Can Virtue be Taught in Plato's Dialogue

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Plato’s dialogue Meno begins with Meno asking Socrates whether virtue can be taught. Socrates responds by saying that he does not have an answer to such question because he does not even have knowledge of what virtue is. This claim prompts Meno to provide Socrates with a definition of virtue. He explains that there are different virtues for different people dependent on their gender, age, and social class (Plato 872). Socrates, however, rejects this definition because it fails to provide a single form common to all kinds of virtue. Meno gives another attempt by defining virtue as the ability to rule over people (Plato 873). Socrates swiftly refutes this claim by pointing out how it fails to explain virtue in the case of a child or slave. In his third attempt, Meno defines virtue as justice, but Socrates again explains how justice is merely a virtue and not a common feature of virtue. In his final attempt, Meno defines virtue as a poet says, “to find joy in beautiful things and have power” (Plato 877). The argument breaks down when Socrates explains how everybody desires good things and that acquiring power is not necessarily a good thing if not accompanied by justice or piety. Thus, Meno has repeated his earlier mistake by using different types of virtues in order to define virtue. In the end, Socrates is left nowhere closer to an answer as Meno realizes that he does not know what virtue is. Unable to provide Socrates with a definition of virtue, Meno offers his paradox:

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