Plato, "Meno," 86b

Fortunately, the soul is immortal. Because it is always learning, it despises ignorance.

Plato, "Meno," 86b

References are to Cathal Woods' translation, found in full here. I highly recommend reading a prior writing of mine on the "Meno:" Plato, "Meno" 70a-72a. You do not need it to understand my remarks below, but trust me, it is valuable.

Plato, "Meno," 86b

Plato throws everything. Let's say you're playing Dungeons and Dragons, and the Dungeon Master has you deal with a chamber full of magical ice upon which evil orcs skate, each with a two-handed sword enhanced for decapitation. Then after you barely escape, he has you accidentally hit members of your own party while contending with a shadow demon. Then, after that, you have to fight the big bad boss, who turns out to be one of your characters' mothers. You're going to throw a beer bottle at the DM's head for providing virtually no exposition, ridiculous surprises, and overwrought traps. But that's Plato. What saves the work is its depth. At a certain depth, everything is at stake, even if everything is thrown.

The "Meno" famously begins with Meno asking Socrates if virtue is teachable. The question is loaded. Meno certainly means to test Socrates, seeing if his training from Gorgias was worth the money. Of course, Meno's training has not equipped him to address a problem in a serious fashion. When challenged to explain how different virtues can all be called virtue—What is it, exactly, that constitutes a given virtue?—he eventually finds himself at a loss. This results in him calling Socrates a stingray, as he has become "numb" through his encounter with Socrates, unable to "know what response" he could possibly give (80a-b). After more discussion and confusion, Meno tries to save face with a rhetorical trap: How could anyone possibly know anything? We know that trap as "Meno's paradox:"

How will you search for it, Socrates, when you have no idea what
it is? What kind of thing from among those you are ignorant of will you set
before yourself to look for? And even if you happened exactly upon it, how
would you recognize that this is what you didn't know? (80d)

In plainer language, Meno asks how you can find something if you have no clue what it is. If you know what it is, why do you have to look for it? And if you don't know, then how are you going to recognize it if you find it? Socrates calls this "sophistical," and he is, in case it needs to be said, correct. Somehow, people find what they're looking for, even when they don't know exactly what it is. But then Socrates takes Meno's quip and demonstrates the literally otherworldly power of rhetoric.

What does it mean to search when you're completely confused?  Socrates asks a boy about the problem of irrational numbers. How do we work with lengths we cannot easily quantify? Drawing them helps; we see the object we desire to understand emerge. Understanding that what was drawn is the truth, being able to confirm a difficult mathematical truth, might mean we have the truths we need within us. Perhaps the boy was given truth once, when being formed. The "soul" is "in a state of having learned throughout all time" (86a). And this would mean learning is acceptance of the duty one's immortal soul bestows:

If we always possess the truth about things in the soul, the soul would be immortal, so that the person who doesn't happen to have knowledge now, that is, who hasn't recollected, should be brave and try to search for it and recollect? (86b)

People do fall in love with Socrates' words. I see why some students fall in love with the "Meno." It's not just the text, assigned for all students at one institution, which everyone there reads and discovers each other through. It has more to do with a certain set of experiences. I remember when I ardently believed "natural law" existed, that moral truth had to be a certain set of ideas, if not the willingness to pursue those ideas.

I mean, this is it, right? Let's say there's an immortal soul. You've been told this growing up. You've explored spiritual and religious things, believing them a gift of and for your family. Even if your family is slack about worship, divinity watches over them, as it does/did for the relatives you admire. What isn't clear is how exploring intellectual things fits with faith and family. Sure, there are people writing smart things, say, about living a Christian life. But they're working with a tension between the things of this world and the things that belong to God. They're not showing how the spiritual and material are a unity.

Moreover, your learning and ambition has caused some conflict with your family. You weren't encouraged to apply to every school you wanted. You weren't allowed to take every class or join every club you thought would be good. The people your family admires are almost always successful in a specific way. They made it in America, got money and property and an established name, and you are to learn the values which made them who they are. Values, we assume, residing in old books. That, somehow, reconcile with the notion that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter God's kingdom.

Well, here it is. Your deeper yearning for knowledge is actually an insatitable desire for truth. You love the right things; you are "brave" in trying to explore the depths of your immortal soul. You should search as hard as you can for what matters to you and why it matters. And you'll find this reconciles with the traditions you've been given. Not for nothing did Christianity lend itself to the service of the "immortal soul." Or, on a shallower but almost equally significant level, the right-minded desire to protect "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

This is not at all the spell Socrates meant to cast, but thousands of years may be blamed for changing the meaning of the incantation. However, what he actually wants from Meno is what every honest person wants from themselves. Originally, the spell was simply meant to encourage the search for truth against an aggressive rhetorical skepticism. Truth which may be found more disquieting than comfortable.

I find it funny how Great Books education has led some to an implicit embrace of Anytus as opposed to reflection on what matters. You've got people saying that everyone needs to read this "classic" book so they can be more like every other citizen, accept authority, and understand that one's betters have established a good model for right reason and right action.

Fortunately, the soul is immortal. Because it is always learning, it despises ignorance. It persists in finding the truth no matter what an 18 or 40 or 70 year old eager for validation wants. And it insists that whatever is true, it is true relative to the person asking. True to their courage. A lot of people have not read the "Meno"—many wise people have not heard of Plato, studied Western Philosophy, or embraced monotheism—but have truths to share, ones which we are better for hearing.