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The Structure of Dialectic in the Meno In broad strokes, the epistemological strategy of the Meno is as follows.

1 Plato notices a problem with his philosophical method. The problem concerns the ability of the method to sustain real learning, and so to produce knowledge. This problem is represented in the dialogue by Meno's paradox. Plato solves the problem with a theory that recasts all learning as the recollection of things we knew before we were born. Thus, starting from a methodological dilemma, Plato develops an account of learning, rationality, and knowledge. Because of this strategy, an interpretation of Plato's views on knowledge and learning in the Meno must begin with an account of his philosophical method. Such an account provides the context for interpreting Meno's paradox as a problem germane to the method, and the theory of Recollection as an apt solution to the problem, i.e. an apt account of the learning the method produces. In this paper I set out a new interpretation of the philosophical method of the Meno. Recent interpreters of the Meno describe the philosophical method of the Meno along the lines of the Socratic elenchus.2 In an elenchus, Socrates elicits a number of opinions from his interlocutor, and then shows that these opinions entail a contradiction. Seeing the contradiction, the interlocutor is forced to renounce one of his opinions, and more important, the conceit of knowledge.3 I’ll call the school of interpretations that attribute this method to the Meno, collectively, the elenctic reading. The elenctic reading’s account of the Socratic "What is X?" question has two related consequences. First, since the relata of a contradiction are propositions, the elenctic reading leans towards taking propositions as the objects of philosophical investigation and knowledge. Philosophical inquiry, on this account, is a process in which we improve the consistency,

or justification, or coherence of our statements. But the "What is X?" question is a test of an interlocutor's knowledge of X, a property. 4 And Plato is primarily concerned with the way philosophy improves our grasp, or understanding, of these properties. The elenctic reading misconstrues the primary objects of Platonic inquiry. This leads to the second consequence. There is no denying that the things we say play a central role in philosophy. Nor can one deny that what happens in the Meno, and elsewhere, involves the discovery and revision of inconsistencies in our statements. For Plato, though, these statements manifest our comprehension of the property they concern. Accordingly, an inconsistency in our claims manifests a deficiency in our grasp of the property. Moreover, the revision of an inconsistency depends on an improvement in the same grasp. What we understand and what we say, while not one and the same for Plato, are closely related. Because the elenctic reading treats propositions as the primary objects of philosophical investigation and knowledge, it overlooks the way statements represent our understanding of a property, and play a central role in the improvement of that understanding in philosophical inquiry. My interpretation provides a different account of the role of language in philosophical inquiry. The method of the Meno is dialectic. In order to participate in dialectic, one need only be linguistically competent with the name of the property to be investigated. The ability to use that name reliably and understandably in speech is sufficient for participation in productive philosophical inquiry. Dialectic aims at an account that says what a property is, i.e. its essence. We propose an answer to the “What is X?” question. We then test this account against the things we tend to say about the property X and its bearers to see if it coheres with those statements, and explains the


phenomena they depict. In this role, the things we tend to say about X and its bearers serve to improve our understanding of X. As a result, we improve our account in such a way that eventually it specifies the feature common to the property's bearers and explanatory of their regular behavior. Moreover, the statements of our linguistic competence are themselves revised and augmented in such a way that our account is ultimately coupled with an organized and consistent body of statements. In dialectic, reflection on the things we say informs us about the properties whose names we are using. In return, as our grasp of a property improves, the way we speak about it and its bearers develops into a coherent, explanatory theory.

I. The Structure of Dialectic The opening discussion of the Meno is a dialectical clinic in which Plato displays the rules and requirements of inquiry. He does this by portraying a faltering philosophical discussion. Initially, Meno wants to know whether Virtue can be taught. Socrates insists that before answering this question, they must first determine what Virtue is.5 When Meno has difficulty understanding how he should answer the question, “What is Virtue?” Socrates states the criteria for an adequate answer. When troubles persist, Socrates even presents accounts of Color and Shape as a model for Meno’s response about Virtue. These moments are self-consciously methodological; Plato is trying to show us how philosophy is, or ought to be, done. The surest sign of Plato’s focus on method is the introduction of a dialectical rule, a restriction on the terms that may be used in a dialectical account. The restriction prohibits accounts that employ terms unfamiliar to whomever the account is supposed to


“What is Virtue?” Socrates provides an account of Shape as a model for the way Meno should give an account of Virtue. though. probably. and demands only the kind of comprehension required for entrance into inquiry. and the conditions on the possession of philosophical understanding. it is necessary to answer “more gently and more dialectically” since he and Meno are engaged in friendly and not combative discussion. The first application. which I will call DR1. Then. DR2. represents the end of dialectic.) and the applications differ in important ways. says Socrates. The account is this: “Let this be Shape for us: the only thing that always follows Color. 79d1 ff. The difference between the modes of discourse is a difference of goals.” (75d 5-7) In offering this restriction. The second application. I will describe the process that moves us from the beginning of dialectic to the end.7 I will use the two applications of the DR first to isolate and characterize the endpoints of dialectic. interlocutors converse as partners in the search for 4 .. At the beginning of the dialogue. Meno has trouble understanding how he should answer Socrates’ question. Eristic is purely competitive.6 I’ll call this the Dialectical Requirement.”8 (75b 9-10) Meno says that this account would be useless if he were ignorant of Color.9 The introduction of the DR follows: “It is more dialectical. as he is imagined to be of Shape. represents the beginning of dialectic. In dialectic. but also through those things the questioner grants he knows. to respond not just with the truth. But the DR is applied twice in the Meno (75d5 ff. (75c 5-7) Although the account is true. or DR. The DR insures that accounts given in dialectical exchange will be understandable and informative to the person hearing the account. a participant’s success consists in besting her opponent.inform. Socrates distinguishes dialectic from eristic discussion.

10 Socrates is asking only whether Meno uses certain words to speak of things in the world. The DR captures the goals and methods that distinguish dialectic from other modes of discourse. Once Meno has answered that he uses the words. Socrates employs them in his account with no more trouble from the DR. not victory.something valuable to both. 5 . Let’s start with the second. he needs only to claim to use the words in the account to speak about something. to call. Socrates makes sure that Meno is familiar with the terms he will use in the account. Before each. The second puzzle concerns what it means for someone to grant that she knows these things. Exactly which things Meno speaks of by these words is left undetermined. The verb kale/in. For Meno to grant that he knows the things through which Socrates gives his account. Socrates’ use of “those things” --di )e)kei/nwn -. ti. In light of this. is prominent here. the DR is a good restriction. 76d 2-3) In these questions. and enables him to contribute as well. Socrates adheres conspicuously to the new rule while giving two more practice accounts. and a different thing a solid?…Now then. Two puzzles about the DR confront us immediately. The goal of dialectic is understanding. This ensures that the partner is learning.does not say what kind of item forms the medium of an account. we know only that he talks about something. you call something an eye?” (76a 1. In nearly every case Socrates asks Meno whether he calls something by a certain name. Socrates is giving Meno the opportunity to grant that he knows the things in Socrates’ account. After introducing the DR. The dialectician must work around the things her partner does not know instead of taking competitive advantage of that ignorance. The first is to decide what kind of thing an account proceeds through. “You call something a plane.

