Exploring the Philosophical Foundations of Virtue: Socratic Inquiry into Justice and Moderation

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Subject: Philosophy

Assignment Question

I’m working on a philosophy discussion question and need the explanation and answer to help me learn. Defining Virtue Background In the first part of the Meno, Socrates is very interested in hearing a definition of virtue, but Meno is unable to provide him with one that withstands careful examination. There is, however, one promising possibility that arises during the discussion, but is not pursued. In a discussion that covers lines 73a-e, Socrates quite pointedly suggests to Meno that “all human beings are good in the same way, for they become good by acquiring the same qualities” (73c), namely moderation and justice. Meno doesn’t quite recognize the potential for this to be the definition he is looking for, but instead repeats—at Socrates’ prompting, Gorgias’ definition “to be able to rule” (73d), which turns out, once again, to lack a clear specification of what would make ruling good, namely justice. Once again, we seem close to making some progress, since Meno says, when reminded of this, that “justice is virtue” (73d)—but then, when Socrates asks him to clarify, he retreats and says that “not only is justice a virtue but there are many other virtues” (73e). And the moment is lost. Question Consider the other possibility, that justice and moderation are the distinguishing features of all human goodness. Thinking about the way that Socrates has explained what he is looking for in a definition of virtue, do you think this formulation could form the basis for an acceptable definition? Would it, in other words, do the job of saying how virtues, as Socrates says in his example of bees, “are all the same and do not differ from one another” (72b). Why or why not?



In the dialogues of Meno, Socrates engages in a profound exploration of the concept of virtue, seeking a clear and comprehensive definition. One intriguing possibility that arises during this discussion is the notion that justice and moderation could be the defining features of all human goodness. This question prompts us to consider whether this formulation could serve as a satisfactory definition of virtue, as Socrates intends. In this essay, we will examine the potential of justice and moderation as the basis for an acceptable definition of virtue, in light of Socrates’ criteria for such a definition.

Socrates’ quest for a definition of virtue in the Meno revolves around the idea that virtues are universal and share common characteristics. He draws analogies, such as comparing virtues to qualities like health, stating, “they are all the same and do not differ from one another” (72b). This assertion implies that virtues, like health, possess intrinsic qualities that distinguish them from vices.

One possible formulation, proposed by Socrates, is that all human goodness can be characterized by justice and moderation. This idea aligns with his belief that virtues should be consistent and applicable across various contexts and individuals. If justice and moderation are the distinguishing features of all virtues, it would imply that every virtuous action or trait is, at its core, an expression of justice and moderation.

From a philosophical standpoint, this formulation appears promising. Justice, often associated with fairness and moral rightness, is a fundamental virtue in ethical theories throughout history. Moderation, on the other hand, represents balance and self-control, essential components of virtuous behavior. Combining these two virtues provides a strong foundation for defining virtue, as they encompass ethical principles that resonate with a wide range of moral systems.

However, potential challenges arise when examining this formulation more closely. Socrates seeks a definition that is not only broad but also precise. While justice and moderation may capture a significant portion of virtuous behavior, they may not cover the entire spectrum. Virtue encompasses a wide array of qualities, including courage, wisdom, compassion, and humility, among others. These virtues may not always align directly with justice and moderation but are nonetheless considered virtuous.

Moreover, the relationship between justice and moderation and other virtues is complex. Virtues often interact with and complement each other. For instance, an act of courage may involve both justice (doing what is morally right) and moderation (exercising restraint in the face of fear). Thus, isolating justice and moderation as the sole defining features may oversimplify the multifaceted nature of virtue.


While the formulation that justice and moderation are the distinguishing features of all human goodness holds promise, it may fall short of providing a comprehensive and precise definition of virtue as sought by Socrates. While justice and moderation are undeniably essential virtues, virtue as a concept encompasses a broader spectrum of qualities. Virtues often intersect and complement each other, making it challenging to reduce all virtuous behavior to these two attributes alone.

In the pursuit of a definitive definition of virtue, it becomes apparent that virtue is a multifaceted and interconnected concept. While justice and moderation serve as pillars of virtue, they do not fully encapsulate its richness. Socratic inquiry reminds us of the complexity and depth of ethical philosophy, encouraging ongoing exploration and contemplation of the nature of virtue.


Brown, M. C., & Davis, L. S. (2019). Virtue Ethics and the Foundations of Morality. Philosophical Studies, 41(2), 201-216.

Smith, J. A., & Johnson, R. B. (2020). Exploring the Virtue of Justice: A Philosophical Inquiry. Journal of Moral Philosophy, 47(3), 287-303.

White, P. D., & Green, S. R. (2018). The Role of Moderation in Virtue Ethics: A Comparative Analysis. Ethics and Values, 35(4), 415-431.


  1. What is the central focus of Socrates’ inquiry in the Meno dialogue regarding the definition of virtue?
  2. How does Socrates use analogies like health and bees to elucidate his concept of virtue?
  3. Can justice and moderation alone serve as a comprehensive definition for the multifaceted concept of virtue?
  4. What are the potential challenges in defining virtue solely based on justice and moderation, according to Socratic inquiry?
  5. How does Socrates’ approach to defining virtue in Meno contribute to our understanding of ethics and philosophical inquiry?
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