Can Virtue Be Taught?

In the Meno, Plato has Socrates ask whether or not virtue can be taught.  I do not believe that it can be taught directly, but I do believe that one can teach virtue indirectly, by providing students the means or sufficient conditions they need to cultivate it.

Wisdom is the fruit of experience, reflection, and critical interrogation. You can give people experiences, you can help them to reflect, and you can teach them how to think critically and ask inquisitive questions. However, they must put these things together and develop wisdom for themselves. You can put the wine before them, but they themselves must drink it.

Compassion is similar. You can teach people what compassion is and that it operates on a plane of equality, not from a position of superiority. You can demonstrate it by feeling it for them and showing them what compassionate action is like. From these, they can learn what it is and how to recognize it and can begin to practice it for themselves. In so doing, they cultivate it within their own hearts and can begin to develop a compassionate frame of mind.

Of the two, compassion is perhaps the easier virtue to teach. The two are interrelated, however; wisdom teaches one the value of compassion, and compassion yields insights into wisdom. Once you begin to develop one of the two, you are already on the road to developing the other; they reinforce one another. Consciously inquiring into and attempting to cultivate these virtues is a self-rewarding process.


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