The Struggle Over Definition

Roslyn Weiss

in Virtue in the Cave

Published in print June 2001 | ISBN: 9780195140767
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780199833849 | DOI:
 The Struggle Over Definition

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Socrates insists on the “priority of definition,” shifting the focus of the discussion away from Meno's preoccupation with how virtue is acquired to the question of what virtue is. In the ensuing struggle over the definition of virtue, Meno contends that virtue is an activity or job that varies with age, gender, and station, and Socrates counters that virtue is a matter of how any activity or job is done: is it done with justice, temperance, and piety – or not? Socrates offers Meno a model definition that he might apply in defining virtue, a definition that Meno rejects for no reason other than his snobbishness. Meno again reveals his snobbishness in his preference for things that are “fine” – though these fine things turn out to be political office and political honor, and gold and silver. Progress is made toward defining virtue, though the definition remains incomplete because virtue as a whole is defined in terms of the parts of virtue.

Keywords: definition; Meno; parts of virtue; priority of definition; snobbishness; Socrates; virtue

Chapter.  15567 words. 

Subjects: Ancient Philosophy

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