reading Plato's dialogue with Meno here ...

I had a couple of questions while reading this. It seems like some of the things he says do not account for some real world barriers.

  1. Plato tries to show that virtue is independent of the situation and conditions of any person. He says that whether male or female, old or young, virtue is the same for all. How then do we deal with the issue of childbirth being a virtue? Certainly men can't bear children, so the virtue of bearing children is a female-only virtue. It also cannot be formulated in terms of justice or temperance like "being able to govern" suggested by Meno.

  2. There is also the question that comes up later when Plato tries to show that no person desires evil. My objection is that we often know what is evil, but we still do it out of habit or lack of will. For example, we know that it's evil to play video games at 1am if we have work tomorrow, but many of us still do it. We know that it's better to get sleep and be fresh. But we still do it. Do we think that playing video games now will be good for us overall? No, we know that we are in fact destroying our day tomorrow, but we still do it. Doesn't that show a practical flaw in the argument?

  • 1
    How do you mean "why"? Plato was not infallible, some of his views are not very plausible today. However, the same virtue of, say, child care may manifest in men differently. As for the question of evil, Plato's moral rationalism has been criticized since the early Christians (like St. Augustine), who emphasized the role of sin, fall from grace, etc., in the darker human desires, as well as the weakness of the will and succumbing to temptations it leads to. Modern psychology is more in agreement with them than with Plato.
    – Conifold
    Commented Jan 4, 2018 at 5:38
  • @Conifold by "why" i meant that these objections i thought were obvious and that someone already argued as to why they do not bring up a problem. Also I wasn't aware of the criticism of Plato's moral rationalism. Thanks! Commented Jan 4, 2018 at 6:02
  • "childbirth" is clearly not a virtue. Commented Jan 4, 2018 at 10:16
  • @Mauro ALLEGRANZA. Clearly childbirth is not a virtue. I'm not sure if any act could be a virtue as opposed to being virtuous. But I think we can probe the language here; I suspect the questioner has in mind something like the idea that producing children is a kind of duty. Consider how single, childless persons are often accused of being 'selfish'. Much Catholic teaching is rather on the side of the 'duty' or desirableness of reproduction. I believe this is the background to 'the issue of childbirth being a virtue'. None of this expresses disagreement with what you have said.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Commented Jan 4, 2018 at 10:27
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    You are asking two questions in one. 1. and 2.need separate (if related) answers in my view. Anything like an adequate answer to either 1. or 2. needs a long reply. Together they impose quite a burden on the answerer. But of course others may feel up to the challenge.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Commented Jan 4, 2018 at 10:33

1 Answer 1


First question : When Socrates and Meno discuss virtue (arete) what Socrates has in mind are the major, high-level virtues such as wisdom (sophia), courage (andreia), temperance or self-control (sophrosyne), justice (dikaiosyne) and piety (hosion). These are non-gendered. If child-bearing were to be virtuous, then it would probably fall under justice as something due from a woman to the city (polis). Equally arms-bearing in Greek warfare might be a masculine activity but it would fall under courage. Women and men might fulfil justice and courage in different ways but there are no separate, gendered major virtues. Justice is justice and courage is courage for woman and man alike.

It is true that Meno produces a 'swarm of virtues' - virtues for women, children, slaves, the elderly (Meno : 71e - 72a) - but Socrates dismisses this list. He doesn't want a list of virtues and does not endorse this list. He wants to know the nature of virtue. What exactly is it ? What is its essence, its essential nature, whenever it occurs and whoever possesses it ?

It is questionable whether the various virtues, even if we confine ourselves to those recognised by Socrates and Plato, share a common nature, a real essence, by reason of which they are all virtues. Ask if you want anything further on this.

Second question : On your other point, that of no person's desiring evil, a central point is the status of virtue as knowledge. Knowledge here means knowledge of excellence, of what is best for one as a human being. Socrates seems to make the intellectualist assumption that if one knows that X is better than Y then one will prefer X to Y; and if one prefers X to Y then one will choose X rather than Y. This is dubious for all the reasons you suggest. Even if one does know that X is better than Y as a matter of moral fact and as a product of knowledge or rationality, there can be and are non-rational motivations, appetites and passions, desires, emotions, which can neutralise or over-ride that knowledge in situations for action. The alcoholic may know that staying sober is better for her or him than downing another litre of vodka yet be so fixated by the desire to drink and sink into temporary oblivion that down the drink goes anyway. Aristotle is much more sophisticated and nuanced than the Platonic Socrates in Nicomachean Ethics, VII.

  • Yes please, post some more the common nature of virtues. I'm new to philosophy, so something simple would be great. Commented Jan 4, 2018 at 22:04

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