I have just read Meno. It is one of Plato’s dialogues.
Socrates has a conversation with Meno about whether a man can be taught virtue or is it a result of practice or is it in one’s nature? And is knowledge a virtue.
Socrates starts by asking Meno to define virtue or what is good. Meno is able to give examples of good but not what good is. And even who is good but really why.
Are things good because the God’s say the are good or do the Gods say things because they are good?
Eventually this leads to the situation where Meno says “How will you look for it (good), Socrates, if you do not know at all what it is? How will you aim to search for something you do not know at all? If you should meet with it, how will you know that this is the thing that you did not know?
I wondered what it would be like if Socrates and Meno were faced with finding a new agency and were tasked with creating an RFI for Meno’s company..
I am stealing this idea from Rebecca Newberger Goldstein’s great book Plato at the Googleplex – Why Philosophy wont go away - clip here.
Meno: Thanks for helping with this Socrates I need a wise man to help me on this.
Socrates: Why Meno all I know is that I am not wise. And nor I claim to be. There are many out their who claim to be wise and I have talked and walked with them and upon questioning they know less than I. And I know little or nothing in comparison to their claims.
Meno: Who are these sophists of who you speak Socrates, for I would like to avoid them?
Socrates: They are the judges. Those who award gongs and such like to agencies for their advertising?
Meno: Are there others too?
Socrates: Yes there are many but our goal today is not to jest at their expense. And for it is too easy and it is best done by the comedian Charlie Booker.
Meno: So how do I write an RFI that I can send to suitor agencies to satisfy my need that they are good?
Socrates: Good you say?
Meno: Yes. Good is my desire.
Socrates: What is good Meno? Is this a fair place to start our enquiry?
Meno: Yes it is.
Socrates: Then by Zeus Meno – tell me what you know about good. And don’t skimp or try to mess with me. Keep you thoughts clear and direct so I may not mistake you. And do not try to sell me bluffs, be straight and tidy with your words.
Meno: Then I shall. I have began to create this RFI – a request for information – so I can tell if a suitor agency has the way that I desire. To find out if it is good or not.
Socrates: Go on, where have you got to?
Meno: Question 1 – What is the size of your agency?
Socrates: In regards to people working there or financially?
Meno: Both have been requested.
Socrates: And this is Question 1? Does question 1 denote its importance?
Meno: Not really.
Socrates: So you decided in your search for ‘good’ to start with the unimportant. I am curious to why, Meno?
Meno: Well, I think we need an agency of a certain size and then all the other components of ‘good’ are likely to be their too.
Socrates: So size sounds important to you right?
Meno: Yes it seems so.
Socrates: What size were you hoping for?
Meno: 30 ish – um – less that 100 more than 10.
Socrates: I said speak clearly and directly. It appears you wish to tease me or bluff me. Tell me about size – How big is a good agency that you seek? Vagueness cannot be helpful in this matter can it?
Meno: No vagueness is not for this matter. I may have been mistaken to correlate big with good? Are you saying big agencies are not good?
Socrates – By Zeus I said nothing of the sort nor would I? But why do you feel size is important in this matter? Why would you have it as Question 1?
Socrates: How many people do you require to do your work? Do you require the whole agency that you employ?
Meno: Only a fool would believe that they need the whole agency Socrates. Are you trying to make me seem a fool. It has been said you like to tease men and show them to be foolish so you can seem wise?
Socrates: I am not. I just wish to help you find a good agency. If you could have one man in the history of advertising on your business who would it be?
Meno: By Zeus – there are so many and yet I do have one man for you Socrates.
Socrates: So tell. As perhaps that could be the first and only question.
Meno: How so?
Socrates: Well tell me this person’s name.
Meno: Well, his name is David Abbott. Alas he has passed to that other world where he sits beside Athena and Hermes, no doubt.
Socrates: This is a calamity. I thought our task would be made easy with Question 1 – “Is your name David Abbott?” But could it be said we want something of his like? Could we take his traits and request them?
Meno: What as Question 1?
Socrates: Unless you wish to pursue size, as the most important question in your RFI? You have just told me haven’t you that size is irrelevant as one man would do – if he was of certain quality. Or are you bluffing me once more? I thought we agreed you would be clear and direct? Size is of no importance in your request unless you can do it with no person at all?
Meno: No that must be a minimum of one. Size is of no hope in my quest.
Socrates: What else? Can we just write are you a bit like David Abbott?
Meno: I fear we can’t just write that? Because I fear when money is at stake they ‘d say yes and I’d gain nothing in my trajectory towards good.
Socrates: What made Mister Abbot good?
Meno: He was a great copy-writer. An ad man.
Socrates – That tells me what he was not what made him great? Pray to Zeus you are not going to request great copy-writing skills?
Socrates: Surely they’d all confirm they have these qualities since it is what you desire. And a sure thing of many traders is that they play fast and loose with the truth when gold and silver is of a concern. Many a man believe themselves to be like the Gods. I would not be surprised to hear an ad exec say he is Zeus – impossible is nothing for them.
Meno: He had good character – he was principled – he understood the role of advertising in business – he had a way with words.
Socrates – And you knowing this will help you write a better RFI?
