“What is more suited to conversation is not just to give the true answer, but also to do so in terms of what the questioner has in addition agreed he knows.”-Socrates (Meno p. 49)
“There is no truth. Everything is permitted.”-Hassan I Sabbah
Hey, it’s Raph here with a post on Plato’s Meno. I’ve talked with a few people in class about this text and mentioned it briefly as an example in my review of Critical Pedagogy by Joan Wink, but I really must stress its importance as it goes along with much of our course work.
Meno is one of Plato’s Socratic dialogues and it deals with the discussion between Socrates and the slave-owner, Meno, as to whether or not excellence can be taught. Meno poses the question and Socrates claims to have no knowledge as to the definition of excellence. He then asks Meno if he could explain excellence. As Meno struggles to explain the meaning of the word by citing many examples of what excellence could be, Socrates throws more questions at him and points out how these definitions could be problematic. He tells Meno to “stop making many things out of one” (p.53) and in the process works with Meno in un-learning what he thinks he knows of excellence.
Once they reach common ground, and Meno realizes that he no longer knows anything about excellence, Socrates addresses the question again. Socrates states, “…As far as excellence is concerned, I don’t know what it is; you perhaps knew before you came into contact with me, but now you are like someone who doesn’t know. All the same, I want to consider it with you and join with you in searching for whatever it is” (p. 63).
Eventually, Socrates asks one of Meno’s slaves to take part in answering some basic questions dealing with geometry. As you read, you notice that he is drawing the answers from the slave by asking the right questions. From here, Socrates concludes that knowledge and excellence is something within us all. Excellence cannot be taught. It is our own responsibility whether or not we choose to unlock it by asking the right questions of our teachers and of ourselves.
So, with the conclusions of Meno, we can see the importance of the question (ie. for our project, and bigger questions about life in general) and look at teaching under a whole new light. I’m really interested in seeing what you all think about this material. If anyone is interested in reading Meno, I highly recommend it. It’s a very quick read and clocks in at under 50 pages. I have a copy if anyone is interested in borrowing it.