2002).    

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Last revised: 07/08/17.