Adequate Definition


Socrates’s attempts to find a perfect definition that he could claim to be an adequate one led to numerous discussions of the existence of such definition and what properties it should include. According to his point of view, an adequate definition should generalize all other possible definitions and exclude possible variants of other definitions. Meno contradicts the Socrates’s desire to find an adequate definition and states that every person has his/her own perception of a certain phenomenon or action and, as a result, he/she understands only some aspects of the concept. Socrates supports this idea, but he also states that an adequate definition still can be found because he perceives it from the epistemological point of view. In other words, his desire to find an adequate definition is predetermined by his epistemological views, which means that he always tried to support any phenomenon with facts and logic. Hence, one states that this is the main reason why Socrates’s concept of an adequate definition is sometimes viewed as false. According to this fact, it is necessary to identify the Socrates’s own views about the adequate definition, ways of its identification, and the Meno’s opinion concerning this issue. 


Concept of an Adequate Definition

In the Euthyphro, Socrates raises discussion about such philosophical important concept as piety. In other works like Meno, he searches for an answer on the definition of virtue; moderation in Charmides, beauty in Hippias Major, and friendship in Lysis. According to this fact, one can outline that Socrates was interested in ethical issues and tried to give an adequate definition to each of these virtues. However, no one could give a definition that satisfied Socrates. Every time the opponent made an attempt to explain meaning of the word, Socrates provided counterexamples, which contradicted the opponent’s definition. 

Some researchers state that Socrates simply played with people asking them what if questions. Hence, he never was interested in the final result because he wanted to see how people reacted to his counterarguments. Others state that Socrates was really searching for a good definition, but it was almost impossible because every definition had some points that excluded other points of this definition. In other words, every time one tried to formulate an adequate definition, Socrates provided arguments that contradicted the concept of this definition and made it impossible. 

However, there is also the third category of researchers who believe that Socrates indeed had a clear interpretation of a definition that satisfied each of his what if questions. Socrates knew what a good definition should include, but he also realized that a really good definition is very difficult to meet and, thus, he introduced high standards for a proposed definition in order to find the good one.  

Socrates’s counterarguments and what if questions may help to identify what definition can be viewed as good from the Socrates’s point of view. According to this fact, it is possible to outline a certain algorithm. For instance, if Socrates says that a particular definition is not good because it does not satisfy x, then one can state that a good definition should do x. The same thing, if Socrates states that a particular definition is bad because it does y, then a good definition should not do y. Hence, one may include all the Socrates’s comments and requirements about definition in one list and formulate requirements for an adequate definition that will satisfy Socrates’ demands.   

One of the most illustrative examples of Socrates’s searching of an adequate definition is the Euthyphro’s attempt to define piety. When Socrates asked Euthyphro what is piety, he answered that pity is what he does. However, this answer does not contain any specific characteristic of this definition. Moreover, it does not have any criteria that could be used as the ultimate one in order to define piety in other cases. Thus, this answer could not satisfy Socrates’s demand because it did not give even the simplest explanation. Socrates wanted to receive an answer that will contain the general definition of piety, but not one that concerns only a particular case. He wanted to define what actions can be viewed as pious, why an action can be defined as pious, and who can or cannot do such action. Hence, his goal was to define the specific combination of features, which may formulate only one single definition. As a result, Socrates’s requirements on definition are based on two strategies, which help to estimate whether a definition is adequate or not. The first strategy is to think about an example that does not satisfy requirements of the definition, but it satisfies the concept of this definition. Another strategy is to think about the example that can satisfy all requirements of the definition, but it does not satisfy the main concept of this definition. 

A good example that helps to understand these two strategies can be illustrated on a definition of dog. Hence, if one includes properties of a four-legged creature in the definition of a dog, it will not be correct because one also can meet three-legged dogs, but they are still defined as dogs. According to this fact, definition of four-legged is not an adequate definition for a dog. Thus, it was the illustrative example of the first strategy. The second strategy can be introduced by the following example, which predetermines provision of a bad definition. For instance, a definition for a man can be introduced as a two-legged human being without feathers. However, if one takes a chicken and plucks it, then it will only partly satisfy properties of this definition because it will be two-legged and featherless, but it is not a human being. Moreover, an adequate definition cannot be circular when definition justifies itself. For instance, an x action can be viewed as a pious action only if x is a pious action. In fact, it is a correct meaning, but it does not contain any relevant information about properties that x should have in order to perform the pious action.  

According to this fact, it can be said that an adequate definition should contain a clear explanation of properties that can be appropriate only for this definition; it should also predetermine possible exclusions like in the case of a three-legged dog. Moreover, this definition should contain a wide explanation that will request certain requirements for x in order to be x. In other words, it means that there should not be a circus explanation; it is x because only x can do it. An adequate definition should explain what properties x should obey in order to satisfy the definition’s requirements.  

The Epistemic Role of Definitions

Socrates’s goal was to identify main properties that can be used as basic when one talks about certain phenomenon or action. He tried to give an accurate and true definition to every phenomenon or event. In this way, one can state that Socrates’s goal of the adequate definition was predetermined by his epistemic views. According to this fact, knowledge and logic cannot be justified if there is no firm background. Definition is what makes logic ultimate and excludes existence of other variants. In other words, one may come to a single logical conclusion only if he/she uses certain concepts, which are described by an adequate definition. If a concept has few definitions, which are opposite to each other, then the entire chain of logical thoughts becomes irrelevant. Thus, it is necessary that every concept should have only one adequate definition that will reflects all its properties and excludes other meanings. 

