kalos logos Plato's Meno*
Meno a gentle, brave, just, quick-witted, beautiful, wealthy, imperious aristocrat from Thessaly, who sees µe?a??p??pe?a in his soul,1 asks Socrates to reveal the aition of ??et?. Socrates and Meno agree that ??et? is practiced by the best men, rulers over others, setting straight the cities, in which they speak to and accomplish many and great things. The ??et? of ordinary citizens is an inferior doppelgänger of the ??et? that Meno aspires to.
The conversation between the interlocuters relies on a tacit agreement that continuing it fulfills their respective intentions. Those intentions are revealed by Meno in his unserious third2 definition of the man of ??et?. He says that “??et? seems to me to be, as the poet says ‘taking pleasure in the beautiful things, and being able to’” (?a??e?? te ?a???s? ?a? d??as?a? [77b2?5]).3 The conversation’s interlocuters are enjoying that loosely defined condition. The erotic Socrates is
gratified by Meno's beauty. Socrates’ dunamis that procures him that pleasure is his ability to enunciate ?a??? ????? that gratify Meno in turn.
* I follow the text of John Burnet, Opera Platonis (Oxford 1901?06). Translations of the text are mine unless otherwise identified.
1 For a biography of Meno, see Appendix i, 7?11.
2 For Meno's first and second definitions of ??et?, see Appendix ii, 11?12.
3 Socrates "refutes" the third definition by committing the logical fallacy of illicitly converting beautiful things into good things simpliciter. In fact, beautiful things may be harmful, like Helen of Troy, useful, or neither one or the other.
The locution ?a??? ???es?a? occurs twelve times in Plato, five times in Meno.4
The phrase ?a??? ???????the nominative analogue of ? ????? ?a??? ???es?a??? occurs once in Plato at Tht. 210d10 where Socrates characterizes an argument that has proved to contradict itself as a ?a??? ????? that has fled and run away. For ease of exposition, ?a??? ????? in these pages expresses the sense of ? ????? ?a??? ???es?a?. The problematic of a ?a??? ????? is ascertaining its validitiy. Socrates describes the process of validating it: a ?a??? ????? must have seemed genuine in the past, seem genuine in the present, and in the future, if any of it is to be sound (Men. 89a8?10). Its perpetuation over time is epistemologically significant. In Gorgias at 509a4?5, the ?a??? ????? that Socrates has propounded to Callicles has been retested frequently by its author and invariably confirmed: ?? ??? ??? ???? ?a??? ???e??: ?pe? ?µ???e ? a?t?? ????? ?st?? ?e?. Callicles is not gratified by hearing that ?a??? ?????. A genuine ?a??? ????? containing true doxai may displease an auditor as well as gratify her. Socrates observes at Men. 98a3?4 that bridging the gulf between temporarily possessing a true doxa and obtaining epistemological certainty about some puzzling thing requires an a?t?a? ????sµ?? to tie down the doxa, lest it run away, so as to make it into genuine knowledge for perpetuity.
Which of Socrates' and Meno's remarks may be construed as ?a??? ??????
Asked to explain color, Socrates does so and goes on to provide scientific theories
also for odor and sound. Those demonstrations (Men. 76c8?e1) are instances of ?a??? ????? enunciated by an erotic man intending to gratify the beautiful Meno,
4 Euthd. 9e8, Cri. 46e2, Phd. 69e7, 94a12, Cra. 423c, Tht. 202d4, Men. 81a1, 89a4, 89c7, 89c9, 89d5, Mx. 247e6, R. 335b1, 389e4, Lg. 770c3, 959b2.
