Here's how our dialogue starts. Meno, quote, can you tell me, Socrates, is virtue the sort of thing you can teach? Or is it not the sort of thing you can teach, but you could pick it up by practicing it? Or maybe it's neither. Virtue is something that naturally arises in men, or they get it some other way, unquote. And then Socrates says, here I'll paraphrase a bit, gosh, I'm such a big dummy, I don't even know what virtue is. And we're off and running. Let the games begin. As I think I've mentioned, philosophers hate to leave a good joke unexplained. That is, unkilled. I think it must be some kind of religious thing. We sacrifice jokes to the gods. The funny bits stay on Earth but the pure incongruity rises up to Plato's heaven. Something like that. Anyway, I don't know what virtue is, is a joke. How so? Let me explain. Virtue is an ethical notion, success or personal excellence, we'll get to that, but just think about people's judgments about who is a good or bad person. How those judgments go. Time for a quiz. Barack Obama is a great President. A,True. B,False. Miley Cyrus twerking at the VMA's was bad for culture and society. A ,True. B,False. Coursera video's are suppose to be used and reused for years and years in theory. In a couple years, no one is even going to remember about Miley Cyrus are they? So this quiz question will seem increasingly mysterious over time. At least I didn't try to draw her. But, that's how it goes. Heroes and villains come and go. But, while they're alive, people have opinions. Boy, do they. Is Barack Obama a great President? Well, that's complicated. Surely we should wait a few decades to decide, and then it's still complicated. A question to be judicially weighed by historians and other expert students of political science. Who am I kidding? You can't wait around for that. You gotta know now and you do. Or at least you act like you do. Is some pop singers scandalous performance, which has everyone's tongues wagging for two weeks, harmful to society? What does that even mean? How could you know a thing like that and yet and yet everyone's got an opinion about every virtue question. There is no virtue question no matter how socially complicated in its implications that we aren't prepared to slice through with a decisive he's great she's awful judgement. Sure If you don't care about Miley Cyrus, maybe you were in a-coma during the whole VMA twerking scandal of 2013. If you don't care you don't have an opinion. If you don't care about U.S. politics, maybe you don't have an opinion about Obama. If you were ancient Athenians, which I'm just guessing you're not, I'd be asking you different questions. Do you think Pericles is the greatest politician of the age? Do you think Themistocles was wise to build up Athens base of sea power, or was that just good luck? Do you think Socrates corrupt the youth of the city with his teachings? If you care about these, about the answers to these questions, then you think you know the answers. To these questions. That's crazy. Thinking you can know about some complicated thing that depends on understanding all the relationships between some individual and a whole society? But we always do, don't we? Isn't it interesting? Anyway, this is why Socrates saying, I don't even know what virtue is, is such a joke. Its obviously the only sane thing to say and no one ever, ever, ever says it. But wait it was a trick I forced you to say true or false I didn't give you an I don't know option fair enough another quiz then. Gold is element 76 on the periodic table of the elements. A, True. B, False. The square root of 121,801 is 349. A,True. B, False. The correct answers if you're curious are B and A. Gold is actually element 79. But 349 really and truly is the square root of that big long number. If I checked my calculator right. But that's not the point. The point is some of you knew the answers. Or checked them in a responsible way before checking any boxes. None of you, I'm betting, just checked something without knowing, just because I told you to come up with an answer. If you don't know what the square root is, you don't think you know, and you don't act like you know. Both of these questions are, I submit, objectively easier than the Barack Obama, Miley Cyrus questions. They're technical, yeah. But not hard, as technical questions go. By contrast, the Obama slash Cyrus questions are nontechnical, but incredibly hard. I mean, maybe there's just no answer. Maybe, is Miley Cyrus bad for society, is just a bad, nonsensical question. Maybe that's like asking Which is more identical, the beautiful or the good? But if there is an answer, it's surely a hard one. You have to know a lot about a lot of things. You probably have to understand all of Western civilization in order to know whether Miley Cyrus was harmful to society. Why, then Do people even think they can say anything meaningful about this sort of thing? Who is a good or bad person, period? Who's good for society, period? Who's not? There's a flip side to this funny point. And it shows up relatively late in the dialogue. Suppose some people, you for example, were just plain good at detecting those who are just plain good, i.e. virtuous, i.e. the good people. Here's Socrates, "We would take those, they pointed out, the ones the detectors pointed out and guard them in the Acropolis That's like the treasury. We would vault them up there far more carefully than gold so that no one could corrupt them. And so that when they reach maturity they would be useful to their cities. He's talking about good children, if you could identify them clearly. That's silly isn't it? We obviously can't just detect virtuous people the way Kirk and Spock and McCoy detect things with their tri-corders on Star Trek. Captain, I'm picking up strong virtue signs on the planet's surface. That's silly. There's no such thing. What's the point? In this dialogue Socrates seems mostly to be trying to convince Meno that he should take seriously the idea that maybe he could learn something about virtue, about what it means to lead a good life. Maybe there's a surprising, non-obvious answer. That he just doesn't know. What makes it hard for Meno to open up to this possibility of learning is an oddly, inconsistent attitude. In a sense, he's a skeptic. You can maybe thank Gorgias for that. He doesn't really believe in knowledge about virtue. Just plausible answers. In a sense, he's dogmatic. He thinks he knows it all already. He wants money, wealth, status, the usual suspects. Between thinking no one can know it and that he already knows it all, Meno is an extremely bad candidate for thinking that he's in a position To learn something. And you know who's sort of like Meno? You are, I am, we are. When it comes to who's a good person and a bad person, we sort of think we know it already, and we sort of think there's nothing really to be known. Let me give you that first quiz question again. If Obama and Cyrus don't work for you, just, in your mind substitute appropriate celebrities you actually care about. Oh, and I'm not going to use the quiz system, because I'm going to want you not to answer. Barrack Obama is a good man. True or False? Miley Cyrus has a bad effect on culture. And society. True or false? There she goes again sticking her tongue out. Oh, Miley Cyrus. But, you do something else. Bite your tongue. Don't answer. Answer this question instead. This is a real quiz. Do you really think you know the answers to questions like this, or do you just have opinions? Zeus knows what they're really based on. A, I have true knowledge about such matters. B, Maybe I just have really strong opinions. I hope you answered B. But why do you never ever act like it?