Meno seems surprised when Socrates is unable to provide an answer to his questions about the nature and definition of virtue, but this rhetorical method allows Socrates to later question Meno’s assumptions about what is and is not virtue. ”For my soul and my tongue are really torpid, and I do not know how to answer you; and though I have been delivered of an infinite variety of speeches about virtue before now, and to many persons – and very good ones they were, as I thought – at this moment I cannot even say what virtue is.” While it may appear that Scorates truly isn’t aware of the answer, this frees him to openly adresses Menos’ claims.
At the beginning, Meno poses the question of whether or not virtue is knowledge (which later develops into questions of whether it can be learned). Meno also states that virtue is different for everyone, that men, women, and children all share different virtues, “every age, every condition of life, young or old, male or female, bond or free, has a different virtue: there are virtues numberless, and no lack of definitions of them; for virtue is relative to the actions and ages of each of us in all that we do. And the same may be said of vice, Socrates.” Given this all-encompassing notion of a sweeping variety of virtues, Socrates then proceeds to state the way that virtue is, more simply, an inherent part of being (which he illustrates through asking the slave boy to perform actions that he considers inborn).
In the end Socrates seems to agree that virtue is not something that can be easily defined and instead of following along with the ideas of knowledge proposed before, he claims, “ Then, Meno, the conclusion is that virtue comes to the virtuous by the gift of god. But we shall never know the certain truth until, before asking how virtue is given, we enquire into the actual nature of virtue.” This conclusion highlights the way Socrates (thus perhaps the author, Plato) may have viewed virtue—as somehting that one came “hard-wired” or “gifted” with, rather than as a result of deep philosophical inquiry or pursing of knowledge.
Other essays and articles in the Main Archives related to this topic include : A Rewrite of “The Apology” by Plato in the Voice of Socrates • Explanation of the Theory of Moral Virtue by Aristotle • Extended Critical Biography of Alexander the Great • Education in the Roman Empire