as Socrates himself says (?a????µa? ??? s??), right after declaring his susceptibility to beauty. That dramatic detail exactly mirrors Meno's third definition of the man
of ??et? who delights in the beautiful things, and is able to. Subsequently, Socrates deprecates Empedocles' theory of effluences that he is reprising here in favor of one of his own definitions of shape. Empedocles' scientific theories about color, odor, and vision seem to be ?a??? ????? that gratify Meno who asks to hear more of them. Comparing them unfavorably to a definition of shape strongly suggests that the latter is also a candidate ?a??? ?????, not yet validated or disconfirmed. Happily, Plato presently has Socrates himself, apparently unwittingly, supply counterfactuals that disconfirm both definitions of shape. During the geometry demonstration with the slave-boy, Socrates draws figures in the dirt with a stick. In the case of those shapes, the color inside their borders is the same as outside. That dramatic fact disconfirms4 the first definition of shape at Men. 75b9?11, that it "accompanies color."5 According to the second definition, shape is the two dimension termination or edge of a solid. As Socrates has been teaching Meno the distinction between the genus "shape" and different species of shape by reference to circles and rectangles, the shapes in the pair of definitions would most likely be geometrical shapes. Accordingly, a square maps onto a cube, a triangle onto a pyramid, a circle onto a sphere. That mapping is absent in the case of the
5 So far as I know, the implications of drawing shapes in the dirt for validating or disconfirming Socrates' definitions of shape are not addressed in scholarly literature. Vassilis Karasmanis, "Definition in Plato's Meno," in Lindsay Judson and Vassilis Karasmanis eds. Remembering Socrates (Oxford 2006) 139 writes that the first definition "does not cover all cases of shapes, for example, shapes or figures drawn on a blackboard, on the earth, or on a piece of paper." However, that observation plays no part in his reading of the first definition.
geometrical shapes drawn in the dirt. Earth considered as a three-dimension solid has no correspondance with two-dimension figures drawn on her. That negative fact disconfirms the second definition of shape. If those readings are sound, Plato represents Socrates delivering a pair of falsified ?a??? ????? unwittingly. The corrolary of that dramatic detail would be delivering false ?a??? ????? intentionally.6,7
So far, the ?a??? ????? have all been provided by Socrates, with the possible exception of Meno's first definition, the taxonomy of the ??eta? which Aristotle reprises at Pol. 1260a21?24. At Men. 80d5?8, Meno poses his famous paradox:
And how, Socrates, will you seek an existing thing of which you know nothing? Of (sc. the
set of) things of which you know nothing, what sort of thing are you proposing that you will
seek? And even at best you should chance upon it, how would you know that that thing is
the thing you did not know?
Meno's paradox expresses his belated recogniztion that Socrates' foundational statement at Men. 71b4?7,7 namely that the avowal of absolute ignorance of an unknown renders inquiry into it futile. Socrates paraphrases Meno's paradox, first dismissing it out of hand by characterizing it as a bad faith eristic quibble, the same rhetoric with which he grudgingly accepted Meno's refutal of his first definition of
shape. The paraphrase of Meno's ?a??? ???????a unitary argument even after
6 Cf. Soph. Phil. 343?53. Neoptolemos did not know whether the intentionally false ????? ?a??? of many-wiled Odysseus and Phoenix, that it would not be according to themis that anyone but he capture the citadel of Troy, was true or vain.
7 For Socrates' foundational statement at Men. 71b4?7, see Appendix iii, 12?18.
Socrates humorously extends it to cover those already possessing settled
knowledge being reduced to idleness??does not alter its meaning, just as a tragic myth in the hands of different authors retains its intention.8 His self-approbation as its author9 indicates that Meno hears in Socrates' paraphrase simply a more complete expression of his ?a??? ?????: ?????? ?a??? s?? d??e? ???es?a? ? ????? ??t??, ? S???ate?;
Socrates' theory of Recollection subsumes Meno's ?a??? ????? by amending the foundational statement with the tenet that all nature is interrelated. That axiom restores the feasibiltiy of inquiry into unknown things.
Having established that inquiry is worthwhile, albeit hard work, Socrates again proposes a joint search for ??et? in and of itself. Meno sidesteps that injunction, and deftly sets Socrates to his task, to say what the aition of ??et? is. The great ?a??? ????? in Meno seems to be Socrates' fine-grained inquiry into and his
8 Cf. Arist. Po. 1454b34?35 ??e???? d? a?t?? (sc. the actor playing Orestes) ???e? ? ß???eta? ? p???t?? ???’ ??? (sc. ? ß???eta?) ? µ????•
9 Plato makes Meno the originating author of the paradox for the sake of the plot. Its historical author seems to be Xenophanes (DK B 34); the approximate reprises of Xenophanes' paradox by Sextus Empiricus and other later writers represent the perpetuation of a ?a??? ????? over time.
