SOCRATES' ANALOGY AT MENO 71b4?7*
Meno begins with Meno asking Socrates how ??et? is acquired: "Is it taught, or not taught but practiced, or not practiced nor taught but comes to men from nature, or in some other way?" Before an audience of Athenians, Socrates observes that Athenians would laugh at such a question, because they don't even know what ??et? is. Socrates goes on to say that he is in like case. Notwithstanding the fact that famous men of Athens were recognized in their accomplishments by their contemporaries and by later generations as demonstrating ??et?, Socrates seems to be speaking sincerely in claiming that he does not know what ??et? actually is in and of itself. Analogously, in Protagoras, all agree that ??d?e??? men are observed displaying that part of ??et? in warfare, notwithstanding the problematic of ascertaining the t? ?st??of ??d?e?a. Socrates lays down this principle,1 expressed interrogatively: "How, in case I do not know what a thing is, would I know what sort of thing it is?" (? d? µ? ??da t? ?st??, p?? ?? ?p???? ?? t? e?de???;). Socrates offers this analogy: "Does it seem to you to be possible for someone, who in no way knows who Meno is2 (?st?? ?????a µ? ?????s?e? t? pa??pa? ?st?? ?st??), for this person to know (t??t?? e?d??a?) whether (sc. the man he does not know) is beautiful or rich or even an aristocrat, or the reverse?" Although the analogy is self-evidently false, Meno accepts it as true.
There is no contemporary testimony regarding the original mode of performance of Plato's writings. As Meno is a performed dialogue, the original audience of Athenians likely watched and listened to it being performed by dramatis personae impersonating Socrates, Meno, the slave-boy and Anytus. Whether reading Meno, or listening to and watching its enactment, the audience is imaginatively present at the proceedings, like modern readers immersed in the mise-en-scène of a good novel. Where is Socrates' hypothesized "someone who does not recognize Meno" located? Like the dramatis personae and the audience, he might also be imaginatively present at the proceedings, beholding Meno whom he does not
1 Often called Socrates' Priority of Definition principle in scholarly literature.
2 Unlike in modern usage, for Plato, recognizing someone, or realizing that one does not know who a person is, are binary either/or cognitions, yes-or-no, not more-or-less. Cf. Chrm. 153a5?6 where Socrates reports that he encountered a crowd of people, "some unknown to me, but most of them I recognized" (t??? µ?? ?a?
????ta? ?µ??, t??? d? p?e?st??? ?????µ???). Likewise, at Rep. 2.375e1?4, Socrates observes that even animals exercise this pair of cognitions, in that noble guard dogs are "most gentle towards their familiars and those they know, but the contrary towards strangers" (p??? µ?? t??? s????e?? te ?a? ?????µ??? ?? ???? te p???t?t??? e??a?, p??? d? t??? ????ta? t???a?t???). These passages speak against imputing to Plato the notion that a person (or a dog) recognizes someone, or fails to do so, on a sliding scale to greater or lesser degree, pace the following commentators. Cf. Richard Stanley Bluck, Plato's Meno (Cambridge 1961), 214, "So far as the analogy with 'knowing Meno' is concerned, the point here is simply that some kind of acquaintance with a person or thing is necessary before one can be certain about any attributes." Jacob Klein, A Commentary on Plato's Meno (Chapel Hill 1965), 42, ". . . it (sc. the analogy) plays with the diversity of words which convey the meaning of 'knowing' and with the range that this meaning itself encompasses." ." John Edward Thomas, Musings on the Meno (The Hague 1980), 75, "The example, though simple is deceptive because of an ambiguity in the word 'acquaintance.' How extensive does this acquaintance need to be?"
recognize. Or he might be imagined to be located elsewhere, out of sight of the proceedings,3 or even disappear entirely, replaced by decontextualized conceptual problems.4 I argue for the former, because the specific properties (beauty, wealth, being an aristocrat), which Socrates selects from the many other properties of the foreigner from Thessaly, are visible in Meno in situ, thus would be known to the hypothetical man by virtue of being seen, were he present at the proceedings. Indeed, if he is to fail to recognize Meno, the hypothetical man must be present, for one must see a person in order to recognize someone one knows, or to realize that one doesn't know who he is.5
To see a beautiful man unknown to one is to know that he is beautiful. One may also infer, from seeing the many slaves who attend him,6 that the unknown man is wealthy. As for the unknown man being an aristocrat, that may be seen in the magnificence of his carriage typical of his caste, in the way he holds his face, and by the figure he affects, in sum by his haughty projection of privileged self. At Rep. 4.425b3?4, Socrates calls the ensemble of elements that make up a particular stance "in general the deportment of the body"7 (?a? ???? t?? t?? s?µat?? s??µat?sµ??). Also in the Republic (6.494a4?e6), a promising young man who, like Meno, is rich, handsome, and an aristocrat, is rebuked by a Socrates-like philosopher in the third person for "imagining himself prepared to rule over Greeks and barbarians, and elevating himself in the thought of it, puffed up in magnificent stance (s??µat?sµ?? . . . ?µp?µp??µe???), with a vacant mind full of senseless fancies." The
3 Cf. Roslyn Weiss, Virtue in the Cave: Moral Inquiry in Plato's Meno (Oxford 2001), 23, "If one does not know at all who Meno is, one certainly should not comment on whether he is handsome, well-born, or wealthy. Indeed, on what grounds do people presume to make pronouncements about the features of things they know not at all?" Similarly, Dominic Scott, Plato's Meno (Cambridge 2006) 19, "Presumably he is thinking of a scenario in which someone who has never heard of Meno is asked whether he is rich etc. Although the person can infer, just by being asked the question, that Meno is a human being, they are otherwise in a complete blank about him."
