Thoughts - Meno (Plato)

This is the third in a series of posts that stem from readings and classroom discussions in the course EDU S105 Philosophy of Education. Here is a link to the first post that also serves as an introduction to the series. Each post contains a link to the next post.

Once again, I urge you to go beyond the words written here. Try to make connections between the points and your past and current experiences in life. Ask yourself if (or how) you see these points playing out in the world around you today.

For these classroom sessions, the assigned text was Meno by Plato. The reading is freely available online and can be found here.


  • Knowledge represents beliefs that you can confidently act upon.
  • If you know that you don't know, then you can investigate. However, if you think you know it all, then there is nothing that drives you to investigate or question.


  • Giving students marks/grades is a challenge as they serve multiple roles in a child's learning and in the teaching process.
  • Asking the question "Can we teach _____?" implies the need for teachers in the first place.


  • Plato believed that reason should dominate emotion. However, it might not be helpful to always resort to rationality and reason. Emotions can give us invaluable insights into our own perceptions and biases on issues.
  • All humans hold some implicit biases.
  • Do schools and colleges today prompt children/students to leave knowledge at the door when they graduate?
  • Socrates and Meno conclude, through dialogue, that virtue cannot be taught and therefore it cannot be classified as 'knowledge'. Men who are considered virtuous might be acting on the basis of opinions that are true to them.
  • These opinions will not last unless they are tied down - to do this, we need to challenge our assumptions and attempt to answer the difficult 'why' questions. This helps convert opinions (that might be flimsy) to knowledge (something more firm).


  1. I find this post the most invigorating of the three.

    I found a incoherence in two statements- i) knowledge represents beliefs... and ii) ...cannot be taught and therefore it cannot be classified as ‘knowledge’.

    Are beliefs taught to me?
    If so, are they my beliefs then?
    If not, then there must be something between the ‘taught’ and the ‘learnt’, what is that?

    1. This incoherence that you mentioned is central to the dialogue between Socrates and Meno.

      At the start of the dialogue, they attempt to define and understand "virtue" and come up with different definitions and explanations. For instance, Socrates believes that all virtues "have a common nature which makes them virtues" - he proves his point by saying that running a state and a house both require temperance and justice; doesn't that mean that temperance and justice are both virtues that have something common about them? This was the point that Socrates was trying to make to Meno.

      The next definition they come to is: "virtue is the desire of things honourable and the power of attaining them". Then, Socrates and Meno realise that no one desires to be miserable and desiring good is common to all people, they alter their definition to "virtue is the power of attaining good" (it is a different matter that what some people think as "good" are actually "evils" - what this means is that they were mistaken; it does not mean that they actively desired "evil").

      They finally circle back to "virtue is doing what you do with a part of virtue" which makes no sense to either of them.

      As you can see, the dialogue between Socrates and Meno was complicated and not always coherent. Socrates readily admits to being perplexed and not having answers.

      Coming to your questions, I definitely think that there is a LOT between the 'taught' and the 'learnt'. An implied aspect of 'teaching' in all texts from the past (and, even in practice today) is that it is "an intentional activity" designed to impart knowledge, skills, values, beliefs etc to the learner. By definition, the act of teaching requires a 'teacher' and a 'learner'. However, in my opinion, all 'learning' does NOT require teaching and a teacher. Thus, I see a wide range of knowledge, skills, values, beliefs etc. that we pick up simply by living in the world. Therefore, I would disagree with Socrates when he and Meno conclude that, if something cannot be taught, it is not knowledge. This disagreement arises because opinions and knowledge lie of the flimsy-firm continuum and how firm or flimsy something is is subjective at best.

      I guess this also explains my thoughts on your questions on beliefs - some beliefs stem from a parent or adult actively teaching it to you while others are acquired through your experiences and interactions with the world. Your beliefs are truly your beliefs if you have questioned them, thought about them, looked at the assumptions on which they rest and are still satisfied with them. In that case, they are true to you and definitely YOUR beliefs.

    2. Thanks a lot, for such a detailed and personal response.


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