10 Socrates offers as proof of the theory of Recollection a demonstration with a slave-boy of how innate mathematical intuition may be recollected so as to solve a problem in geometry. Under skillful questioning, the slave-boy solves the geometrical problem posed. The slave-boy's success references a notable phenomenon: the easiness that many, apparently Plato among them, have noticed in learning mathematics. Cognitive science supports Plato's insight that geometrical knowledge is innate by non-verbal testing of indigenes in the Amazon. See Stanislas Dehene, Véronique Izard, Pierre Pica and Elizabeth Spelke, “Core Knowledge of Geometry in an Amazonian Indigene Group,” Science NS 311, No. 5759 (Jan. 20, 2006), 381?84.
nuanced findings regarding the named parts of ??et? in the soul, their relationships inter se, and their several aitia (Men. 87b2?90a1). Meno twice remarks that that argument is ?a??? ???es?a? (Men. 89a4, 89c7).
Alcibiades reveals in the Symposium his motivation in attempting to seduce Socrates (Syp. 217a2?5): “believing that he was serious regarding my beauty (?sp??da???a? ?p? t? ?µ? ???) . . . circumstances allowed me to (sc. attempt to) gratify Socrates, and thereby hear all the things he knew”(p??t? ????sa? ?sape? ??t?? ?de?). Meno’s motivation to associate with Socrates is the same as
Alcibiades'. The findings about ??et? are some of the things that Socrates knows. Hearing that ?a??? ????? arms Meno with the true doxa that f????s?? should govern his bravery, quick-wittednes and s?f??s???,11 lest they turn to harm.
Socrates states that the ??et? of the best men is not from Nature. In support of that assertion, he advances this finely said counterfactual (Men. 89b1?7):
For otherwise the following would likely be the case. If (sc. ??et?) came from f?s?? [Nature]
to those who are ??a???, presumably we would have experts who would recognize among
the young men those who were ??a??? as to their natures whom, pointed out to us, we
would take up and guard in the acropolis, striking an assay stamp on them much more than
as on gold bars, so that no one might corrupt them, but when they should come of age, they
would be useful (???s?µ??) to their cities.
11 S?f??s??? [prudential thought for one's safety] and bravery turned to harm are typically exercised by bold criminals practicing ?d???a and, on a larger stage, by unjust tyrants. The governing role of f????s?? extends only to one's bravery, quick-wittedness and s?f??s???. The exercise of justice and ?s??t?? [reverencing the gods] are never harmful, thus do not require f????s?? to govern them. Protagoras reprises that notion at Prt. 329e5?6 in observing that many are just but not s?f??. Accordingly, justice and ?s??t?? are omitted from the demonstration.
Meno's silence indicates that he accepts the counterfactual as proof that ??et? is not from Nature. A thought experiment suggests that were there a nineteenth-century expert like Theodorus, he would not have recognized that the young Winston Churchill or the young Franklin Roosevelt would somehow acquire political wisdom and prove useful to their polities when they came of age. The counterfactual seems to be fallacious or incomplete in that Socrates provides no
hint of how a failure to recognize inchoate ??et? in a young man would indicate
anything about its aition.
Socrates observes that the f????s??-governed ??et? of the very small number of the best men is a rara avis bestowed as an intentional gift of the gods to those who receive it (?e?? µ????), unlike the qualia of ??et? such as bravery or a quick wit, whose steady state distribution among human beings suggests that their aitia represent a mindless regularity of Nature.12 Were Meno to come to possess the ??et? of the best men, and exercise plenipotentiary rule over other men, he would best consider himself a vehicle of divine intention.
