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Can Excellence Be Attained? Essay

1574 words - 6 pages

In Plato’s Meno, Socrates uses ignorance to prove excellence cannot be taught or even attained by human actions. The process involves Socrates purposefully contradicting himself to entice Meno’s focus. Through Socrates, Plato argues particular criteria cannot determine excellence within a collective. Instead, Socrates asserts excellence must be a universal quality and applicable to all individuals, by comparing the human collective to a bee colony. Socrates purposefully fails to use a universally applicable proof for shapes to define a square. All shapHis ignorance is used to inspire Meno’s review of the argument and develop a correct definition for excellence. For Meno’s benefit, Socrates contradicts his methods of deduction and proves excellence is divine. Plato employs Socratic irony to inspire a resolution to a problem by facilitating individual thought and input. As a result, Socrates’ ignorance is based on contradiction because contradiction entices review and the development of a correct resolution. Ultimately, Socrates’ methods entice Meno to assert that both knowledge and excellence are divine gifts or that both are attainable by humans.
Socrates argues excellence must be applicable to the collective because individual excellence is not universal. According to Meno, excellence is based “on our walk of life and our age” (Meno, pg 100, ln 71e-72a). Meno’s resolution that distinct excellences define different individuals reflects a folly in his logic because his inquiry was into a single definition of excellence. Meno’s failure to answer his own question correctly inspires Socrates to guide Meno by ignorance and inquiry to resolve the definition of excellence. Socrates states that “bees [are] all no different from one another, but the same” (Meno, pg 100, ln 72b). Socrates argues a bee colony is defined by a universal definition of excellence, despite the many characteristics and aspects of excellence. Therefore, excellence in human beings must be defined by a single universal definition. As a result, Meno should abandon his distinct definitions of excellence and consider a universal definition. Socratic irony forces Meno to develop his own ideas about the nature of excellence. In the argument, Meno agrees with all of Socrates postulations. This process illustrates how Socrates as a teacher guides Meno’s thoughts and argument without producing an answer. The ability to understand that excellence must be a single universally applicable quality is difficult to grasp without guidance. Socrates is aware of the many characteristics and aspects that shroud the definition of excellence. Like a good teacher, Socrates and his irony force Meno to deal with the complications surrounding a universally accepted definition of excellence. Socratic irony serves to entice Meno to do the work necessary to understand and define excellence. Socrates furthers his Meno’s teaching by contradicting his proof for a square.
Socrates proof for a square does not...

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