Welcome to week three of reason and persuasion. I'm still John Holbo, but now we're reading Platos Meno. You will not be shocked to learn it's a dialogue about a guy named Meno. But first I want to tell you about how I lied to you last week. By way of giving you something to think about in a general, you know relevant way. Remember how I said, the ask me anything advice column format was invented in London in 1690? Well, that can't be quite right, because, as we all know. Plato thought of everything first. At any rate, the ancient Athenians already knew about this funny phenomenon of people promising to answer all questions anyone asks about anything. Because they knew about a guy called Gorgias. He was a sophist, I told you a bit about them before. They teach you how to be impressive and convincing. About stuff. Gorgias was famous for his signature brand of silver-tongued theatrical schtick. He would answer any question anyone put to him on the spot. He answered them all. This was, in effect, a promo teaser for his professional services. Not as a person who can teach you how to know everything about everything, let's not be ridiculous, but someone who can teach you how to speak really, really well. That is, plausibly, that is...persuasively. Gorgias was a persuasion professional. He taught a lot of things. But, the chief skill all his teachings aimed at imparting was rhetoric. Speech and debate. Gorgias has his own platonic dialogue, by the way. It's called, you guessed it, The Gorgias. Good stuff. Why am I telling you this? Just because I feel bad about how I lied to you about who was the first with the whole. Ask me anything thing. Well, there's that, but it's more than that. There's a Gorgias connection in our dialogue. Meno, at the time of the dialogue, is a student of Gorgias, so Gorgias is kind of hovering over this whole performance. I want to prime you to appreciate our dialogue with a few general questions. About sophistry. In Greek, sophos is wisdom, so the sophists were wise men or wise guys, but in modern English, sophistry doesn't mean wisdom. It's a term of dismissal for any argument or style of argument that's too clever by half, or just trying to coast by on its good looks. Gorgias was as responsible for as anyone for giving sophistry these bad connotations. Example, he apparently had a famous argument that nothing exists, and if it did, you couldn't know it, and if you knew it, you couldn't say it. That's a silly sort of nihilistic skeptical position, right? Is that the sort of nonsense that impressed the Athenians in the assembly or in court? My fellow citizens, I am innocent because nothing exists. Is any fool going to fall for that? Probably not but it's good practice to argue for the least plausible things you can think of, that is. It's good practice to act like you believe stuff you don't believe, even really outrageous stuff, just to see whether you can at least stump your opponent as to how to argue back. Practicing doing stuff in a pretend way, pretending to fight for example, that's a very standard and normal human activity. Pretending just for practice is an excellent way to learn stuff for real ,there's nothing dishonest about it ,not necessarily if you and I are practicing with our swords without actually meaning to hurt each other no one would say we're lying even non humans learn this way, by the way puppies and kittens. They instinctively wrestle in a playful way. And thereby get in some practice, for the real deal later on. In a sense, speech and debate is just a natural extension of the very human, very animal instinct. For play fighting, but its also an exciting new chapter in the history Of lying. Lying itself is nothing new. It's as old as play fighting, I'm sure. But, this is new. Maybe. Trying to make stuff you don't really believe sound as plausible as possible. That's not lying, necessarily, is it? But it's close, isn't it? At any rate, this much seems right. Being a plausible speaker is, plausibly, a skill in its own right. It's a skill some people have more than others. Plausibly, it's a teachable skill. Time for our first quiz question. Would having the ability to provide on the spot a plausible answer to most any question. Be a skill worth acquiring? A, Yes! B, No! I told the computer to give credit for either answer. I think you can concoct a plausible defense of either. What a sophist I am. So, forcing you to pick either A or B is rather artificial. But, forced choices can be instructive. Why did you pick the one you did? What plausible argument for the other answer were you rejecting and why? Let me move on to another question. Menos, as it happens, or something, hmm, pretty close to it, usually in these dialogues. Socrates asks someone else answers but this time Menos starts the ball rolling asking Socrates here's the question, can virtue be taught? Socrates quickly turns the tables by changing the subject what is virtue but we'll get to that. For now I want to try to get at what Meno is really getting at, even though Socrates kind of changes the subject. By virtue Meno means something like success which is not actually an acceptable translation of arete, the Greek word he uses. But never mind that. I'm thinking about the bookstore more than the dictionary. Speaking of which. Go to the bookstore! I guess I'm giving you more field work but you can just pause this video and click over to Amazon or your favorite online bookseller. Who leaves the internet these days? Go to the bookstore. Are you there? You got it fired up in your browser, or on your eyeballs,if you're in an actual bookstore? Right. Find the self-help section. Sometimes it's called something else. Success, or self-improvement. A lot of the titles we're looking for are in the business books section, so if you just search,business books, several of the top hits will be correct hits. Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People, also, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living. If you can see Dale Carnegie, you're surely looking at the right shelf. Every year, there's a new crop of these books, but Dale just sits around. Sometimes,these books are in the psychology section. There's kind of an interesting divide. Sort of a positive, negative split. The success books in the business section tend to have a be excellent vibe. And you get a lot of biographies. Mostly biography of Steve Jobs, it sometimes seems. If I could only be like Steve Jobs, I'd be successful. So I'm going to study the life of Steve Jobs. Does that make any sense? A lot of people evidently think it makes a lot of sense. The psychology shelf, by contrast, has more of a how to cope vibe. How to cope with difficult people. How to cope with yourself when you are one of those difficult people. But it goes both ways. There's business books about coping with dysfunction and psychology books that are very much a sort of go, go. Be all that you can be kind of thing. Interestingly, few if any self help books are ever shelved in the philosophy section. Even though ethics, how should I live my life, is kind of a self help topic, if you think about it. As I was saying, go to the book store, look at the self help section. Make a representative sample. By the way I'm actually serious about this. Do this thing. Pause this video. Open a new tab in your browser, go to Amazon or whatever find some self-help titles. Now, there's your assignment. Judge these books by their covers. And I do mean covers in the plural sense. First read the title, whatever it may be. Now, flip it over, and read a few of the blurbs that are always on the back. This book will change your life! This book will transform how you see the world! That sort of thing. So now, the question. Do you think self help books can help yourself? I mean. A, Yes! B, No. Once again I give credit for either answer. I'm going to have to start coming up with questions that have wrong answers or you're going to start thinking philosophy is easy. Alright. Surely, your answer, whichever it was, depended at least in part On how you took the question. By asking you to read those blurbs, which tend to be a bit over the top, I probably primed you to set your skepticism bar a bit on the high side to compensate. If, for the price of an overpriced latte, you could change your whole life, for the better, for the rest of your life, then that would really, really, really, really, really ,really ,really be a good deal. If these books can do what their blurbs say they can, these books are the best deals in the world. Best deals ever. You'd be crazy not to read these books. Everything else you study, calculus, spanish, whatever it is, surely, comparatively worthless compared to such a great result. Success! In a can. You may also want to subscribe to Success magazine, by the way. Thus I think a lot of people are naturally suspicious about these books. It looks like maybe they're preying on people's weaknesses, promising a quick fix. There are books to help people stop obsessing about stuff and stop buying stuff they don't need. If there isn't already a self help book for people who buy too many self help books, well probably someone's writing it because there's a market, baby. Of course All these self-help authors, well, most of them, they're going to tell you exactly what I just said. There's no quick fix. Thinking there's a quick fix is part of your problem. These books are going to fix that for you. More seriously, books can tell you true things, wise things, basic things. But when it comes to self help you gotta practice it. You've got to apply it. You gotta be it. I don't know, something. This very natural puzzle about what the content of these books has to do with how you learn and how you live. That's what Meno is getting at. His question is Socrates, do you think you can teach virtue? Read that as success, self help. Then he gets more specific. Can it be taught? Or do you have to practice it? Or some people just born with it, or something else? Maybe these books helps you with some stuff, but not the actually hard stuff where success is concerned. Of course. This book will help you only with the easy stuff. Or, this book will tell you stuff you probably already know but aren't doing. It's not exactly a winning marketing strategy. You're still at the bookstore, I hope. Good. Probably the bookstore staff will frown on this sort of behavior so try not to get kicked out. Make an extremely large and messy pile of all the books that might be self help. From psychology, from the business section, inspirational, biography, the spirituality section. Maybe put some motivational posters on top. Like I said, you're going to have to go all over the bookstore to collect it all. And suppose This would be trickier but just suppose you sort of added to that big pile of books and motivational posters all the reasons that people have for wanting anything to do with this pile. What are the things that people want to get out of this pile whether or not that desire is realistic. All of that Is what Meno is asking about, in effect. I think it's a damned interesting question. Of course, as soon as Socrates gets his claws into it, this interesting question gets clawed into weird little pieces. That don't belong in the self help section any more. Put it over there with the philosophy books. Speaking of philosophy ,let's read Meno.