Appendix i: a biography of Meno
Commentators usually deprecate Meno's character, that impression reinforced by Socrates' in-your-face insults of the man. Aside Socrates' insults, Plato's characterisations of Meno are these. At Rep. 6.494a4?e6, Socrates speaks of the role
12 Protagoras' opinion expressed at Prt. 351b2?3 that ??d?e?a is from f?s?? is reprised by Socrates in the Republic at 4.429e8?430a4. See this author's "The storyline of Plato's Protagoras," https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3116946, 19?21.
anger plays in rendering philosophy impossible in the city. He describes a politically ambitious young man, of exceptional natural gifts, persuaded by a philosopher to turn away from thoughts of ruling over Greeks and barbarians towards the pursuit of philosophy. The conversion of the young man from worldly matters to philosophy 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 relieved of existence by assassination or
judicial execution. The external goods of the promising young men in the Republic and Meno are described with the same vocabulary. The former is wealthy, an
aristocrat and, as well, comely and tall (p???s??? . . . ?e??a??? . . . e?e?d?? . . . µ??a?). Meno is beautiful, wealthy and of aristocratic status (?a??? . . . p???s???
. . . ?e??a??? [Men. 71b6?7]).13 Like their external goods, the psychic goods of the young man in the Republic and Meno are the same. The young man in the Republic possesses a quick wit (e?µ??e?a), a strong memory (µ??µ?), bravery (??d?e?a),
and magnificence (µe?a??p??pe?a). When Socrates bids him look into souls at
Men. 88a8–b1, Meno looks into his own soul, the only one available for him to look into. He affirms that in addition to seeing s?f??s??? and justice in his soul, he
sees bravery, a quick wit, a strong memory and µe?a??p??pe?a. The meaning of
µe?a??p??pe?a in the soul is a puzzle. In surviving texts the term is associated with expensive public liturgies and extravagant feasts in private life.14 I suggest that
13 The concatenation of adjectives characterizing those men also occurs at Prt. 119c1?4 where someone attempts to address the ekklesia regarding a technical matter in which he is unversed, but is laughed off the speaking platform for his presumption, even though very beautiful, wealthy and aristocratic (?a??? . . . p???s??? . . . t?? ?e??a???).
14 Cf. Arist. EE 1233a33?34 ??e? d? dap???? µe?a??p??pe?a ??? ?st??.
Meno seeing µe?a??p??pe?a in his soul is tantamount to recognizing his
intention to do great things greatly. At Men. 94b1, Socrates characterizes Pericles
as possessing political wisdom15 together with µe?a??p??pe?a (?e?????a,
??t?? µe?a??p?ep?? s?f?? ??d?a). Pericles freely spent the tribute money of
the allies to enhance Athens with magnificent temples during the years of his dominance in the ekklesia (445?29 BCE).
The adolescent Theaetetus is brave (??d?e???), quick-witted (e?µa??) and gentle (p????). Meno and Theaetetus share those psychic attributes.17 Theaetetus fought bravely at Corinth. Meno presumably acted bravely in the military adventures recounted in Xenophon’s Anabasis. Theaetetus displays quick-
wittedness throughout Theaetetus. Meno claims title to a quick wit in his soul, and occasionally demonstrates it. In a rapid fire series of questions about geometry
requiring yes or no answers, Meno effortlessly spots the fallacious proposition that round is no more round than it is rectangular (Men. 74e7). And his instant refutation of Socrates' first definition of shape, that it relies on an undefined term, is the exercise of a quick wit. Although nowhere explicitly said to be gentle, Meno is represented in Meno as possessing that disposition. On the one hand, he indulges in the behavior of an aristocrat and a beauty at Men. 71b9–c2, 75b1, and 76b1–2, enjoying a license not available to the very ugly, impoverished adolescent
15 At Grg. 516a1–2, in the heat of an adversarial exchange with Callicles, Socrates denies that
Pericles wisely ruled the Athenians in that he was indicted for theft near the end of his life and came close to being condemned to death.
16 In externalities, they are diametrical opposites. Meno the beautiful wealthy foreigner is taught by an Athenian. The extremely ugly Athenian Theaetetus, impoverished by his guardians, is taught by a foreigner.
