Protagoras and Meno

ISBN: 1420926888
ISBN 13: 9781420926880
By: Plato Benjamin Jowett

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About this book

Contained in this volume are two works by the great ancient Greek philosopher Plato. The "Protagoras," like several of the Dialogues of Plato, is put into the mouth of Socrates, who describes a conversation which had taken place between himself and the great Sophist at the house of Callias-'the man who had spent more upon the Sophists than all the rest of the world'-and in which the learned Hippias and the grammarian Prodicus had also shared, as well as Alcibiades and Critias, both of whom said a few words-in the presence of a distinguished company consisting of disciples of Protagoras and of leading Athenians belonging to the Socratic circle. The dialogue commences with a request on the part of Hippocrates that Socrates would introduce him to the celebrated teacher. He has come before the dawn had risen-so fervid is his zeal. Socrates moderates his excitement and advises him to find out 'what Protagoras will make of him, ' before he becomes his pupil. The "Meno" begins abruptly with a question of Meno, who asks, 'whether virtue can be taught.' Socrates replies that he does not as yet know what virtue is, and has never known anyone who did. 'Then he cannot have met Gorgias when he was at Athens.' Yes, Socrates had met him, but he has a bad memory, and has forgotten what Gorgias said. Will Meno tell him his own notion, which is probably not very different from that of Gorgias? 'O yes-nothing easier: there is the virtue of a man, of a woman, of an old man, and of a child; there is a virtue of every age and state of life, all of which may be easily described.' Here is presented the classic introductions and translations of Benjamin Jowett.

Reader's Thoughts

Daniel Wright

Plato is both an extremely daunting figure in philosophy and a surprisingly accessible (at least, in a good translation such as mine). In fact, I would venture to suggest that in no other Western thinker is the discrepancy greater (though I'd love to hear counter-examples).Protagoras is a notable dialogue primarily in that it is one of Plato's only dialogues in which Socrates does not simply walk all over his interlocutors. Plato's Socrates is well-known for his dislike of the sophists (of whom Protagoras was one), who have since been almost universally derided as a result, but this one proves that they were intellectually formidable figures in their own right, more than capable of holding their ground. The result is more than usually interesting.Meno is almost disproportionately famous because of the vignette in which Socrates teaches a slave (who may have been a young boy - the word pais is a little ambiguous) how to solve an elementary geometry problem. This is sometimes - quite bizarrely - given a liberal reading: anyone can learn anything! If that is a conclusion that may be drawn from it, it is quite beside what Plato actually intends. He is using it to illustrate his intriguing idea that all learning is remembering, specifically, remembering something our eternal souls have known since the beginning of time. It's nonsense, of course, but it's still intriguing.Attempts to co-opt Plato in this, that or the other school of thought in education will be futile, since he rarely agrees with himself, let alone with the reader. It drives me round the bend when people talk about 'Plato's thought' or (still worse) 'Greek thought'. He is and always will be worth reading because he teaches you how to think, not what to think.

David S. T.

The penguin edition was the first edition of Meno I've read, the other is the Hackett edition. Between the two the Penguin does seem easier to understand and has better sentence structure, but I don't know which is more accurate. One of the big differences between the two is the Penguine edition uses "Good" where as the Hackett uses "Virtue". This edition also contains way better footnotes.Protagoras was my first introduction to Plato, but sadly I read it a while ago and I don't really remember much. The impression I got at the time was that Socrates sure likes to hear himself speak. The part I remember best is where Protagoras gives a half page reply to one of Socrates questions which causes Socrates to rant for 5 pages about how he's leaving if Protagoras can't answer his questions more direct with less words, oddly later on when Protagoras asks Socrates questions, most of his answers are far longer than Protagora's. In any case I definintely need to read this again.I've recently read Meno again and it was pretty good, not the best Socrates dialogue but I did like it more on second readings. I think reading a few more of Plato's dialogues did cause me to like Socrates far more.It was somewhat interesting, Socrates meets with Meno to discuss what virtue is and how can it be acquired. Meno seems to have some ideas but he comes in contact with a broad torpedo fish (Socrates) and this leaves him numb and in a state of perplexity, in the end we're not really sure what virtue is but we know a few things its not. The thing this seems to be best remembered for a part where Socrates questions a slave to prove that souls already learned everything before inhabiting a human. To prove this Socrates asks a series of leading questions which the slave gets wrong but then upon further leading questions he figures out the answer. This seems to prove the pre-knowledge to everyone, although I don't see how anyone getting some questions right when they're lead to the conclusion to prove anything.

