The nature of virtue dominates much of Plato's philosophy. It serves as the cornerstone in his works, the key to understanding his philosophical world. In the dialogue of Meno, Plato writes of a discussion between Socrates and Meno, or Menon as he is referred to in the text, concerning the nature of virtue. After a long and seemingly prosperous discussion, Socrates concludes that virtue cannot be taught and that there exists no method or means by which it can be attained. Virtue is simply "shown as coming to us, whenever it comes, by divine dispensation" (p. 68).
From the moment Meno comes to Socrates with his question of whether virtue can be taught, Plato begins to offer a glimpse into the workings of his mind. Upon hearing the question, Socrates immediately, although subtly, changes the premise of the question because, as he states, "so far from knowing whether it can be taught or can't be taught, I don't know even the least little thing about virtue, I don't even know what virtue is" (p. 29)! By initially answering in this fashion, Socrates, and Plato, bring the premise of the question to its fundamentals: what is virtue? This question, unfortunately, is not answered to the satisfaction of Meno nor Socrates, despite their search. Their search does, however, reveal some of Plato's thoughts concerning its origins and nature.
As Socrates and Meno discuss this nature, they begin to formulate a hypothesis, as Socrates calls it, which is built upon a number of assumptions. As they progress and build on these assumptions, they begin to make what appears to be headway into the matter. After proposing that, if virtue is knowledge or wisdom, it can be taught, the two discuss the subtler points of the argument until Anytos enters the scene. When he does, it appears that Socrates' view shifts. When Socrates takes into account that the virtuous leaders in Athens do not necessarily beget virtuous sons, he concludes that virtue is truly not teachable, for why would a father deny his own son this asset? In the manner it is written, the dialogue seems to allow the reader to watch as the argument unfolds in the mind of the author. As the final evidence of the virtuous statesmen's sons is presented along with the notion that, if something is teachable, there are students and competent teachers, Socrates and, seemingly Plato, conclude that it cannot be taught.