Theaetetus. On the other hand, his responses to Socrates’ rank insults are invariably mild: he simply asks Socrates to explain why he is saying them. He tempers his refutal of Socrates' first definition of shape by calling the definition silly (t??t? ?e e???e?), not Socrates himself for saying it. Consider also Meno's and Anytus' different manner in speaking of the mortal danger Socrates' lifestyle is putting him in. The harsh-tempered Anytus imbues his warning of that danger with an air of menace (Men. 94e2–95a1).17 No menace attends Meno’s version of the same observation (Men. 80b4–7). He reports that Socrates has paralyzed his mind, rendering him unable to justify his deepest convictions, observing insightfully that “if you went on like this as a stranger in any other city, you would very likely be taken up for a wizard." The foreigner Meno does not realize that Socrates is in danger also in Athens. Reminiscent of Socrates' odd observation at the end of
Theaetetus, at 210c2–4, that the gentle (p????) Theaetetus' future philosophical inquiries will make him less harsh (?tt?? . . . ßa???) towards his comrades and more gentle (?µe??te???), Socrates requests the gentle Meno to behave more
gently (p???te???) when refuting another's definition. And at the end of the dialogue, at Men. 100b8–c1, Socrates bids Meno strive to make the harsh Anytus more gentle (??a p???te??? ?), a senseless injunction unless Meno possesses a gentle disposition.
Appendix ii: Meno's first and second definitions of ??et?
17 When Meno reports that Anytus is angry, Socrates says he doesn't care. Socrates is following the implied command of the god at Delphi to interrogate passersby, and had long ago chosen not to be bothered by the anger he sometimes aroused in those he questioned.
Socrates puts Meno to the task of defining ??et? without reference to any of its
qualia such as justice, piety, or courage. Meno eagerly delivers a practiced ?a??? ????? expressed in Gorgian prosody, laying down a taxonomy of the various human conditions whose exemplary behavior is informed by various ??eta? [excellences],18 namely slaves, children male and female, the old, and the wife of the householder. The paradigm case of ??et? is the householder who is competent (??a???) to manage the city’s business (t? t?? p??e?? p??tte?? [Men. 71e1]) (sc. with others in the ekklesia). That man benefits his circle of friends and family, and contrives to harm unfriendly neighbors without suffering retribution, as cities do. Socrates is not impressed. He dismisses the taxonomy out of hand for producing a swarm of ??eta?, not the single ??et? that Meno has been tasked to define.
Socrates orders Meno back to his task. Meno less eagerly than before defines ??et? this way: “What other than to be able to rule over human beings (Men. 73c8?d1)—in that you are seeking some one thing in regard to all (sc. of the ??eta?).” The man of ??et? in Meno’s initial definition, who is competent to participate in managing the city’s business, shares collectively with others the
individual plenipotentiary agency exercised by the man of ??et? of his second definition. The latter is Socrates' exemplar of ??et? as well. As Socrates says at Men. 99d3?5, such men "are inspired and possessed by the god, setting upright (?at????s?) (sc. the cities), speaking for (sc. and accomplishing) many great things, (sc. although) knowing nothing of which they speak.”
Meno and the man of ??et? in his taxonomy of the ??eta? seem to belong to the same political caste, both of them householders with some degree of agency who
18 At Pol. 1.1620a21?24, Aristotle reprises Meno's taxonomy, and notes Socrates' opposition to it.
participate with others in managing the city's affairs. Meno's hoards of gold and
silver came by inheritance, he has won honors and overseas offices on his own.
Meno's ambition is unsatisfied; he apparently harbors the intention to become a ruler exercising plenipotentiary power over other men, like the man of ??et? of his second definition.
Appendix iii: Socrates' foundational statement at Men. 71b4?7
Meno's paradox identifies and the tenet of the relatedness of all of nature in the
theory of Recollection mends the flaw in Socrates' foundational statement that renders inquiry futile. Socrates states there that he knows nothing whatsoever about what sort of thing ??et? is. Socrates' ?a??? ????? about the qualia of ??et? and their several aitia renders the former assertion false to the facts. Socrates generalizes that assertion as applying to all unknowns. He advances an analogy to validate the assertion about ??et? and its generalization. Scholarly commentators provide various ways of reading Socrates' truth claims so as to make the analogy true to the facts.19 I argue that the analogy, like the part of the foundational
19 See E. Seymer Thompson, The Meno of Plato (London 1901) 65 "The difference in the mode of
existence of the individual Meno on the one hand and the class Virtue on the other is not here for Plato's purpose important"; 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?"; 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
statement that falsely avows ignorance of the qualia of ??et?, is false to the facts.
