Plato the Meno-Can Virtue be Taught?

Before reading Plato’s Meno dialogue, I never thought of asking myself whether virtue can be learned or taught. I find this to be one of the most extraordinary yet controversial conversations of all times. In this article Plato provided examples through the voice of character Socrates, concluding that virtue cannot be taught and is a talent given by the Gods. The problem I see in this question is that for virtue to be taught, it would require a teacher and a student, but how can a teacher teach virtue? Instead, I think virtue can just be learned through life experiences and this only requires the student, not a teacher, therefore I think that virtue can just be learned, not taught. A teacher cannot prepare a lesson called “Virtue 101” but students can pick up information from their surroundings, backgrounds, and life experiences and learn how to be virtuous.

According to Plato, virtue cannot be learned. He claimed that virtue is acquired from the Gods. To some extent, I guess this can be true. Some people are born with many virtuous capacities such as compassion, loyalty, generosity and more. This does not mean that it cannot be learned. People are not born knowing the meaning of these virtues; instead, they learn it through experiences. At birth, we do not know what’s right or wrong, but throughout our life journey we may experience dishonesty from a loved one, then we may feel guilt or shame due to the other person’s betrayal, and that’s when we learn this is not right. Loyalty is another example that virtue is learned rather than innate. Loyalty consists on dedication to a person or place. When we are born, we are dedicated to our mothers because we rely on our mothers for survival; however, this does not mean loyalty is innate. Babies develop loyalty because of the time spent with their mothers and because mothers provide nurturing.

In conclusion, I think virtue can be learned, evolved or innate but cannot be taught. We evolve when we find out whether what we or others have done benefits us. We have innate knowledge of what is good or bad when we confront a situation and we follow our hearts to make a decision.  What if someone wants to be taught to be virtuous for the reason that he has not being able to experience virtue? I think maybe this person can be taught how to act, in order to develop skills or build experiences in order to be virtuous. In summary, virtue is knowledge of what is right or wrong and the capability to distinguish right from wrong ensuring the act leans towards what is right.

Virtue cannot be taught but we can encourage people to seek virtue. In order to encourage someone to seek virtue, they must be taught to act right, and to acknowledge separating those acts from negative acts. I think this is the only way that we can persuade someone to seek virtue. If Plato would have worded the question differently, it may have given him a different answer. Instead of asking whether virtue can be taught, he should have done it better by asking: Can virtue be learned?

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