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Where Is Virtue Found?

Socrates and Anytus argue about whether virtue is teachable. During the exploration of this question, they examine two issues: Would a teacher of an art claim to be able to practice said art? And second: Would he charge fees for teaching the art? Socrates says the following regarding where to send Meno, a politician and general of war, in order to learn an art (hence also to learn about virtue):

“[…] that we would be sensible, if we sent him to those who claim to practice the art, rather than those who don’t, and because they practice the art charge fees for it, […]” (Plato’s Meno, 90D).

From this place of conversation, the discussion takes a different path than the original of Plato – not just regarding the spoken word but also in Anytus turning Socrates’ method of conversation on the philosopher.

Anytus: Virtue, to me, seems to be the opposite, Socrates: It is to be found with people who don’t claim to practice or know it and at the same time are willing to share it with others free of charge.

Socrates: That seems to be a rather interesting idea. Tell me, Anytus: Why would the truly virtuous man claim to not possess knowledge of virtue?

Anytus: I, for once, shall turn the argument on you, Socrates: Does the art of virtue not include moderation in all things and pleasures, such as in drinking wine, in feasting and in marveling the stories of old?

Socrates: It does indeed.

Anytus: And moderation in general, does that include an over-, or an understatement of one’s capabilities?

Socrates: Neither, is seems to me. The person claiming to be capable beyond one’s capabilities would be called prideful. On the other hand, the one understating his capabilities would also be prideful, as he seems to be proud of not being prideful. Moderation includes the right judgement of one’s capabilities, neither over- nor understatement.

Anytus: I am glad you agree. Then, answer me further, can the virtuous man ever completely come to full comprehension of all the virtuous ways and what virtue itself entails?

Socrates: Of course not, by the dog, as there will always be things unconsidered and left unexamined, especially regarding virtue as such.

Anytus: Then the virtuous man must not be the man in possession of virtue, but rather the one pursuing it. Would you agree, Socrates?

Socrates: It seems to be the case.

Anytus: I am glad you are willing to see this. Therefore, finding the man who is virtuous means to find the man who looks for virtue. Hence, this man will not be the man who claims to already have found it, but quite the opposite: The man who claims to not have found virtue is the best place to find virtue, as he is moderate in his assessment of his own virtue. Would you agree with me?

Socrates: Yes, the case regarding the first half of your argument stands as is. But what about the second half: Why would the virtuous man, even if being the one claiming not to possess it, not charge for the teaching of virtue?

Anytus: It is quite simple: Would a person, who is not capable of the art of medicine, be considered a doctor?

Socrates: No, of course not.

Anytus: Would a person, who is not capable of steering a ship, be considered a steersman?

Socrates: My answer is the same, no, as would be with any other profession or art you could name.

Anytus: Very well. Would the owner of a ship of cargo, who is invested in the safe delivery of his merchandise, pay wages to a man who does not possess the art of steering for steering his ship full of goods?

Socrates: If the owner is in his right mind, and aware of the imposter, no, certainly not.

Anytus: And would the sick man be willing to pay a doctor not capable of healing him?

Socrates: That would not be the case, as one would try to employ or find a capable man for both problems.

Anytus: Then, could either of the two, who you just denied pay for their activities, rightfully charge someone for teaching the art of medicine or steering?

Socrates: No, obviously not.

Anytus: Then, if we see our argument as a whole, we have established that the virtuous man is the man not capable of virtue. Also, this man cannot charge you for teaching virtue, as he is not in possession of it. Hence, the best teacher of virtue is to be found with the man who, firstly, is not claiming to be virtuous and, secondly, is not asking a fee to teach you.



Thank you for your interest!

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