Moreover. Whatever that item is. But the words he claims to use are not the things through which Socrates gives his account. Nonetheless. So. and it is their signification that interests him. or even true. nothing complicated. although we use the term ‘know. it is the thing through which Socrates gives his account. or completed. In saying this we do not attribute expert knowledge to the speaker.11 Here he uses several words to signify “the same thing. or justified. I mean the same thing by all these. but on the thing the revised account of Shape: “You call something an end? I mean by this such a thing as a limit or extreme. Prodicus would probably disagree with us. Dialectic is object oriented. Consider the way Socrates checks to make sure Meno knows the thing corresponding to his use of “limit” -. That’s the sort of thing I mean. it is the thing Meno grants he knows when he admits that he uses the words in Socrates’ account. but I suppose you call something limited. When someone calls things in the world by a term “X” or says that she has heard of Xs. when pressed.Meno’s claim to use certain words suffices as evidence that he thinks he knows the things in Socrates’ -. Nor have we said anything about what the person believes about Xs. attribute 6 . or what Xs are. In testing Meno this way. We have not implied that the person’s beliefs about Xs are certain.” (75e1-4) Socrates thinks his words signify something.” a single item for which pe/raj will stand in his account. it seeks an account of the thing or property that is shared by all and only the items called by the same name. It is questionable that we would. a claim to use a property’s name in speech is sufficient to show that one thinks one knows the property so named. The focus is not on the name or names of this property. Socrates is doing nothing out of the ordinary.’ we are not invoking a robust notion of knowledge. it is common to say that she knows Xs.

the property. we can see why he doesn’t make any effort to determine the precise character of Meno’s use. It is in this sense that Socrates defines through things 7 . or their patterns of use in speech. when we are given an elucidation like Socrates’ account of Shape. This is all Socrates is testing for. When Socrates uses Meno’s manner of speaking as evidence of Meno’s familiarity.12 He just wants to be sure that Meno has heard of planes. He isn’t trying to find out whether Meno is an accomplished mathematician or doctor. Our ordinary use of a word indicates that we are familiar with the property named by that word. But this general description needn’t be the same as ours. but on the thing. This notion of familiarity helps to illuminate the way Socrates’ accounts go through properties. In this light.knowledge of any kind on this basis. he isn’t really testing for knowledge of any kind. He isn’t testing for justification or certainty in Meno’s views. solids. he is doing nothing more controversial than what we do all the time. We are informed not by reflection on the word. We attend immediately to their signification. i. named by the word. If anything. and eyes so that he’ll comprehend when Socrates refers to these things in his account. For instance. and perhaps to give some general description of Xs. Although he uses the word ‘know’. we do not focus on the linguistic sense of the words in the account. When we are given an account using the word. As used here. and not words. we rely on our familiarity with the property and its bearers. and whatever it is that happens always to follow it.e. we take the person to be able to pick out Xs in the environment. All we take to be shown by the person’s use of the term is that he or she is familiar with the subject. the DR requires the common and easily attained familiarity with things that is demonstrated by our use of the general term for a group of items. We think about color. or even agree with ours.

but it is not by reflection on them that we gain whatever information the account contains. one is able to think and speak generally about the property and its bearers. an account of 8 . This suffices for now as an account of DR1 and the kind of comprehension it demands. anyone who stands to learn from an account of Virtue -. I will call the first application of that rule DR1. One must only be familiar with the property so named. The words are certainly instrumental in our ability to learn. and give some general characterization of it. and the kind of comprehension it requires DR1 familiarity. Later in the conversation Socrates and Meno are considering an account of Virtue as “whatever is done with Justice. DR1 familiarity and linguistic competence are easily achieved. one needn’t know the property an account goes through very thoroughly.and not words. (79c7-9) Consequently. If one is DR1 familiar with a property and competent with its name.” (78e6-79a1) Socrates rejects the account for violating the DR in the following way. Justice has been agreed to be a part of Virtue. in the sense that one can pick it out. one can ask meaningfully and productively what the property is. Most important. For this reason. but very powerful. have thoughts about it and its bearers. and it is the kind of familiarity Socrates is interested in when he applies the DR for the first time. Further features of DR1 will come out in juxtaposition to the DR2. In order to be informed in this way. One can become familiar with other properties through it.13 This is the kind of familiarity evidenced when a person displays competence with a word. to which I turn now. One can discuss its relations to other properties. (79a2-5) But a part of Virtue cannot be known unless one already knows what Virtue is as a whole. Thus.will also be ignorant of Justice.because he is ignorant of it -.

) That Socrates is demanding an answer to the “What is X?” question as the standard of knowledge is emphasized by his repeated use of the phrase o(/ti e)sti/n .” (79c 7. we rejected the sort of answer that proceeds through things still the subject of inquiry and not yet agreed upon.” (79d1-3) Socrates explains his rejection of the account by reference to the first application of the DR. then there would be no problem with the account rejected here. (79d 5 ff. and responsible for their bearing the property.“what it is. Different standards must now be at work. the item must no longer be the subject of inquiry. 9 . This suffices to show that the questioner is familiar with the property. when I was answering you before about Shape. (72c ff. Although Socrates claims to be using the principle that forced him to revise his first account of Shape. The more stringent standard of the second application of the DR (DR2) is indicated by the changed phrasing of the requirement. the standards of the DR have changed. The interlocutor’s familiarity with the item and its name is no longer sufficient. Under DR1. inquiry ends only when one can answer the question “What is it?” concerning the object of investigation.) Socrates appeals to the DR to justify his rejection of the account: “If you remember. 7) “Do you suppose that someone can know a part of Virtue.Virtue in terms of Justice will go through something unknown to the person receiving the account. Rather. and will be uninformative. If Socrates and Meno needed only to be DR1 familiar with Justice. d6. Far from being over when one has acquired linguistic competence with the name of a property. But Socrates and Meno obviously satisfy this standard with regard to Justice. One does this by providing an account that states the essence that is common to all instances of the property. in order for a property to be mentioned in an account the questioner must only claim to use the name of that property in speech.