According to the analogy, someone who doesn't know who a person is, would not
meaning itself encompasses"; Nicholas P. White, Plato on Knowledge and Reality (Indianapolis 1976) 37 "For, we can ask, if someone tells us us that Meno is handsome, what reason do we have for believing his report, and how could we claim, simply on the basis of that testimony, to have knowledge of the fact?"; ibid., "Inquiry" in Jane M. Day ed. Plato's Meno (London 1994) 155 "At 71b, Plato . . . has maintained that we cannot know what a thing is like until we know what it is—e.g., that we cannot know whether Meno is wealthy until we know who he is. But why not? Why could we not know on good authority (e.g., on Plato's) that Meno is wealthy without in any plausible sense knowing 'who he is'? The answer is that Plato believes that to know that Meno is wealthy we have to find and examine him, so as to see that he is; for otherwise we are relying on hearsay, and thus on less fully 'direct' evidence. But to find him, we need a specification enabling us to recognize him, and in that sense telling us who he is"; 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?"; Alexander Nahamas, Virtues of Authenticity: Essays on Plato and Socrates (Princeton 1999) 6 “His (sc. Socrates’) point is simple and intuitive: if he (sc. the hypothetical man) has no (original emphasis) idea who Meno is, how can he answer any questions about him? That this is so is shown by the fact that Meno immediately accepts Socrates’ general view . . ."; 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?"; Karasmanis (note 6 above) 131 "So if we do not have an acquaintance or familiarity with Meno we cannot say if he is handsome or rich etc."; Dominic Scott, Plato's Meno (Cambridge 2006) 19 "Presumably he (sc. Socrates) 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." An exception is Gail Fine, "Inquiry in the Meno," in Richard Kraut ed., Cambridge Companion to Plato (Cambridge 1992) 225, n. 42 "But Plato speaks here, not of knowing Meno, but of knowing who Meno is; and it is not at all clear that I need to be acquainted with Meno to know who he is—I know who he is from having read Plato's dialogues."
know any of her qualities. Socrates hypothesizes the case of someone who in no way at all knows who Meno is, from which it follows that she would not know whether Meno is beautiful, or rich, or even an aristocrat, or the reverse. The analogy refutes itself specifically in this regard: someone who does not know at all who Meno is, would in fact know that the unrecognized man is beautiful, wealthy, and of aristocratic status by virtue of seeing Meno, and inferring those attributes from what is seen.
There is no contemporary testimony regarding the original mode of
performance of Plato's writings. As Meno is a performed dialogue, the original
audiences may have watched and listened to it being enacted by dramatis personae impersonating Socrates, Meno, the slave-boy and Anytus. Whether reading Meno
out loud, or listening to and watching its enactment, the audience is imaginatively
present at the proceedings, like a modern reader immersed in the mise en scčne of a
good novel. Where is Socrates' hypothesized "someone who does not recognize
Meno" hypothetically located? Like the dramatis personae, and the audience hearing or reading the text out loud, she might also be imaginatively present at the
proceedings, beholding Meno whom she does not recognize. Or she might be
imagined to be located elsewhere, off-stage and out of sight of the proceedings
(White, Fine, Scott19), or even disappear entirely, replaced by decontextualized
conceptual problems (Verdenius, Klein, Thomas19). I argue for the former, because
the specific properties (beauty, wealth, aristocratic status), which Socrates selects from the many other attributes of the foreigner from Thessaly, are visible in his person, thus would be known by virtue of being seen by the hypothesized person, were she present at the proceedings. Indeed, if she is to fail to recognize Meno, she
must be present, for according to Plato’s epistemology of personal recognition,20 one must see or hear a person in order to recognize someone one knows, or to realize that one doesn't know who he is.
To see a beautiful man unknown to one is to know in a flash that he is beautiful. Also, one may infer, from seeing the many slaves who attend him,21 that the
20 In Plato, the cognitive act of recognizing someone’s identity is based on perception, in seeing the person, or hearing his voice if in the dark. At 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??•). Cf. also Prt. 110b3?5: "Socrates,” said Hippocrates, “Are you awake or sleeping?” And recognizing his voice (?a? ??? t?? f???? ????? a?t??), I said “That is Hippocrates!” Cf. Eur. El. 766?768. Messenger: “Seeing me (µ’ e?s???sa), the servant of your brother, did you not know (??? ??s?’) (sc. who I was)?” Electra:
“It was from fear that I failed to recognize your face (d?s???s?a? e???? p??s?p??). Now indeed I recognize you (?????s?? se).” 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, antecedently acquired, of that person's identifying characteristics. Plato distinguishes between unmediated first-order cognitions of
identity (recognizing a person upon seeing someone one knows, or hearing her voice, or realizing, upon seeing someone, or hearing her voice, that one does not know who she 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. Men. 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, ????).