Socrates’s demand for a logical explanation was much influenced by his epistemological demand to explain things from the rational point of view. He believed that epistemological perception was the correct one because all evidences and facts, which were made in the result of epistemological effect, were logical and correct. According to this fact, definition should also be based on this principle because an adequate definition should contain logic and certain knowledge. Thus, Socrates could accept the fact that one definition could have many different and sometimes even opposite explanations because it contradicts the main idea of epistemology. Moreover, existence of an adequate definition could be very useful for his epistemological targets. Such definition could help him to explain concepts that are based solely on knowledge and facts. In other words, an adequate definition will exclude existence of all other possible explanations and will support only one property. 

This approach is necessary because it justifies the Socrates’s perception of the epistemic role of definition. Hence, if Socrates could prove that it is possible to find an adequate definition, he could justify his epistemological views. In fact, Socrates was trying to create a mutual connection between epistemological approach and adequate definition. Each of these sides would complete and explain each other. For instance, an adequate definition could provide a correct and strict definition of a certain fact. This definition can be used from the epistemological point of view and it one will not have a need to explain its validity because definition has already done it. In other words, every phenomenon that can be introduced as an adequate definition is already referred to the epistemological concept. Hence, Socrates tried to find out the ultimate algorithm that can be used not only for identification of a particular definition, but also for further development of his epistemological views. 

Paradox of Inquiry

If one takes a look at the dialogue between Socrates and Meno, he/she may notice that Socrates’s wish to identify a shape of an adequate definition is partly fallacy. During this dialogue, Meno asks Socrates to give a definition of virtues. However, Socrates professes ignorance and after that Meno states that virtues may have many definitions because every person has their own virtues. For instance, slaves’ virtues and virtues of some noble man are different though they are viewed as virtues. Socrates cannot accept Meno’s suggestion because he believes that there should be one and only one definition that will embrace all properties of the concept. Thus, he tries to find qualities that will unify all these different definitions of virtue. 

The philosophers propose different variants, but none of them can satisfy the Socrates’s requirement. However, Meno offers one quality that can be referred to any virtue; it is the desire for good. Meno introduces his point of view from the epistemological perspective, which means that the Socrates’s search of an adequate definition does not have sense. Socrates wants to find something that he does not know, but how one can find something that he does not know and even if he/she does it, how can he/she be sure that it is exactly what he/she has been searching for. In other words, Meno tries to convince Socrates that his approach to searching an adequate definition is wrong and even contradicts epistemology.  

Nevertheless, Socrates could provide his own vision of this dilemma. He says that a person cannot learn anything because everything that may be learnt is already known, but he/she needs only to remember it. As an example, he introduces the case of one of Meno’s slaves who could formulate the simplest geometric theorem though he has never learnt geometry.  Hence, Socrates states that an adequate definition can be found because everything the person searches for is already inside his/her consciousness. 

According to this fact, one can state that Socrates’s perception of the epistemic role of definition does not lead to the paradox of inquiry. The Socrates’s example of a slave who knows a thing that he has never learned proves his theory and, as a result, contradicts the Meno’s argument that one cannot find something that he/she does not know. 

The theory of recollection uses two theses, which are very relative to the supposed problem with inquiry. The first thesis states that knowledge is the logical part of reason, while reason is a natural part of soul and this knowledge can be eliminated. The second thesis includes the issue about the existence of body and soul. According to this thesis, soul exists in a body, it has existed before the body, and it will continue existing after it leaves the body.

 The first thesis is form of rationalism and it reflects the epistemological view. According to this fact, the paradox of inquiry and the theory of recollection have similar concepts. In both cases, there is something that always exists; hence, a theory of recollection may explain the Socrates’s approach from its own perspective. Thus, a theory of recollection states that a soul exists before the body. It is the same thing Socrates that states about knowledge that exists in the consciousness before people know about it. Thus, the recollection theory can explain main Socrates’s ideas and is very relative to the problem of inquiry. 


Socrates believed that every phenomenon or action should have a certain definition that would introduce only this particular process. In order to find an adequate definition, Socrates has proposed many personal views as to what a good definition should consist of. Nevertheless, his perception of an ideal definition was almost utopian and he could easily deny any definition proposed by others, stating that it was not totally adequate. Meno tried to convince Socrates that his approach was partly wrong because it excluded existence of any definition as one proposed definition always excluded the other. 

During this discussion, Socrates and Meno could come to a certain conclusion and find out what properties an adequate definition should have. As a result, they outline two main principles, which should be used in order to provide an adequate definition. Nevertheless, the Socrates’s approach is viewed as false because he used the epistemological approach in order to find an answer to his question. On the one hand, this approach explains why Socrates was searching for an ultimate solution to his problem. On the other hand, it proves that Socrates’s perception of an adequate definition was overestimated and his epistemological perception was the main reason why he tried to find such a high purpose of definition. 

Mar 1, 2019 in Research
The Impacts of Child Abduction
American History X: A Sociological Analysis

Related essays

Discount applied successfully