Socrates: When you speak of a person desiring fine things, do you mean it is good things he desires?
Socrates: Then do you think some people desire evil and others good? Doesn’t everyone, in your opinion, desire good things?
Socrates: And would you say that the others suppose evil to be good, or do they still desire them although they recognize them as evil?
Meno: Both, I should say.
Socrates: What? Do you really think that anyone who recognizes evils for what they are, nevertheless desires them?
Socrates: Desires in what way? To possess them?
Meno: Of course.
Socrates: In the belief that evil things bring advantage to their possessor, or harm?
Meno: Some in the first belief, but some also in the second.
Socrates: And do you believe that those who suppose evil things bring advantage understand that they are evil?
Meno: No, that I can’t really believe.
Socrates: Isn’t it clear then that this class, who don’t recognize evils for what they are, don’t desire evil but what they think is good, though in fact it is evil, those who through ignorance mistake bad things for good obviously desire the good?
Meno: For them I suppose that is true.
Socrates: Now as for those whom you speak of as desiring evils in the belief that they do harm to their possessor, those presumably know that they will be injured by them?
Meno: They must.
Socrates: And don’t they believe that whoever is injured is, in so far as he is injured, unhappy?
Meno: That too they must believe.
Socrates: And unfortunate?
Socrates: Well, does anybody want to be unhappy and unfortunate?
Meno: I suppose not.
Socrates: Then in not, nobody desires what is evil, for what else is unhappiness but desiring evil things and getting them?
Meno: It looks as if you are right, Socrates, and nobody desires what is evil.
Socrates: Now you have just said that virtue consists in a wish for good things plus the power to acquire them. In this definition the wish is common to everyone, and in that respect no one is better than his neighbor.
Meno: So it appears.
— Plato, Meno
The challenge Socrates laid out to his Athenian friends, recorded in Plato’s dialogues, remains unanswered today. Is it true that virtue is knowledge? That is, can a greater understanding of who we are and how we relate to each other actually change the way we behave? Can philosophy ever help to end injustice, violence, irrational hatred, war?
Socrates thought it could — in fact he thought it must. I think so too, and I think the fact that Socratic or Platonic idealism is unfashionable today only indicates that we are still confused, that we need to think harder and better. You’ve got to take Plato’s books as a personal challenge: agree with Socrates and change your life, or disagree with him and tell us why. Is it true that virtue is knowledge, that evil and injustice can only exist among ignorant people? It remains the most important philosophical question of all time. Plato wasn’t writing greeting cards over here.