4 Cf. Willem Jacob Verdenius, "Notes on Plato's 'Meno,'" Mnemosyne (1957), 10:4, 289, "The discussion still moves on a popular level and the question simply is whether we can imagine any thing when hearing the word ??et?or the word Meno?"
5 The cognitive act of recognizing someone is based on perception, in seeing the person, or by hearing his voice, if blindfolded or in the dark. For the former, cf. Tht. 144c5. Theodorus points out Theaetetus entering with two companions and bids Socrates "See if you know him!" (???? s??pe? e? ?????s?e?? a?t??). Socrates replies "I know him!" (G????s??•). For the latter, cf. Prot. 110b3?5: "Socrates," said Hippocrates, "Are you awake or sleeping?" And knowing his voice (?a? ??? t?? f???? ????? a?t??), I said "Hippocrates, it is you!“ Plato names the canonical markers of identity at Soph. 267a6?7, where an impersonator is said to make his voice (f???) and appearance (s??µa) nearly like the voice and appearance of the one impersonated. At Tht. 193b9?d2, in the context of a discussion of false belief, recognition of someone is said to occur when the appearance of a person is in accord with the imprint in the soul, acquired beforehand, of that person's identifying characteristics. Plato distinguishes between unmediated cognitions of identity (recognizing a person upon seeing someone one knows, or hearing his voice, or realizing, upon seeing someone, or hearing his voice, that one does not know who he is) and second-order derived knowledge of identity, as in the case of never having laid eyes on someone whose identity one knows. For the latter, cf. Meno 94c5?6, where Socrates asks Anytus "Are you not mindful (sc. of the identity of Xanthias and Eudorus, the famous wrestling trainers)?" (? ?? µ?µ??sa?;). Anytus replies "Yes, by hearsay" (????e, ????).
6 Cf. 82a8?b1: ???? µ?? p??s???es?? t?? p????? ????????? t??t??? t?? sa?t?? ??a.
7 Translation of Paul Shorey, Plato The Republic with an English Translation (London 1935), 1.135.
passages in the Republic permit the inference that Meno's s??µat?sµ??is visible, as is his beauty and his retinue of slaves, and would be seen and recognized as signifying aristocratic status8 by the hypothetical man who does not know that he is beholding Meno son of
As he is unable to imagine seeing himself through the eyes of the hypothetical man who is looking at him, Meno readily agrees that it is impossible for someone who does not know who Meno is, to know that Meno is beautiful, wealthy and an aristocrat. The complementarity of the interlocuters' exchange is to be noted: the analogy is false, and Meno accepts it as true.
The intentional deception at Meno 71b4?7 indicates ab initio that Meno is a deficient interlocuter in some way. Identifying and evaluating the specificities of Meno's deficiency as it relates to Socrates' subsequent discussions is outside the ambit of this note. I offer these general observations implied by or consistent with my reading of Socrates' analogy. Meno is a beautiful vain aristocrat of middling intellect, dreaming of ruling over Greeks and barbarians, once he acquires the ??et? that men of great excellence possess. His responses at the beginning of the dialogue are de haut en bas and ill-mannered. By the end of the dialogue, Socrates has gentled him. In their final conversation, at Meno 100b, Socrates persuades Meno that ??et? comes to such men as it comes to by divine providence (?e?? µ????). Meno's acceptance of this opinion (shared by Socrates as is evidenced by the frequency of the phrase in other dialogues) negates his notion of finding someone to teach it to him.