DR1 is introduced on the grounds that Meno doesn’t understand one of the terms in Socrates’ account of Shape. Moreover. For instance. The differences between the kinds of comprehension required by DR1 and DR2 can be seen in the details of their applications. DR2 understanding is the same from person to person. or DR2 understanding. The comment that one cannot understand Justice without already grasping Virtue implies that Virtue must appear in any account of Justice. in the sense that he has DR1 familiarity with it. but is willing to craft a new one in order to accommodate Meno’s alleged ignorance. no matter who is giving it or who is listening. In contrast. Justice cannot be mentioned in any account of Virtue because nobody can grasp the property of Justice without understanding Virtue. no matter who is giving or hearing them. The rule cuts in the other direction as well. the first account would have been adequate. But for someone who knows what Color is. DR2’s constraints on the terms in an account are impersonal. then one must have an account stating what that property is. but also 10 . the adequacy of an account depends not only on its truth. not knowing it (Virtue) itself?” If inquiry must be complete with regard to a property before it is used in an account. Accounts governed by DR2 have unqualified restrictions against the use of certain terms. in some way yet to be specified. The sense is that when giving an account under DR2. This indicates that. and unqualified requirements that certain other terms appear. In what follows I will call the knowledge demonstrated by the ability to provide such an account DR2 knowledge.what it is. Socrates maintains that his first account of Shape is true. the standards of DR1 allow great flexibility in our accounts.14 DR2 prohibits certain terms from being used in accounts. Under DR1 there is more than one true account of a property. there is only one correct account.

One person may become familiar with Shape through her familiarity with Color. or have learned about shapes under a different description from that of another person. Under DR1. The epistemological order is the same for all with no exceptions. we may give different accounts of the same property to different interlocutors. has no rules of priority at all. which depends on DR2 knowledge of Knowledge. one person may have different experiences with shapes from another person. Under DR2. Similarly. This reflects the fact that familiarity with a property can be developed in a number of different ways. and so one cannot grasp it unless one grasps Virtue as a whole. DR2 knowledge of Justice depends on DR2 knowledge of Virtue. on the other hand. Let us return to the prohibition on using Justice in a DR2 account of Virtue. one must shape one’s competence to meet the requirements of the account. as demonstrated by the acceptability of circular accounts for different interlocutors. Under DR2 the opposite happens.16 11 .on the competence of one’s interlocutor. DR1 familiarity. DR1 familiarity with a property can vary from person to person. the individuals occupy the same level of comprehension of the same property. Even though these variations exist. Insofar as there are terms that must appear in the DR2 account of a property. and through a variety of different terms. if Virtue is a part of Knowledge. or have different beliefs about shapes. there are rules of epistemological priority. it cannot be understood unless Knowledge is grasped as a whole. As a result. Justice is a part of Virtue. there are properties one must DR2 understand in order to understand the original property. while another person becomes familiar with Color through his familiarity with Shape.15 This requirement exists because Virtue must be present in the DR2 account of Justice. For instance. accounts are shaped to meet the competence of one’s interlocutor.

DR1 familiarity is demonstrated by competence with a word. These accounts are final answers to the “What is X?” question. there are no restrictions on the order in which one may come to have DR1 familiarity with a property. both important to dialectic. with no exceptions. Accounts governed by DR2 represent the end of dialectic. Finally. her familiarity with Virtue may be acquired through her familiarity with Justice. In fact. They delineate an objective hierarchy of properties that obey rules of epistemological priority. They represent the fullest understanding. DR1 familiarity with the same item can be held in varying ways. and accordingly must meet the highest standards. We must now ask where in the dialectical process these levels of comprehension are important. These standards reflect some fundamental Platonic tenets about philosophical understanding. characterizations. whereas DR2 understanding is demonstrated by the ability to give an account. as reflected by the fact that there is only one correct DR2 account for all inquirers.17 In DR1 and DR2. A person may become familiar with Justice before Virtue.DR1 and DR2 differ because they require different kinds of comprehension of the properties named in dialectical accounts. there are certain other properties one must already understand. and the same for all inquirers. the beliefs. Accounts at this final stage are uniquely correct. and experiences that embody DR1 familiarity vary from person to person. In order for one property to be understood the properties through which it is explicated must also be grasped. and not in 12 . DR2 knowledge on the other hand is the same from person to person. Plato is distinguishing two levels of comprehension of a property. Foremost is that knowledge is of how things are in themselves. But in order to possess DR2 understanding of a property.

The goal of inquiry is grasp a property as it is. is not all that needs explaining. to understand something is to grasp the reasons why it is the way it is.19 This.18 Thus. these features must also be explicable by the property of Virtue. why it is virtuous. Accordingly the linguistic account that expresses this knowledge is the same as well. by itself. because the answer should explain why these items are the way they are. to understand something like Virtue is to understand what is responsible for the regular character and behavior of virtuous things. of any virtuous particular. In one use of the word. Plato thinks that the regular behavior of a property is to be understood and explained by the essence of the property. Since these properties are what they are independently of any individual.20 If Virtue is teachable. the state of mind that constitutes understanding will be the same from person to person. If there are features characteristic of virtues or virtuous particulars. Therefore. An answer to the “What is X?” question must specify the essence responsible for making many particulars X. This is why at the beginning of the dialogue Socrates puts the question of what Virtue is before the question of what it is like (71b3-8. The DR2 account of a property’s essence must explain not only the 13 . then these features ought to follow from the essence of the property. in order to understand what some property X is like one must first know what it is. then we ought to be able to see how this follows from what Virtue is. To grasp what makes things virtuous is to be able to say. At times I call the knowledge achieved by dialectic understanding.relation to any observer. This is to capture Plato’s emphasis on the ability of one who knows to give explanations. aside from being instances or species of Virtue. 86d3-6). however.21 If there are features or characteristics that attend the property in every case.

There is only one set of terms through which all the requisite explanations can be given. we must understand why being teachable follows from being an instance or kind of knowledge. unique accounts. Plato’s insight is that knowledge is of how things are. we cannot understand that fact until we understand what Knowledge is. though. and not knowledge of goods and evils specifically. it must also explain the other features that characterize these particulars in virtue of their having the original property. The explanations enabled by our grasp of a property will proceed through the terms mentioned in the account of that property. we must have understanding of the properties corresponding to those parts. The expanded explanatory power of DR2 accounts helps make sense of the rules of epistemological priority under DR2. So much talk about explanations. then understanding X must entail understanding the items through which one will explain X’s being Y. To show that Virtue’s teachability follows from its being knowledge. The explanation of some property X being Y is unique. Of course. These terms make up the final DR2 account. we will have to explain many regular features. To be 14 .22 In order to employ the parts of the definition in an explanation.being of many particulars.” Virtue’s being teachable might follow from its being knowledge per se. Since the fact that Knowledge is teachable is part of what Knowledge is like. and the properties mentioned in accounts risks losing sight of the deep and powerful intuitions behind Plato’s epistemological program. for any property X. Imagine that the DR2 account of Virtue is “knowledge of goods and evils. there is no other correct explanation. If understanding what X is enables one to give such an explanation. The explanatory role of an account also elucidates the uniqueness of the correct account.