Richard Newton

The Meno and Protagoras are two of Plato's better known works and a standard component of many undergraduate courses which touch on philosophy. These are relaxed modern translations - they are easy to read and the philosophical concepts are generally easy to identify from them. The supporting essay is a bit light, but if you want analysis there are plenty of other versions. I did occasionally feel that the translation was a bit too colloquial - I'm not suggesting Plato can only be approach by formal language, but I guess most people reading these will be students and this translation does not always match lecturers expectations (mind you it does not claim to). But, if you just want a good easy way to read Plato this is perfect.


I skipped a bit. Not one of my favourites although very interesting. I learned how Epimeteus was commanded by the gods to distribute specific qualities to the different species of animals, and how he ran out of qualities once he got to humans beings. That's how Prometeus came into play, stealing fire from the gods, so that humans could be similar to them, and share with them the gift of virtue. But what is virtue? If you want to know, read the Protagoras....


A couple of the more enjoyable dialogues because they are much more accessible and they concern a more practical topic: virtue. That said, I find it hard to rate it high when I disagree with a large part of Socrates' argumentation and conclusions. I have no certainty that virtue is the same as knowledge, as he states in both of them, and then dismisses later in the Meno. I do think it's possible to have knowledge and still act unvirtuously, unlike Socrates. And I do think that sometimes emotions, passions, or other sorts of impulses can over-ride knowledge in the course of decision-making, unlike Socrates. I vehemently disagree with the conclusion in the Meno that virtue is some sort of divine inspiration. And finally, I completely disagree that it cannot be taught. There is also Socrates' false modesty on great display in Protagoras, especially 361a. I wish I knew how much of this was Plato and how much was the genuine Socrates.


I was guided through both the Protagoras and the Meno by a list of involved questions. If I didn't have that, I would have considered consulting an expert on Plato to get the most out of what these two texts have to offer.


PROTAGORAS and MENO. (432 BCE and 402 BCE). Plato. ****.If you’ve not read any of Plato’s dialogues (plays) before, these two would be a good place to start. I say this because they are relatively more accessible than most of the others. In the PROTAGORAS, Socrates meets up with Hippocrates and begins the dialog in response to Hippocrates’ desire to hook up with Protagoras. At the time, Protagoras was known to be among the leading Sophists of the day. Hippocrates wanted to approach him and have him become his teacher. Socrates’ question to Hippocrates was twofold: “What is a Sophist and what does he teach?” It is still a little blurry, even at the end of the dialog, but a Sophist has the same word root as the word sophistication. It was then presumed that Sophists would teach the basics of “goodness” as it related to the city and government, and the quality of a man. The rest of the dialog – with a lot of semantic arguments – dwells on the definition and expansion of the meaning of goodness. Socrates finally gets down to the point where Protagoras can define his terms in a way that is all inclusive rather than as a portion of the whole. The MENO dialogue is much different. Here, Socrates’ thesis is that all knowledge is already present in men as part of their souls. Learning, then, is simply an exercise in remembering. Socrates uses a clever example of a geometry problem presented to a slave. You would do well to look at the example and see if you can follow the reasoning used that leads the slave to propose and accept the right answer. What makes these two dialogues even more readable is the great way the translation flows. This is probably one of the best translations I have ever read. Recommended.

David Evers

Just re-read Protagoras after a hiatus of 20 years, feeling inspired after having completed the Odyssey. I was hoping for a little more humor given the opportunity: Progagoras as a sophist is paid for imparting knowledge of virtue, and Socrates should have no problem exposing him as a charlatan. Unfortunately, Socrates enlists his "help" in exploring what virtue is. While interesting from a philosophical point of view, Socrates was less insulting and sarcastic than in other dialogues.

Cassandra Kay Silva

Socrates's approach to Protagoras was much more round about than he dealings with Meno. I preferred Protagoras, but felt that there was much to get out of both of these dialogs. This is a wonderful set of dialogs that explore the essence of virtue. They also expose the Sophists of the time to a bit of ridicule and ponderings. Having never met or talked to a sophist appears not to be an issue here. I liked the topic of conversation but am absolutely not resolved to the conclusions drawn on these topics.

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