Supplement to Hauptli's Lecture on A Selection From Plato's Meno {77c-78b1

             Copyright 2015 Bruce W. Hauptli

The passage in question, as translated by Benjamin Jowett as excerpted The Internet Classics Archive available from http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/meno.html (accessed on August 26, 2014) is followed by the lecture supplement further below:

Soc. Then are there some who desire the evil and others who desire the good? Do not all men, my dear sir, desire good?

Men. I think not.

Soc. There are some who desire evil?

Men. Yes.

Soc. Do you mean that they think the evils which they desire, to be good; or do they know that they are evil and yet desire them?

Men. Both, I think.

Soc. And do you really imagine, Meno, that a man knows evils to be evils and desires them notwithstanding?

Men. Certainly I do.

Soc. And desire is of possession?

Men. Yes, of possession.

Soc. And does he think that the evils will do good to him who possesses them, or does he know that they will do him harm?

Men. There are some who think that the evils will do them good, and others who know that they will do them harm.

Soc. And, in your opinion, do those who think that they will do them good know that they are evils?

Men. Certainly not.

Soc. Is it not obvious that those who are ignorant of their nature do not desire them; but they desire what they suppose to be goods although they are really evils; and if they are mistaken and suppose the evils to be good they really desire goods?

Men. Yes, in that case.

Soc. Well, and do those who, as you say, desire evils, and think that evils are hurtful to the possessor of them, know that they will be hurt by them?

Men. They must know it.

Soc. And must they not suppose that those who are hurt are miserable in proportion to the hurt which is inflicted upon them?

Men. How can it be otherwise?

Soc. But are not the miserable ill-fated?

Men. Yes, indeed.

Soc. And does any one desire to be miserable and ill-fated?

Men. I should say not, Socrates.

Soc. But if there is no one who desires to be miserable, there is no one, Meno, who desires evil; for what is misery but the desire and possession of evil?

Men. That appears to be the truth, Socrates, and I admit that nobody desires evil.

Hauptli's Supplement:

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 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 p. 84 of the class text: Classics of Western Philosophy (eighth edition), ed. Steven M. Cahn (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2012). 

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