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"The soul evidently possesses such innate ideas before she has had time to acquire them. This is proved by an experiment tried on one of Meno’s slaves, from whom Socrates elicits truths of arithmetic and geometry, which he had never learned in this world. He must therefore have brought them with him from another."--Meno

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Meno is a Socratic dialogue written by Plato. Written in the Socratic dialectic style, it attempts to determine the definition of virtue, or arete, meaning in this case virtue in general, rather than particular virtues, such as justice or temperance. The goal is a common definition that applies equally to all particular virtues. Socrates moves the discussion past the philosophical confusion, or aporia, created by Meno's paradox (aka the learner's paradox) with the introduction of new Platonic ideas: the theory of knowledge as recollection, anamnesis, and in the final lines a movement towards Platonic idealism.

Meno's paradox

Socrates brings Meno to aporia (puzzlement) on the question of what virtue is. Meno responds by accusing Socrates of being like a torpedo ray, which stuns its victims with electricity. Socrates responds that the reason for this comparison is that Meno, a "handsome" man, is inviting counter-comparisons because of his own vanity, and Socrates tells Meno that he only resembles a torpedo fish if it numbs itself in making others numb, and Socrates is himself ignorant of what virtue is.

Meno then proffers a paradox: "And how will you inquire into a thing when you are wholly ignorant of what it is? Even if you happen to bump right into it, how will you know it is the thing you didn't know?" Socrates rephrases the question, which has come to be the canonical statement of the paradox: "[A] man cannot search either for what he knows or for what he does not know[.] He cannot search for what he knows--since he knows it, there is no need to search--nor for what he does not know, for he does not know what to look for."

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Meno" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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