To convince Meno of the importance of crafting accurate definitions, Socrates uses “shape” to symbolize the difference between a concept and a manifestation of that concept. When he asks Meno to define virtue, Meno references a number of qualities that make a person virtuous, but Socrates insists that this is a faulty way of defining an entire idea. To illustrate this point, he turns to the notion of “shape,” saying, “For example, if you wish, take roundness, about which I would say that it is a shape, but not simply that it is shape. I would not speak so of it because there are other shapes.” By saying this, Socrates stresses the fact that “roundness” is simply an example of the concept of shape, not a description of the entire notion of shape itself. In this manner, he proceeds by providing his own definition, ultimately referring to geometrical terms in order to boil his description down to the simplest and least ambiguous possible way of talking about shape. In doing so, he accentuates how important it is when having philosophical discussions to use precise language, effectively allowing the concept of shape to represent Meno’s inability to separate the overall nature of virtue from the many tangible manifestations of virtuousness.
Shape Quotes in Meno
SOCRATES: […] Consider this further point: you say that virtue is to be able to rule. Shall we not add to this justly and not unjustly?
MENO: I think so, Socrates, for justice is virtue.
SOCRATES: Is it virtue, Meno, or a virtue? — What do you mean?
SOCRATES: As with anything else. For example, if you wish, take roundness, about which I would say that it is a shape, but not simply that it is shape. I would not so speak of it because there are other shapes.
MENO: You are quite right. So I too say that not only justice is a virtue but there are many other virtues.
What then is this to which the name shape applies? Try to tell me. If then you answered the man who was questioning about shape or color: “I do not understand what you want, my man, nor what you mean,” he would probably wonder and say: “You do not understand that I am seeking that which is the same in all these cases?” Would you still have nothing to say, Meno, if one asked you: “What is this which applies to the round and the straight and the other things which you call shapes and which is the same in them all?” Try to say, that you may practice for your answer about virtue.