The account is this: “Let this be Shape for us: the only thing that always follows Color. and discursive reflects his view of essences that are determinate. and inter-related.24 Even if all shaped items are colored. Is this sufficient for you. fixed. The best evidence to guide us on this matter is the first definition Socrates gives of Shape. but the fact that Socrates is satisfied suggests that the account fulfils some dialectical demand. The property of following color is at best a pa/qoj or affect. this fact would not be what makes shaped things shaped. The dialectical goal achieved by Socrates’ account is the goal promoted by the requirements of DR1. For instance. is to know this essence. Plato’s view of philosophical knowledge as stable. The standards of the DR2 reflect these intuitions. The levels of these hierarchical structures correspond to the epistemological priority governing our accounts. These inter-relations locate properties in fields. The first thing to note is that this account does not satisfy the requirements of the “What is X?” question.” (75b910) Meno will complain. it is a consequence of what Courage is and what Virtue is that everyone who is virtuous is also courageous. explanatory.something is to have a stable and determinate essence. then we can be sure that DR1 concerns a stage earlier in the process of inquiry. hierarchical structures of properties. Since Courage and Virtue are what they are invariably. To know something. essences are related in regular and understandable ways. or do you pursue it some other way? For I would be satisfied if you spoke about Virtue even in this way. It may not be the case that all shaped things have color.23 Furthermore. their relations are stable as well. therefore. If DR2 governs the end of dialectic. and not the ou)si/a or 15 .

The account picks out Shape as that thing.” Since Socrates would be satisfied with a similar answer from Meno. but to pick it out from all other beings by saying something true of it alone. and treats it as a single object for inquiry. For these reasons. i. Shape is present in that thing as well. though. it provides a way of narrowing one’s dialectical focus to 16 . The account works in the following manner. Nevertheless. What is satisfactory about this account is that. only if one has not already demarcated what one seeks to understand. After all. It points at Shape by saying something sufficient to identify it. that happens to have the feature of following Color. isolates it from all other things. instead of dividing it into a plurality of items. then the account succeeds not in saying what Shape is. for one familiar with its terms. he has struggled to get Meno to give an account that treats Virtue as a single thing. This suggests that we take him not to be saying that all instances of shape coincide with instances of color. whatever it may be. the account does not say what Shape is. without explicating its essence.25 That Socrates would seek this kind of account is not surprising. Socrates’ satisfaction with the account indicates that its function is not to articulate the essence of Shape. Socrates says that the account is true. but only in saying something uniquely true of it. “alone among beings.26 It focuses on Shape. If it is also true that Shape is the only thing that happens to follow Color in this way.e its essence. This function is suggested by Socrates’ use of the phrase mo/non tw=n o)/ntwn – literally. This is useful for inquiry. Instead the claim is that whichever items have color also have determinate shape.essence of Shape. all he wants Meno to do in answering about Virtue is to give a description of Virtue that isolates it from all other things. Shape follows Color in the sense that whenever Color is present in something.

28 This account. but there is an important truth in Socrates’ claim that he is applying the same principle a second time. is at the beginning of dialectic. and the sort of account governed by DR1 in general. Philosophy begins in our everyday experience with the world.27 One cannot begin to investigate a property until one has gotten hold of it on Shape and Shape alone. The DR has different applications. with full grasp of the truth. Dialectic is a process in which we undergo a cognitive transformation. Philosophy aims at knowledge. provides the demarcation of the dialectical object necessary for dialectic to begin. We move from one kind of comprehension to another. and in some ways incorrect. they show us the origin and end of philosophy. But it has the same end for all. Our inquiry must begin from what we know and have experienced. and knowledge is of things as they are in themselves. we need only be familiar with it in the ordinary way that is demonstrated by our competence with its name. therefore. and limited. The differences between DR1 and DR2 should not lead us to overlook the continuity of dialectic. The location of Socrates’ account. The differences between DR1 and DR2 show Plato’s sensitivity to the demands on dialectic as a learning method. even if that perspective is unique. philosophy has a different origin for each inquirer. In this sense. But DR2 captures the need for a learning method to end in the same place. DR1 captures the need for a learning method to adapt its starting conditions to the inquirer.29 DR1 familiarity and DR2 understanding are the endpoints of dialectic. since it is from the learner’s original level of grasp that any learning must proceed. In order to investigate a property. Taken neutrally 17 . Together. and our ordinary ability to speak and think about it. It is toward such understanding that all learning strives. presented it as a single object for investigation.

Dialectic ends when one can provide the single correct articulation of the property. an ability that depends on DR2 understanding of the properties mentioned in the account. where this entails the ability to identify bearers of the property. In this process. the ordinary practice of elucidating and explaining one thing in terms of others is pushed to its natural conclusion. II. and to give some general characterization of them. Dialectical Progress The endpoints of dialectic are far apart.30 The fact that this happens through the extension of our ordinary conversational practice indicates that our ordinary use of language displays the rationality which. is knowledge. including experts. dialecticians must rely primarily on the comprehension that satisfies DR1. when fully realized. Plato is saying that 18 . in isolating linguistic competence as the prerequisite for inquiry. The natural conclusion is the creation of a consistent. Dialectic begins in DR1 familiarity with a property. This is a feature of our ordinary discourse and our philosophical discourse alike. our ability to learn from these accounts is constrained by our understanding of the things through which the account is given. Furthermore. Still. organized. or illuminate. explanatory body of knowledge in which a number of properties are systematically interrelated. It may be the case that dialecticians can seek input from others. In dialectic. Plato notices that when we introduce.31 What is left to describe is how one gets from the beginning of dialectic to the end.between its applications. and perform further research. we do so in terms of other things. and the ability to employ that understanding in giving explanations of the defined property’s regular behavior. the DR captures some important features of our use of language for learning. or explain something.

types. Wisdom. Justice). and qualities that are called virtuous. My aim here is to describe those resources. and divisions of the property into smaller classes or species (Courage.our ordinary competence with language provides certain fundamental dialectical resources. Meno himself claims to have said many things on many occasions to many people about Virtue. the proposal and testing of accounts. In this process. These statements come to the fore. Temperance. he produces a list of actions that correspond to different ages and stations in life.. Virtue for a man). In the second. Each account is then tested to see whether it accords with the way we tend to speak about the property and its bearers. In the first attempt. or where the statements associated with linguistic competence are independently displayed and examined. The resources of linguistic competence are displayed by Meno’s attempts to say what Virtue is. These answers demonstrate Meno’s ready ability to pick out a number of particulars. general characterizations of the property. he lists the characteristics that are traditionally called Virtues. however.g. in the main procedure of dialectic. (80b 2-3) This is precisely what linguistic competence brings to dialectic: the ability to produce a large number of statements that use the name of the property under investigation. The full pattern of our ordinary speech with a common general term covers a wide diversity of statements. inquirers attempt to give an account that answers the “What is X?” question. The body of statements associated with our linguistic competence provides the inquirer with a host of 19 . Linguistic competence and DR1 familiarity are typically taken for granted.32 These statements include predications of the property to particulars. There is no stage of dialectic where Socrates tests for linguistic competence. or a virtue. descriptions of how the property is manifested by certain kinds of particular (e.

