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Meno Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Plato's Meno. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Plato

Plato’s father Ariston descended from Codrus, the last King of Athens, and his mother Perictione had ties to Solon, one of the creators of the Athenian Constitution. Plato planned a political career until 404 BC, when Athens shifted to an oligarchy controlled by wealthy men. After democracy was restored in 403 BC, Plato again considered politics until Socrates, Plato’s mentor, was accused of impiety and corruption and subsequently put to death in 399 BC. Responding to this gross display of injustice, Plato abandoned politics for philosophy. He ultimately produced a volume of work that has heavily influenced Western thought and provided the world with a record not only of his own philosophical thoughts, but also historical documentation of Socrates’s influential years in Athens. Concerned with justice, beauty, and equality, he influenced many important thinkers by founding the Academy, a philosophy school where Aristotle was a student for twenty years before establishing his own institution when Plato died in 348 or 347 BC.
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Historical Context of Meno

Given that Anytus—one of Socrates’s accusers—appears in Meno, it’s helpful to know that Socrates was brought to trial in Athens in 399 BC. Accused of impiety and of corrupting the youth, he was given a chance to defend himself with an apologia but was ultimately found guilty by the jury members, sentenced to death, and forced to drink hemlock. On another note, it’s worth understanding the political climate of Athens during Socrates’s last years. After Sparta defeated Athens in the Peloponnesian War in 404 BC, Spartans overtook the city and installed an oppressive oligarchy made up of thirty men. This group became known as “the Thirty” or “the Thirty Tyrants,” quickly gaining notoriety for their violent ways, as they killed 1,500 Athenians during their short rule. Thankfully, the Tyrants were overthrown within the year by Athenian rebels who restored the city’s democratic system. Considering that Athens was going through so much turmoil and violence during this period, it’s rather unsurprising that people like Socrates were interested in thinking about virtue and goodness, which he clearly wanted to help his city achieve.

Other Books Related to Meno

When considering Meno, it’s worth thinking about how the text interacts with the other dialogues Plato wrote that concern Socrates—namely, Apology, Euthyphro, Crito, Meno, and Phaedo, all of which showcase Socrates’s practice of employing the technique of cross-examination to instigate productive intellectual conversations. In particular, Apology relates to Meno, since Anytus—one of the men who accuses Socrates and is therefore responsible for his guilty verdict in Apology—is the man Meno stays with when he visits Athens. What’s more, Socrates’s ideas about knowledge and “recollection” resurface in Phaedo, though they ultimately become more complicated in the latter text and lead to the formation of Plato’s theory of forms. As such, Meno lays the philosophical groundwork for Phaedo’s more complex considerations.
Key Facts about Meno
  • Full Title: Meno
  • When Written: Sometime around 385 BC
  • Literary Period: Ancient Greek Philosophy
  • Genre: Philosophy, Philosophical Dialogue, Fiction
  • Setting: Athens, Greece in roughly 402 BC
  • Climax: Having concluded that virtue is neither a form of knowledge nor an “inborn” quality, Socrates suggests that it is a “gift” from the gods that is “not accompanied by understanding.”
  • Antagonist: Anytus is the only antagonistic character in Meno, though it can also be argued that the text’s chief antagonistic force is the idea of lazy or complacent thinking.
  • Point of View: Dialogue

Extra Credit for Meno

Virtue Ethics. The study of virtue and its relationship to ethics originated with Socrates’s ideas and were later built upon by Plato and Aristotle. Although Meno isn’t necessarily hailed as the first text exploring the nature of virtue, its thematic attention to the matter renders it an important piece of work in the formation of this field of philosophy.