“Can you tell me, Socrates—is being good something you can be taught? Or does it come with practice rather than being teachable? Or is it something that doesn’t come with practice or learning; does it just come to people naturally? “
—from Plato’s Meno
The best way to start reading the dialogues of Plato is simply to start reading the dialogues of Plato. Plato’s dialogues are intricately crafted dramatic, philosophic works, and in this study, we’ll take a close look at two excellent examples: the Meno and the Lesser Hippias.
With its straightforward presentation and approachable style, the Meno provides an excellent entry point into the dialogues of Plato. The dialogue gets right to the heart of the matter in its opening line: the title speaker Meno asks Socrates whether being good (sometimes translated as ‘virtue’ or ‘excellence’) is a thing that can be taught. Far from being able to answer, Socrates tells Meno that he has no idea of what virtue even is, nor does anyone else he’s ever met. As they try to find a solid definition for virtue, Socrates and Meno discover themselves confronted by some of philosophy’s most basic and profound questions: what can we know, how can we know it, how can we teach, how can we learn?
The Meno offers a multifaceted view of Plato’s teacher and philosophical protagonist Socrates—at times thoughtful, playful, humble, flirtatious, ironic, and slightly abrasive. Add to that a very intriguing demonstration of the Pythagorean Theorem by an untutored slave boy, plus a short encounter with an Athenian politician who will later bring Socrates to trial on charges that will lead to his death. In all, the Meno provides a classic example of Plato’s chosen philosophical format, the dramatic dialogue, where the drama of the dialogue is sometimes just as important as the words and ideas of the speakers.
In the Lesser Hippias, Socrates and the great sophist Hippias find themselves discussing which kind of liar is a better person, the man who deliberately contrives a lie, or the man who lies unwittingly. Rather uncharacteristically, Socrates seems to defend the deliberate liar as the better person.
Both dialogues present a multifaceted view of Plato’s teacher and philosophical protagonist Socrates—variously thoughtful, playful, humble, flirtatious, ironic, and slightly abrasive. Taken together, the Meno and Lesser Hippias make a fine entry point into Plato’s chosen philosophical format, the dramatic dialogue, where the drama is sometimes just as important as the words and ideas of the speakers.
Plato’s dialogues are very approachable—and a great deal of fun to read together as a group. Our study will focus on a short section of text each week, making this a great study for busy adults!
- Six meeting study
- Recommended edition:
- Protagoras and Meno by Plato (Penguin Classics), translated by Adam Beresford; Penguin Classics; ISBN-13: 978-0140449037
- Lesser Hippias will be provided as a .pdf document upon registration.
If you would like to request this study or have any questions about it, please contact us.