Research Paper: Meno and Phaedo the Role of Wisdom

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Meno and Phaedo

The Role of Wisdom in true Virtue according to Meno and the Phaedo

The roles of wisdom and virtue in human life have enjoyed considerable discussion in Plato's works before the Meno and Phaedo dialogues were written. Hence, the two works can be seen as a culmination of these concepts in the mind of Plato. Furthermore, the way in which wisdom and virtue are expounded in these works should also be considered in the context of previous explanations in Plato's works.

Meno for example appears to attach a very simplistic and literal meaning to the value of wisdom. He regards it as knowledge that can be taught. He follows Aristotle's early assertion that "virtue is wisdom" with a statement to the effect that virtue can therefore also be taught. According to Roslyn Weiss (137), for example, Meno is a somewhat simple soul, but highly aware of this and willing to learn. He therefore eagerly accepts Socrates' assessment of virtue as equal to wisdom.

However, Socrates has something more subtle in mind with the concept of wisdom. Because, according to the philosopher, virtue does not come by nature, it can be assumed that wisdom is not a natural process either. This assertion is based upon the fact that not all human beings have the same amount of virtue or wisdom, and these concepts are therefore the result of targeted effort.

In order to explain this further, Socrates makes an important distinction between learning and teaching. Virtue and wisdom come by learning. It cannot however be taught by one specific teacher. It develops through life and experience. This is where Meno diverges strongly from Socrates in his insistence that both virtue and wisdom must be elements that can be taught. He makes not distinction between learning and teaching (Weiss 138) or between wisdom and knowledge. These concepts are all equal to him. He is therefore further delighted by the philosopher's assertion that virtue and wisdom are not only equal, but that they arrive by a process of learning. It appears that he entirely misunderstands the philosopher's concept of virtue and wisdom.

In previous works, and most notably the Republic, Aristotle explicated his philosophy of virtue and the role of wisdom in it. Indeed, wisdom itself is one of the four main virtues. In his dialogue with Meno, Aristotle notes that "virtue is a quality of the soul." He constructs this as equal with wisdom, as virtue itself is concerned with being profitable rather than harmful. Aristotle arrives at this conclusion by considering that none of the soul's qualities can be seen as either harmful or profitable without the addition of virtue. Similarly, the addition of wisdom brings profit rather than harm. Hence, in imposing the same qualities upon the soul, virtue and wisdom are equal.

In this sense, Plato's concept of wisdom connects with his earlier views on reason, while virtue is connected with the philosopher's concept of morality. In the Republic, Plato expounds the soul as consisting of three basic energies; reason, emotion and appetite. Emotion and appetite are the lower passions and are… [END OF PREVIEW]

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