Consider the claim that Virtue and the virtues are always beneficial. if the account names a feature that does not belong to something we tend to call by the name of the property. This claim is used in several dialogues to show that an account of one virtue or another is inadequate. In the Euthyphro an account of Piety is measured against statements about the kind of service it is possible to give to the gods. At any point during investigation a new instance of the property may be brought to bear on a candidate account. This role is most easily seen with statements that predicate the property of a particular item. and species that bear the property are not the only statements that we can use to test an account. it depends on DR1 familiarity with the property and the linguistic competence associated with it. accepted instances of the property that are not covered by the account. For instance. the account comes into question. This discussion depends on Euthyphro’s beliefs about the property of the gods. Nothing inspires us to think of a counterexample better than a definition we suspect is off track. this presents a challenge to the correctness of the account. That against which she may test accounts. There are higher-level considerations that must also be accommodated. an account of Temperance is rejected because it fails to accord with the value of quickness and slowness in everyday 20 . Accounts that are too narrow or too broad are challenged by counterexamples. Similarly.33 Many other sorts of considerations are brought in as well. if the account specifies a property belonging to an item we do not call by the name of the property. types. Claims about the individuals. The ability to bring new examples and instances to the discussion depends on a general ability to pick out and describe bearers of the property in question. In the Charmides. or items covered by the account that we do not take to bear the property.

Some of these claims involve attributing a feature to all instances of the property in question. our statements illuminate us as well.endeavors. We present an account in a first groping attempt to articulate the property of the object of inquiry. Here’s how this happens.true or false -. Another is discarded because it goes against the tenet. There is apparently no restriction on the statements -. 21 . For this reason. If there is incoherence between the account and something else we tend to say. these statements act as indicators that our account is incorrect. an expanded portrait of the property we seek. Each claim in this portfolio is potentially a test the final account must pass. then the account must be changed. others involve deeply held notions about the property of the property. Temperance or sofrwsu/nh has close connections to the notion of self-knowledge. an account of swfrosu/nh that allows one to be sw/frwn without knowing it is clearly unacceptable. however. For instance. In this role as indicators. If we are not willing to give up the statement that conflicts with our account. central to the notion of Temperance. The panoply of statements we make using the name of the property acts as a kind of portfolio. that one bearing it knows she has it. The inconsistency between the account and our statement has developed because we overlooked whatever feature of the property is described in the conflicting statement. Such an inconsistency demands revision. When this account fails it does so because it is incompatible with something we tend to say about the property or some of its bearers. that conflict presents a challenge to the adequacy of the account. The statements are potentially inconsistent with our account. These tests are the tools of dialectic.that we may bring into the debate. So. at the very least.

” (Laches. These insights are reached by a new kind of attention to how we speak and what it is we mean in speaking that way.b4) Our use of a term has determinate meaning. we are alerted to an aspect of the property that has not yet been. This is the most important role our linguistic competence plays in dialectic. It is by reflecting on precisely what we mean when we use the term. but are not covered by our first account. accommodated by our final account. the things we tend to say teach us about the properties we seek to know. and we have a vague intuition of that content. and lead us to the correct account. that we come to understand what it is we have been 22 . Perhaps our account is inconsistent with a deeply held but so far unarticulated notion about what the property is like. but I don’t know how it has just eluded me such that I can’t put it together in an account and say what it is. but our account does not accord with that general attribution. I think I know what Courage is. or are reminded of. Dialectic requires a kind of reflection quite foreign to most of Socrates’ interlocutors. and the conditions we look to in attributing the property. Nevertheless.When our account conflicts with something we are accustomed to say. Perhaps this is a set of items that deserve the name of the property. but must be. Perhaps we are reminded of a general feature we take to hold of all items bearing the property. With each rejected account we learn. We can all identify with Laches’ frustration when he says “I am unaccustomed to this sort of discussion…and in truth I am irritated that I cannot say what I know. something concerning the property we seek to understand. our competence with the term and our intuition of the property it signifies do not immediately enable us to say what the property is. In this way. 194a7. Some of the insights presented in these discussions are occurring to the inquirers for the first time.

the rejection of accounts is not a completely negative moment in dialectic. though. it presents inquirers with the opportunity to improve their understanding. For this reason. but not included by the account. both about its bearers and about the property in general. Dialectic depends on an inchoate. and specifically that part of the intuition that is not captured by the account.predicating all along. we must look at the things we are used to saying with the term. This statement expresses our intuition of the property.35 When a candidate account is deemed unsatisfactory. First.34 Dialectic is difficult. Instead. because we cannot tap directly into what we predicate by a property’s name. the process of testing accounts gradually refines our intuitive grasp of a property until we have full understanding. Each of these statements can reveal some aspect of the property we are predicating. We must be very clear about the dialectical role of the statements brought forward from our linguistic competence. until they form a coherent body of statements. In response. Instead. With 23 . DR1 familiarity is the intuitive grasp of a property that guides our responses to accounts. And they are especially revealing when they conflict with an account we have given. the things we say about the property and its bearers are themselves revised. Second. we present a statement that contradicts the account. intuitive grasp of the property under investigation. and thus a condition their final account must satisfy. At heart. our account improves until it says just what the property is. to be made aware of a feature they associated with the property. or vice versa. In this way. There are two manifest results of improving our grasp of a nature. it is because it fails to capture our intuition of the property. This kind of conflict reveals to us something included in our use of the term. The process of testing and revising accounts is exploratory in nature.

it allows the inquirers to consider the many characteristics that accompany the property in every case. A few more remarks about this process are needed. The process also gives dialecticians the opportunity to investigate fully the subdivisions and types the property manifests. It is consistent with the features we generally attribute to particulars bearing the property. The final account is the one that accommodates the many things we tend to say about the property. it is important to realize that the statements against which we test an account are not fixed in advance. At one level this process serves to sharpen the plurality of particulars said to bear the property. examined. The Laches provides two situations where this is apparent. and ordinarily we make mistakes. The testing stage is a dialectical laboratory in which the object of investigation is fully looked over. In the same way. Incorrect applications of the property’s name are discarded. the general claims and high-level considerations we bring to bear on a definition may be discarded if our reflection convinces us that they are wrong. The first is Nicias’ account of Courage as knowledge of some kind. Overlooked instances are included. and explains these general predications as well. and dissected by means of the things we are used to saying about it and its bearers. and organizes them into a systematic whole. It covers and explains the items in the many pluralities. First. It stands over our many uses of the term in a way that explains them. Finally. These claims are associated with our ordinary competence. This 24 .each account proposed and rejected the inquirers gather features or instances of the property that must be covered by the final account. It is possible that we are wrong to pick out an individual or action as an instance of the property we are considering.

