Soc. I am afraid, Meno, that you and I are not good for much, and that Gorgias has been as poor an educator of you as Prodicus has been of me. Certainly we shall have to look to ourselves, and try to find some one who will help in some way or other to improve us. This I say, because I observe that in the previous discussion none of us remarked that right and good action is possible to man under other guidance than that of knowledge (episteme) ; — and indeed if this be denied, there is no seeing how there can be any good men at all.
Men. How do you mean, Socrates ?
Soc. I mean that good men are necessarily useful or profitable. Were we not right in admitting this ? It must be so.
Soc. And in supposing that they will be useful only if they are true guides to us of action — there we were also right ?
Soc. But when we said that a man cannot be a good guide unless he have knowledge (phrhonesis), this we were wrong.
Men. What do you mean by the word “right” ?
Soc. I will explain. If a man knew the way to Larisa, or anywhere else, and went to the place and led others thither, would he not be a right and good guide ?
Soc. And a person who had a right opinion about the way, but had never been and did not know, might be a good guide also, might he not ?
Soc. And while he has true opinion about that which the other knows, he will be just as good a guide if he thinks the truth, as he who knows the truth ?
Soc. Then true opinion is as good a guide to correct action as knowledge ; and that was the point which we omitted in our speculation about the nature of virtue, when we said that knowledge only is the guide of right action ; whereas there is also right opinion.
Soc. Then right opinion is not less useful than knowledge ?
Men. The difference, Socrates, is only that he who has knowledge will always be right ; but he who has right opinion will sometimes be right, and sometimes not.
Soc. What do you mean ? Can he be wrong who has right opinion, so long as he has right opinion ?
Men. I admit the cogency of your argument, and therefore, Socrates, I wonder that knowledge should be preferred to right opinion — or why they should ever differ.
Soc. And shall I explain this wonder to you ?
Men. Do tell me.
Soc. You would not wonder if you had ever observed the images of Daedalus ; but perhaps you have not got them in your country ?
Men. What have they to do with the question ?
Soc. Because they require to be fastened in order to keep them, and if they are not fastened they will play truant and run away.
Men. Well. what of that ?
Soc. I mean to say that they are not very valuable possessions if they are at liberty, for they will walk off like runaway slaves ; but when fastened, they are of great value, for they are really beautiful works of art. Now this is an illustration of the nature of true opinions : while they abide with us they are beautiful and fruitful, but they run away out of the human soul, and do not remain long, and therefore they are not of much value until they are fastened by the tie of the cause ; and this fastening of them, friend Meno, is recollection, as you and I have agreed to call it. But when they are bound, in the first place, they have the nature of knowledge ; and, in the second place, they are abiding. And this is why knowledge is more honourable and excellent than true opinion, because fastened by a chain.
Men. What you are saying, Socrates, seems to be very like the truth.