After a digression, Socrates turns to a more serious criticism of the position of Protagoras, one that takes into account the justification Socrates has offered on behalf of Protagoras. Socrates is quite willing to admit that the Protagorean position is a fair account of what occurs in immediate sensation. The world of becoming, for Plato and Socrates, is a flux, and people’s sensations are private. One cannot taste the apple another person is tasting, nor does one ever see a particular apple tree from quite the same perspective as that of one’s companion. The “seeming” of the immediate data of sense is the “reality” of the immediate data of sense. However, the problem of knowledge is wider than the problem of data.
A theory of knowledge must account for other judgments besides those concerning the immediate data of sense, and it is this fact that finally undercuts the Protagorean theory. Once one recognizes that there is more to the problem of knowing than merely giving an account of the direct awareness of uninterpreted sense experience, the weakness of the Protagorean position becomes obvious. Socrates raises the question of justifying judgments that have a future reference; thus, he broadens the scope of the discussion to include a problem Protagoras’s theory cannot explain. A physician and his patient, for example, may disagree today about whether the patient will have a fever tomorrow. It is clear that both cannot be judging truly, and obviously the physician’s prediction is more reliable than is the patient’s. Both are judging about a fact that is not at the moment a part of the immediate...
(The entire section is 665 words.)
The Meno is probably one of Plato's earliest dialogues, with the conversation dateable to about 402 BCE. The dialogue begins with Meno asking Socrates whether virtue can be taught, and this question (along with the more fundamental question of what virtue is) occupies the two men for the entirety of the text.
Important and recurring Platonic themes are introduced in the Meno, including the form of the Socratic dialogue itself. Socrates attempts to dissect an ethical term by questioning a person who claims to know the term's meaning, and eventually concludes that neither he nor the "expert" really know what the term means. Other important themes raised here in an early form include that of anamnesis (the idea that the soul is eternal, knows everything, and only has to "recollect" in order to learn) and that of virtue as a kind of wisdom. Socrates also makes a number of essential points about the nature of a definition.
Socrates and Meno work through a number of possible definitions of virtue, each suggested by Meno and dismantled by Socrates. At one point, the question is raised whether it is even possible to seek for something one does not yet know (as in the case of seeking a definition of virtue), and Socrates performs a scale-model elenchus with Meno's slave to solve the problem via the theory of anamnesis.
By the end of the dialogue, the participants (which include Anytus, who enters toward the end and has a minor role) have arrived at the classic state of Socratic aporia--they still do not know what virtue is, but at least they now know that they do not know.