it seems that this account of Courage has the result that Courage is no longer just a part of Virtue. that animals are incapable of being courageous. Nicias takes upon himself the burden of explaining why he does not take animals to be courageous. he must demonstrate that there are problems with attributing courage to animals. and what it means to be a part of Virtue. The implication is not merely that dialectic draws on claims of all sorts and levels of abstractness. 25 . The dialectical process is not dictated by our prephilosophical claims. At the very least. These two examples are illuminating because one concerns the range of courageous particulars. but also that any of these claims is subject to revision. Nicias disputes the allegedly universal practice of attributing courage to animals. whereas the other involves claims about the abstract relationship between Courage and another property. (ibid. rather than the other way around. the intuition that there are distinct parts of Virtue must be revised. Nicias must show how Courage can be described as a part of Virtue. Virtue. This involves careful and abstract theorizing about the property of Virtue. The other example involves the final refutation of Nicias’ account of Courage as knowledge of goods and evils. but is Virtue entire. Since anyone knowing all goods and evils would necessarily have all other virtues. 199c-e) There seems to be Platonic sympathy with this account of Courage. it is vital in the end that our intuitive understanding of the property directs and revises these statements. absurd in Laches’ eyes. though. In order for the account to go through. Although we build and test our account on these claims. Accordingly. Instead of taking this as evidence that his account is wrong. (Laches 196e-197b) In doing this. even though it somehow sustains all other virtues as well.account has the result.

one must first know what X is. and how the property is related to other properties. For instance. The problem is that Socrates then uses claims about X and X things to reject accounts of what X is. then he has no sure basis for using these claims to reject any account. In thinking anew about particular instances of Virtue. Finally. If he chooses not to take up the challenge in this way. In such a case the interlocutor admits and understands why the account is wrong. that is. Socrates intimates in various places that in order to know anything about X.The fact that the claims and intuitions surrounding the object of inquiry may be revised helps to resolve an apparent problem in dialectical method.36 This criticism assumes that in challenging an account Socrates takes himself to have deduced the falsity of the account from its inconsistency with a decidedly true claim. we may revise the characteristics we choose to call parts of Virtue. a specific case may force us to revise our account of Virtue. we may wish to revise our account again. what is involved in having the property. what features accompany the property. In developing such an account we may move back and forth between general speculation and attention to specific cases. If he cannot know that these claims are right. this leads us to change the way we think about other instances of Virtue. after revising the way we divide Virtue into parts. But it is always available to the interlocutor to reject the claim that challenges his account. In turn. or whether any particular is X. from making changes at the level of the account to making revisions in the phenomena the account is supposed to explain. The goal is to come up with an account that best accords with our judgments about what bears the property in question. it is because the claim is one he takes to be important enough that any correct account must accord with it. In this way the 26 . even instances which had previously seemed unproblematic. We may move.

if certain revisions are made in the claims and intuitions we had before engaging in dialectic. The equilibrium is the state where the definition is consistent with all the cases one admits to be instances of the property and general features and species of the property. An account of Virtue must be able to explain why it is virtuous for a child to obey his parents. those changes should be explained by the account as well. It is for this reason that inconsistency is a sign that one does not yet know what one is discussing. This is not to say that dialectic seeks to find an account that is consistent with the largest set of statements. then the account of Courage should give us good reason for doing this. inconsistency is a sign that the right account has not been found. 27 . It is the state in which one feels no pressure to make revisions. or why Courage deserves to be called a virtue. If we choose no longer to call animals courageous. The final account states the principle by means of which each of those statements is to be explained and understood. The role of our claims and intuitions is not just to act as a test of consistency. Since the explananda and the explanans will be consistent in any good explanation. This account must not only be consistent with the statements in our portfolio of the property. it must also explain why these statements are right. When dialectic is complete.dialectical focus can shift quite flexibly until a kind of equilibrium is reached. our judgments and predications should be arranged around the single account stating what the object of inquiry is. Nevertheless the fit between the account and the body of statements arranged around the account is ultimately much tighter than just consistency. Similarly. Consistency is a necessary feature of any account and its relations to the rest of our judgments. but to provide data in need of explanation.

and begin thinking about a new kind of item. and dialectic would be a two dimensional process. our beliefs would remain at this level.38 Dialectic is a model of theory construction. and claims are brought to dialectic through the linguistic competence of the interlocutors. As with any theorist. If dialectic were no more than a search for consistency in our beliefs. The search for explanations and essences expands our intellectual scope. judgments. the inquirer is forced to go beyond beliefs about sensible items. then dialectic would consist in nothing more than a pruning of our beliefs. We would simply remove beliefs until we reached a consistent set. or parts of kinds on any theoretical level. intuitions. intuitions. staying always on a single plane. hypotheses. The process of dialectic is the process of reflecting on the sum total of these phenomena. What is distinctive about dialectic is that these phenomena. and distinctions that may or not become a part of the final system. intuitions. and judgments in order to produce a single account that organizes and explains our pre-dialectical judgments in a coherent way. either individual statements or generalities. and speculative suggestions about theoretical entities and relationships for the purpose of explaining the phenomena with which we begin. and allows us to venture beyond the ordinary beliefs we have at the beginning of inquiry. essences. or Forms.The fact that we are searching for explanations in dialectic has another important consequence. The result is the introduction of a whole new level of postulates. They are presented in the form of things we 28 . the dialectician approaches the task with phenomena in need of explanation. and a host of pre-theoretical. In searching for an explanation. If we were looking for consistency only. Dialectical novices do not have beliefs about essences.37 They are mainly beliefs about sensible particulars. But the beliefs available to an interlocutor at the beginning of inquiry are limited in a way.

Similarly. the correct account will be seen to provide the explanation we seek. is such as to be related in that way to those other properties. It is in this light. and the property in virtue of which those items and actions bear the property. the DR. to those who are supposed to learn from the account. This rule. and not another. The DR requires that dialectical accounts enable an inquirer to use the resources already in her to improve her understanding.the consistency of our claims is necessary for our account to be correct -. We progress in dialectic because we are able to tell that this essence. according to Plato. Thus the DR codifies the conditions for 29 . we make progress because we are able to tell that this property. The task of dialectic is to discover the essence in virtue of which a range of phenomena is to be explained. and not another.tend to say. The correct account of the property is not deduced from premises of any kind. ultimately. mandates that all dialectical accounts use terms that are known. These principles are the essences or properties whose names are applied to the items of our everyday experience. or familiar. To learn. When dialectic is complete. It will be seen to signify the single property common to all and only instances of the property. Although logic plays a vital role in this process -.dialectic does not reach its goal deductively. and the rational resources inside him or her. is to improve one’s grasp of the principles that are responsible for the regularity and intelligibility of our world. We can see from this account how Plato thinks of learning. that we ought to understand the dialectical rule with which we began. is the essence common to that set of sensible particulars. Plato will call this intellectual progress recollection because he believes that such progress depends essentially on the learner.