21 Cf. Men. 82a8?b1 ???? µ?? p??s???es?? t?? p????? ????????? t??t??? t??
unknown man is wealthy. As for the unknown man's aristocratic status, 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"22 (?a? ???? t?? t??
s?µat?? s??µat?sµ??). At Rep. 6.494a4?e6, a promising young man who, like
Meno, is rich, handsome, and of aristocratic status, is rebuked by a philosopher 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." Those 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 status by someone who does not know that she is beholding the son of Alexidemus. And if she fails to notice the significance of his s??µat?sµ??, the next remark out of Meno's mouth confirms his aristocratic status. Meno offhandedly agrees that it is impossible for someone who does not know who he is, to know that
he is beautiful, wealthy and of aristocratic status. Surprised by Socrates’ avowal of
ignorance regarding ??et?, he goes on to ask “if we24 may announce back home (sc.
22 Translation of Paul Shorey, The Republic (Cambridge MA 1935) 1,135.
23 See Thompson (note 19 above) 68 “The plural is used because Meno is speaking for himself and his party”; Klein (note 19 above) 42 “Does Socrates really not know what human excellence is, he asks. And he adds, with a sweeping gesture—as we imagine—over the heads of the people who form his retenue and are witnessing the conversation on the spot: 'shall we spread that (original emphasis) news about you [which must be known here, in Athens] back home, too?'” That Socrates and Meno are engaged in a private conversation, aside Socrates' brief encounter
your eccentric opinions about ??et?)?” The contemporary audience of the dialogue listening to those words would recognize Meno's aristocratic status by hearing him use the pluralis majestatis, a mode of speaking that employs the plural in public and private speech to signal high social rank.24
In exoneration of the flagrant deception of its auditor, the foundational statement truthfully identifies Socrates' enduring philosophical concern, to find out
what ??et? is in and of itself. Indeed he hopes to inquire into that conundrum and
with Anytus in Meno's presence, is indicated by Socrates’ rank insults and scoldings of Meno that would transcend propriety if others were listening. Socrates is quite unpleasant to Protagoras throughout Protagoras, but the insults there are wrapped in irony as is required by the presence of
an audience. Plato takes great care in distinguishing private conversations (for example, Socrates' with Euthryphro on the road to the law court or with Crito in the prison cell) from those with an
audience (for example, the attendees at Kallias' house assembled and seated to hear Socrates
converse with Protagoras [Prt. 317d5?e3] or the scrum pushing and shoving to sit on the bench
on which Charmides is about to sit down [Chrm. 155c1?4]). Meno's entourage are menials who keep their distance unless summoned, and do not eavesdrop on their master's conversations. In contrast to that conventional social arrangement, Agathon in the Symposium at 175b7?c1, as an innovation, bids his house-slaves consider themselves to be the hosts who have invited him and the other guests to the feast. Alcibiades who arrives late notices that the house-slaves are listening to the guests' conversations, and instructs them to clap heavy doors on their ears that they not hear what he is about to say (Syp. 218b5?7).
24 The use of the pluralis majestatis to represent high station survives in modern languages. Another instance of the pluralis majestatis in Plato occurs at Chrm. 155a7. Socrates proposes a conversation with Charmides, and asks Critias, a grandee who is holding court in the gymnasium, to summon the young man. Critias is amenable to that proposal. In the hearing of
others, he announces "We shall summon him." Critias employs the plural to broadcast his superior status vis-ŕ-vis those around him.
bids Meno to do so throughout the dialogue. Plato's theory of the Ideas–passed over in silence in Meno–will provide the toolkit for that inquiry. Socrates is reluctant to repeat what he already knows about the qualia of ??et?, and only does so at Meno's insistance.
Michael Eisenstadt Austin