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Meno 77 78 & Gorgias Notes

Classics Notes > Plato’s Meno and Euthyphro Notes

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Everyone desires the good: The Socratic Paradoxes The Socratic Paradox which appears at this point in the Meno and in the Gorgias states that all men desire good and are averse to evil unless they have a mistaken belief about it's goodness (badness) and that no-one desires evil knowing that it is evil. This section of the Meno, 77-78, is Socrates' argument in favour of this paradox which is so called because its notion appears to go against intuitive, everyday belief and actions. This debate begins with Meno's assertion that excellence is the desire to have fine things and to power to be able to get them. He then states that he does not agree that all people desire good things and agrees that he believes there are two sorts of people; those who desire bad things thinking that they are good and those people who desire bad things in the knowledge that they are bad. This second class is further divided into those who believe bad things will benefit them and those that know they will harm them. Socrates aims to prove that all these theories are implausible and irrational, except for the first, that people want good things. The two agree that those people who think bad things are beneficial don't realise that they are bad and so the obvious conclusion for Socrates to make is that in fact they do desire good things, they just have a mistaken belief about what is good and what is bad. In order to reject the second class of people Meno highlighted, those who desire things in full knowledge of their badness, he argues that these people must realise that these bad things will harm them in some way. He takes to mean as a basic definition of good and bad, things which either cause benefit or harm to their possessor, which helps to understand why he takes this step in the argument. Therefore knowing something is bad is sufficient to know it will harm the possessor and also no-one can know that something is bad and still think it is of benefit. Nakhnikian says that to Socrates we are not thinking of bad unless we are thinking of harm to the possessor, just as when we think of something red we are thinking of something coloured. Socrates goes on and says that surely if something causes people harm then it makes them wretched and unfortunate, which Meno agrees surely no-one would desire for themselves. He feels that to wish harm on oneself is a psychological impossibility, presumably because of his egotistical views on good, which when he uses it implies, "good for oneself". Of course with this way of thinking it would be hard for Socrates to comprehend a situation where someone would not act in an egotistical way. The conclusion comes that if all this is true then no-one wants bad things. The overall conclusion of this part of the argument and the essence of his paradox is that if a man knows something is evil then he does not desire it and if a man desires something evil then he must believe that it is good. Socrates then says that if wanting to have good things is something everyone has then it is not a distinguishing feature when it comes to finding a definition of excellence and so the first part of Meno's original definition is made obsolete. They are then left with the definition that excellence is, "the power to get good things." Socrates demands that they must add self-control and piety to this otherwise people could achieve good things in bad ways and still are called excellent. This implies, as Socrates says, that if one were to obtain silver in an unjust way then they should not and so remains just; therefore excellence is also, in some instances, not getting good things and so Meno's definition is

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