Alan Code. Terence Irwin. and Hugh Benson for helpful comments. 1 Versions of this paper have been presented to the Berkeley Colloquium on Ancient Philosophy. “Meno’s Paradox and Socrates as a Teacher. though they are certainly the forerunners of Forms. 5 This moment has been taken by some to show Socrates’ adherence to an epistemological principle stating that one must know what X is in order to know anything 30 . 1999) pp. at Ohio State University. “Inquiry in the Meno. and Alexander Nehamas.” in The Cambridge Companion to Plato.” In Virtues of Authenticity. (Princeton. Sylvia Berryman. In answering the “What is X?’ question we are supposed to say just what X is. 1 (1983). (11a7) I use essence to capture this requirement of Platonic dialectic. 3-26. 2 This group includes Gregory Vlastos.recollection. In answering the “What is X?” question we are supposed to specify the single thing common to and explanatory of a property’s bearers. For this reason I will avoid referring to the properties that are the objects of philosophy as Forms. the DR is the rule that makes dialectic a method for genuine learning. pp. 200-226. I will refer to them as properties. 4 The Meno does not contain the terminology Plato uses in articulating the theory of Forms. (Oxford. (Cambridge. 3 This account of the elenchus has its origins in Richard Robinson’s seminal work. 1953). and Kenyon College.” in Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy. what Socrates calls the ou)si/a in the Euthyphro. That is. 1977) Gail Fine. At times I will say that an answer to this question specifies the essence of the property.). 27-58. Plato’s Moral Theory. Plato’s Earlier Dialectic. (Oxford. Richard Kraut (ed. 1991) pp. I am greatly indebted to Allan Silverman. “The Socratic Elenchus.

see Hugh Benson. Plato’s Moral Theory. pp. There may seem to be an important 31 . When he checks with Meno to make sure he can use the words effluence (a)porroh/) and channel (poro/j) he asks whether Meno says that there are such things in the world. pg. 7 On my view.” Monist 50 (1966). 2000). but the agreement between our accounts stops soon thereafter. 88 (1979). when we have completed recollection of a property.about X. Philosophical Review. Later I will address briefly the sense in which Socrates and Plato are committed to such a principle. For a thorough treatment of the evidence in favor of such a reading. 6 See Terence Irwin. “Knowledge and Logos in the Theaetetus”. apparently of Plato’s invention. It is an odd word. Socratic Wisdom. along with all other interpreters. is the way this requirement adapts to the different stages of dialectic. 136. What I have translated as “more dialectically” is the word dialektikw/teron. 112-141. (Oxford. In her article the rule is related to an epistemological principle called the ‘Knowledge Based on Knowledge’ principle. 10 Socrates does not use kale/in in every case. Both Fine and Irwin are partially right about the role of the Dialectic Requirement. and the arguments against it. and dialectic ends. 369-82. DR2 also represents conditions on the end of recollection. A great deal has been written about this principle. (henceforward PMT). Thus. See also Gail Fine. and what it says about the way we develop knowledge. 366-97. philosophical understanding is reached. and it has been dubbed the Socratic Fallacy by Peter Geach in “Plato’s Euthyphro: An Analysis and Commentary. translations are mine. I adopt Irwin’s name for the rule. What both overlook. 8 9 Unless otherwise noted.

” Just as the object of definition is the property and not its name. or believe to exist.difference in that Meno is asked about the existence of effluences and the channels through which they flow. 1994). Furthermore. Vlastos. Brickhouse and Nicholas D. 39-66. Socrates asks Meno to specify the item that is called “Shape. as well as 32 . But the difference is not so great in actuality. (Oxford. and not their names. pp. pg. 1994). 12 Thus. I am grateful to Hugh Benson for pointing out that my view may be mistaken for a cousin of these views.” “solid. But see Thomas C. “Socrates’ Disavowal of Knowledge. For one. (Oxford.” in Socratic Studies. pp. there is only a small gap between using a term to speak of things in the world and saying that the things called by the name exist. “Plato’s Early Theory of Knowledge. 86-106. Myles Burnyeat (ed. or for that matter. Smith. This is not a distinction we have any reason to attribute to Meno’s thinking. One consequence of this connection is that the way a person speaks can be used as evidence of what they are aware of. the gap depends on a rather careful distinction between using a term and being committed to the existence of a referent for that term. Socrates’.).). 30-72. and e11. 11 See also Meno 74d7-e2. Paul Woodruff. (Cambridge. See below.” The fact that these questions are interchangeable emphasizes the fact that there is a close connection between what we take to exist in the world and the words we use to describe the world. Plato’s Socrates. See also G. Every indication is that Socrates is here asking the same sort of question he asked about “border. the items through which the property is explicated are other properties.” in Essays on the Philosophy of Socrates. 1992) pp.” and will ask about “eye. 8-9. I am not attributing to Plato or Socrates a view according to which two kinds of knowledge are distinguished.” “plane. Hugh Benson (ed.

see PMT. Meno can say lots of things about Virtue and virtuous items. Socrates does express some dissatisfaction with the latter account. but he has trouble grasping the notion that Virtue might be a thing distinct. The epistemological priority requires just that one cannot know a part or species of a property before understanding the genus property.many other helpful remarks. I take the trouble with Socrates’ Empedoclean account of Color to be that it is theory laden. 33 . 314. 14 Socrates uses the impersonal pronoun tina\ to express his doubt that anyone can know Justice without knowing Virtue. after all. Such an account is an adequate final answer to the “What is X?” question. and thus prejudices the inquiry in a way that should be avoided at the start. It is possible that one comes to understand Virtue at the same time that one comes to know Justice. 13 It is important to note that this familiarity does not require that one be aware that one is thinking about and identifying a property. the latter is appropriate for Meno. 17 The epistemological priority of one property to another does not require that the knowledge of one property be temporally prior to the other. pg. somehow. but this should not be taken as a sign of the account’s inadequacy. and ends with an account of Color in terms of Shape (76d4-5). 16 This is displayed in Socrates’ practice accounts. Irwin’s reading is similar. from the items that bear it. Whereas the first account would be adequate for someone who knows what Color is. See his Socratic Wisdom for a full treatment of Socratic method and epistemology. (76e6-9) Socrates does give the account. He begins by accounting for Shape in terms of Color (75b9-11). 15 When I speak of a DR2 account I mean an account satisfying DR2.

pp. 109-110.) 34 . just as we use the term ‘know’ casually in some instances. (see Meno. such as the sub-categories of a property. This is reflected in Plato’s use of terms like ei)de/nai and manqa/nein. 21 I take Plato to be committed to the priority of definition. (87b2 ff.18 I make this point to distinguish this use of ‘understand’ from another use wherein we understand something if it is comprehensible to us in an ordinary sense: “I understood what she was saying once she spoke more slowly. Whether Virtue can be taught is explored. Socrates uses the term “ei)de/nai” casually.” Knowledge terms are notoriously flexible in meaning. 98a3-4) One can be fairly confident that an action or individual is virtuous prior to discovering the final account of Virtue. in part. Other features in need of explanation. by reference to the question of whether it is knowledge. and grasps the reason why. 22 That something like this is the case is shown by Socrates’ employment of the hypothetical method at the end of the dialogue. Socratic Wisdom. But one cannot fully understand and explain the virtue of the action or the individual with such an account. But I do not take this to be a fallacy precisely because Plato is willing to call knowledge only understanding of the sort that can give explanations. It isn’t necessary in this discussion to say of what Virtue is the knowledge. must also be explained. according to which one must know the essence of a property in order to know anything about it. This is not the full extent of the phenomena to be explained by an account. 19 20 See Hugh Benson. This is one of the reasons why I do not take the presentation of DR1 familiarity to require that Plato is unveiling a second sense of knowledge. I will have more to say about this in my discussion of the dialectical process.