How will you turn these in to questions that may help you select those who do and don’t fit? Don’t all traders say they are of good character and understand the purpose of their business?
Socrates: Do they not all have modern statements that hint at being principled like the Gods? And yet I am aware of principles being abandoned for gold coins at the drop of Aphrodite’s toga.
Meno: I share your concern. In fact my previous agency who was here say only 3 years declared itself fit to this descriptions of the Gods and yet they erred and delivered nothing that was good. If anything it was unholy work.
Socrates: How so? How did it come to be that they were the antithesis of good where previously they looked so God like?
Meno: Well the relationship just fell apart really?
Socrates; I plead with you Meno to speak clearly once more. When you say the relationship – the relationship between what? You and him on a personal level or on a business level. The word relationship on its own is meaningless, no?
Meno: I saw little in return for my money over the 3 year period. And yet he is a nice, kind man in other ways.
Socrates: So you were expecting a relationship between their advertising that you spend money on and a return for this spend measure in silver and gold from paying customers to whom they advertise to on your behalf. Relationships are a measure of cause and effect are they not?
Meno: Yes, Socrates they are.
Socrates: You were paying them gold and silver to cause an effect on your business and yet they did not. So you part with them because they did not cause what you were hoping for. This is the failure of a business relationship not a personal one. Is the man still not kind?
Meno: Agreed he is. Tis the truth I swear.
Socrates: So the agency looked of good character. And they told you that they had created such work as to make a God smile in the past. Had they been awarded by the Sophists of whom I spoke earlier?
Meno: Indeed they had.
Socrates: And when you met them they seemed as if they may be of David Abbott calibre? They had the copy-writing skills of a God like him?
Meno: Well, I never met the copywriters. I met the agency heads, the counters of gold and silver there. They told me of their teams who are ambitious to be God like copywriters.
Socrates: By Zeus! And did their work look like that of a God’s?
Meno: It had awards.
Socrates: From whom?
Meno: Well, whom you call the wise fools – the sophists.
Meno: By Zeus – I don’t know what to look for – I don’t know how to find good. How will I look for it if I don’t know what it is? How will I know it when I am in front of it?
Socrates: Don’t despair Meno, you are making more progress, more than most because you now at least know that you do not know and we can talk like men and not like fools. We know we are not Gods but we are good men, no?
Meno: Are you teasing me asking if I am ‘good’?
Socrates: A bit.
Meno: Knew it.
Socrates: You have progressed further than most Meno honestly. Let us continue?
Socrates: Whom in the agency do you feel you need to meet whatever their employee or financial number?
Meno: Their copywriters? The Creatives!
Socrates: Good. All of them?
Meno: The ones that will be assigned to my business?
Socrates: By Zeus yes. Now we need to ascertain if he has the character of Abbot, correct?
Meno: I could ask him questions?
Socrates: Yes and what would you ask?
Meno: I could ask them as sure as day about their credentials and if they understand advertising?
Socrates: And what will they answer to your questions? Will they deny they understand advertising , will they show you poor credentials, will they tell you they are of poor keeping and have failed a client in the name of silver and gold like your incumbent? When you request references will they give you bad ones? Speak clearly Meno for I am keen to know you answer.
Meno: Surely not Socrates. My dilemma gets worse I fear.
Socrates: Am I being helpful? Tell me and be clear and direct how have I helped you, if at all?
Meno: Why, you have been a great help Socrates. I feel clarity in a way but lost also. But how, I don’t know. You have done nothing but asked taxing questions to me. I know at least how to avoid certain paths. Yet you asked me questions and me not you. And yet I called you in here to do the opposite, I swear.
Socrates: And would you think it should be the other way around? Wouldn’t you think that if you wanted to get help from me you would be asking me all the questions. And yet in fact it is the other way around that has illuminated your issues and helped you avoided dead ends?
Meno: Yes. Yes. By Zeus – you have done little but questioned me. Annoying at times I swear. Yet questions that fitted so well to my predicament and you have not swerved from the path of truth and you have not requested gold and silver.
Socrates: This is true. So what would you request of the Creatives?
Meno: That they ask me questions about my problem? So we are set – find a Creative and give them my problem and see if they ask me questions that illuminate it. Or if they live by false prophets and awards?
Socrates: So we are set?
Meno: I think so.
Socrates: Where will you start your search? Who are you aware of that may fit such a bill?
Meno: I am unsure.
Socrates: How could someone be like David Abbott?
Meno: His disciples.! The young who he trained – the copy-writers who speak like he does. Those that defend his ideas. I could invite them to question me?
Socrates: So the RFI?
Meno: I need it not. I must go out there and find what I am unsure of finding. But looking for those that can question me well, to help me avoid the paths that lead towards disaster.
Socrates: “I think so too, Meno. I do not insist my argument is right in all other respect, but I would contend at all costs in both word and deed as far as I could that we will be better men, braver and less idle, if we believe that one must search for the things one does not know, rather than if we believe that it is not possible to find out what we do not know and that we must not look for it.
Meno: In this too I think you are right Socrates.
Thanks to John Holbo – Associate Professor at the National University of Singapore who runs a 6 week MOOC on Coursea. – Reason and Persuasion: Thinking Through Three Dialogues by Plato.