What is the effect of holding these conversations on Socrates? In Theaetetus (151a), Socrates reports that his customary daimonion sometimes prevents him from readmitting former associates. Theaetetus in Theaetetus and Kleinias in Euthydemus are the gold standard of Socrates' interlocuters. The daimonion stayed Socrates's departure from the gymnasium in Euthydemus (273e1?4), thereby permitting his association with the gifted young Kleinias to take place. In Meno, the daemonion is apparently in abeyance. Socrates continues an association with the beautiful Meno, commenced the day before or earlier. Indeed, Socrates
regrets that the association must soon end.9 I suggest that the elderly Socrates associates with this deficient interlocuter because he is in thrall to Meno's beauty, as he intimates at Meno 76c.10 At Meno 93a et seq., Socrates initiates a conversation with the politician Anytus, who has arrived on the scene by chance. To do so is to expose the philosopher's personal opinions to the view of the city. Socrates associcates on this day with an inferior beautiful man, whose
8 Cf. the leisurely gait in public and in speaking (?a? ?s???, ?? te ta?? ?d??? ßad??e?? ?a? d?a???es?a?[Chrm. 159b3?4]) cultivated in Charmides' aristocratic family, which the young man proposes as an ostensive definition of s?f??s???>.
9 Cf. Meno 76e8?9: ?spe? ???? ??e?e?, ??a??a??? s?? ?p???a? p?? t?? µ?st?????, ???? e? pe??µe??a?? te ?a? µ???e???>. A discussion between the same interlocuters spanning two or more days is anomalous in Plato.
10 Cf. Meno 76c1?2: ?a? ?µa ?µ?? ?s?? ?at?????a? ?t? e?µ? ?tt?? t?? ?a???. In the Symposium, Alcibiades testifies to Socrates' amorous disposition when reproaching him for contriving to lie down next to the most beautiful man in the room (213e4?6): ???? d?eµ??a??s? ?p?? pa?? t? ?a???st? t?? ??d?? ?ata?e?s?>.
relationship with Anytus permits the latter's adventitious presence, and subsequent conversation with Socrates. Socrates' remarks anger Anytus, which affect is related to him becoming one of Socrates' accusers. The contingency of Anytus' presence, combined with Socrates' habit of provocatively interrogating fellow Athenians on their strongly held beliefs and, in this case, as on other occasions, angering his interlocuter, triggers the fatality that had long seemed to await him. Had the elderly Socrates not lowered his standards for accepting associates because of Meno's beauty, he would not have encountered Anytus by chance, and suffered the fatality that ensued. The fatality, if in fact it was inevitable in light of Socrates' chosen lifestyle, would otherwise have been postponed to a later time.
The passage in the Republic quoted from above on p. 1, reprises in brief the process of Socrates' persuasions of Meno, and explains how anger plays a role in rendering philosophy impossible in the city. A philosopher persuades a promising young man, as Socrates persuades Meno, to forego his aspiration to rule over Greeks and barbarians, and pursue philosophy instead. The young man is described in vocabulary virtually identical to that used to characterize Meno.11 The conversion of the young man from worldly matters arouses the anger of the men of the city whose political protégé he is. The persuaded young man is unpersuaded by his angry friends, and the philosopher who persuaded him is rendered by assassination or judicial execution "not such as he was" (?a? pe?? t?? pe????ta, ?p?? ?? µ? ???? t? ?). There is a presentiment of this denouement in Meno. As the dialogue draws to its close, at Meno 100b7?c2, Socrates urges Meno to persuade Anytus who is near by — the Athenian whose guest-friend he is — to believe the same things that he, Meno, has been persuaded of, in order that his ?????Anytus be more gentle and cease his anger (s? d? ta?t? ta?ta ?pe? a?t?? p?pe?sa? pe??e ?a? t?? ????? t??de ???t??, ??a p???te??? ?). The unpersuading of the persuaded young man and the extirpation of the philosopher who persuaded him in the Republic suggests that the outcome extra scaenam of Meno's and Anytus' conversation was the reverse of Socrates' instruction: the persuaded Meno unpersuaded by an angry Anytus, and Socrates the persuader indicted, tried and executed.
11 Cf. p???s??? te ?a? ?e??a???, ?a? ?t? e?e?d?? ?a? µ??a? (Rep. 6.494c6?7) with e?te ?a??? e?te p???s??? e?te ?a? ?e??a??? (Men. 71b6?7). The concatenation of adjectives characterizing Meno in Meno and the promising young man in the Republic is unique in Plato. John Adam, The Republic of Plato (Cambridge 1900), 2.25 and Paul Shorey, Plato The Republic with an English Translation (London 1935), 2.43 take the promising young man in the Republic to be a reference to Alcibiades. However, unlike the young man's defection from philosophy in the Republic, Alcibides' defection from association with Socrates, as he reports it in the Symposium (215a et seq.), was autonomous, unaffected by external agency.
* I follow the text of John Burnet, Platonis Opera, 5 vols. (Oxford 1901?1906). Translations of the text are mine unless otherwise identified.