then the particulars that are characterized by them may be known and understood. but for Meno’s complaint. 314. or whether sensible particulars also have the essence of their properties imminently. The emphatic placement of ka)/n ou(/twj conveys that Socrates would be satisfied if Meno spoke even in this very way about Virtue. takes Socrates’ first account of Shape to be coextensive with Shape. 24 Plato gives little indication whether he takes all shaped items to be colored. but to fall short of a final answer. a hypothetical triangle in a geometrical proof. Robinson takes Socrates’ satisfaction to indicate that the account is sufficient. 243. See Plato’s Earlier Dialectic. in Plato’s Meno (Cambridge. is that sensible items cannot be known. Here are some instances of items that are shaped without.23 It is not clear in the Meno whether the essences that are the objects of knowledge are transcendent or imminent. Irwin. although not a final answer to the “What is X?” question. 1961) pg.S. Bluck. R. I leave it open here whether the items that have essences are just the properties themselves. 54 25 Other features of Socrates’ language indicate that the account is useful. PMT. but is still of some dialectical use. being colored: the core of the earth. pg. pg. it is more likely that Socrates is here making a 35 . Since I do not think the Meno indicates whether essences are transcendent or imminent. takes the ka)/n ou(/twj to express Socrates’ desire that Meno speak in precisely the same way as he has. I take it that these essences are the forerunners of Forms -.transcendent essences that are not found in the sensible world. in the Phaedo and Republic for instance. Given the weakness of the account’s articulation of the property of Shape. I think one result of this. a chair in a perfectly dark room. If they are imminent. it seems. The point is that the sort of account he has given does not accomplish everything an account can.

” in Plato’s Meno in Focus. we may revise or discard the description altogether. 27 Irwin treats the account along these lines. 28 I. We are concerned with the property. Once we fix our attention on the property. not the description that focuses us on the property. 26 The use of tugxa/nw plus a participle further suggests that the way Shape is here picked out is by an accidental feature of shapes. rather than setting a final standard. Crombie makes a point similar to this one in “Socratic Definition. “Inquiry in the Meno. e)/stw in combination with the dative pronoun: “Let this be Shape for us…. it succeeds. 188. 29 There are a couple other textual clues to this effect.concession.” If this account succeeds in focusing the interlocutors’ attention on felines. No matter. See also Fine. Day (ed. it succeeds. in fact. At the end of inquiry one may compare the final account with the preliminary account to see that they refer to the same thing. for us to enter dialectic by means of an account that is incorrect.). Consider for instance Socrates’ use of the hortatory subjunctive. Imagine that two people begin inquiry about cats by means of the following account: “Cats are the only domesticated animal that hunts. Since not all shapes are colored. So long as the account focuses our attention on the subject of inquiry.M. This is related to the way dialectic is object oriented. 139. it is not even a necessary feature of shapes that they follow color.” Irwin’s position is that the preliminary account fixes the reference of inquiry. 1994) pg. I think the preliminary account loses its importance as dialectic goes on. They may later realize that dogs hunt too. lowering the dialectical bar in order to get Meno going. It may be possible. (Toronto.” The sense is that the account is speculative and particularly 36 . See PMT. Jane M. pg.

one should note the nascent talk of wholes and parts (78e1 ff. the interlocutor may never have encountered Leo the cat. and explored. however. Laches 163d-e for instance. posited. Each of these facts argues against the location of this account at a more involved stage of dialectic where. Politikos. and the priestly claim that “all things are akin. including its relations of entailment and incompatibility. presumably.” (81c9-d1) 31 By “regular behavior” here I mean the patterns in a property’s appearance with other properties in sensible particulars. In addition to what I have pointed out so far. Sophist. general facts about Shape would be discovered. is the most developed expression of this insight. He then points out that we say something different when we apply the term “shape” from when we apply either “round” 37 . the sense is that Socrates and Meno need some characterization of Shape to get them started. First he points out that both the straight and the curved are shapes. and Socrates throws this one out with the attitude of “Let’s try this and see how it goes. But the seeds of Plato’s taxonomic bent are clear in the Meno. Socrates is neither committed overly to the account. 32 We needn’t think of these as statements the inquirer has made and stored in memory. Her familiarity with cats.” Socrates further signals that he is not concerned with the highest level of precision in his dismissal of the concerns of Prodicus. developed in the Phaedrus.). (75e2-3) 30 The method of Collection and Division. Rather. They are statements the interlocutor’s competence enables her to make. For instance. nor would he find it useful in other circumstances. 33 34 See Charmides 161a-b.meant for Socrates and Meno. and Philebus. enables her to identify Leo as a cat upon seeing her. Consider the way Socrates asks Meno to give an account of Shape.

and Recollection and Experience. albeit within certain constraints. 1995). Essays on the Philosophy of Socrates. rudimentary. his set of beliefs has not just been revised. 107-122. He leaves the discussion with new beliefs at his disposal and 38 . 37 (1987). pp. in dialectic is represented by the slave boy’s answers to Socrates’ geometrical query. G. Since this grasp cannot be provided by sensory experience. The presence of speculation. 127-141. See John Beversluis. 53-85.or “straight. whose name is ‘Shape’?” (74d3-11) 35 It is my view that the role or recollection in the Phaedo is to explain our ordinary linguistic competence. When he sees and understands the answer. Our ability to use a Form’s name in ordinary speech and thought requires that we have acquired some grasp. 37 38 Nehamas makes a similar point in “Meno’s Paradox. (Cambridge. “Platonic Anamnesis Revisited”. Benson (ed. Thus. Classical Quarterly. (Oxford. even guessing. it has been expanded. “Does Socrates Commit the Socratic Fallacy. we must recollect a Form in order to become competent with its name. 346-66. however. prior to dialectic. 1992) pp. 36 This problem is related to the so-called Socratic Fallacy. (82d3 ff.” in H. our ability to have an intuitive grasp of a property that guides our dialectical investigation depends on our having recollected the property.) The slave has never confronted these issues before.). pp. and Socrates as a Teacher.” Journal of the History of Philosophy.” Having made it clear that there is something unique attributed by our use of the term “shape” Socrates asks precisely what property we do predicate by our use of the term: “What is it then. and he is just guessing at the answer. to some degree. But see Dominic Scott. pp. of the Form itself. See also. Plato thinks that ordinary human speech and thought depends on Forms for its determinate and stable content. Santas “The Socratic Fallacy. 10 (1972).

Accounts of dialectic as a process of inconsistency purging cannot accommodate this central feature of dialectical reflection.understanding about a subject (the diagonal)he has never considered before. 39 .