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Plato on True Belief and Knowledge

 
 
Theaetetus
 
  1  
Reply Tue 17 Nov, 2009 11:35 am
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;104090 wrote:
But I used to know many things I have now forgotten. I used to know the name of a very pretty girl in my third grade class. I have now forgotten it.


Well, so have I. This could start a discussion on what knowledge is, and whether you actually knew the girls name since you have forgotten it.

As I said, "chaining" mere right opinion turns it into stable right opinion. That does not mean that it can't be forgotten over time. Much like someone could forget where their boat is anchored after much time,they can also forget thing committed to memory. It is likely still in memory but can no longer be recalled because the "location" in memory is forgotten.
0 Replies
 
Zetherin
 
  1  
Reply Tue 17 Nov, 2009 12:20 pm
@kennethamy,
Wasn't it knowledge the guide actually had but he just didn't know it was knowledge, until he found out his belief was true?

Isn't true belief just knowledge waiting to be justified, discovered?
kennethamy
 
  1  
Reply Tue 17 Nov, 2009 12:38 pm
@Zetherin,
Zetherin;104095 wrote:
Wasn't it knowledge the guide actually had but he just didn't know it was knowledge, until he found out his belief was true?

Isn't true belief just knowledge waiting to be justified, discovered?


No. I can guess a horse will win a race, and then, later, the horse does win the race. But that doesn't mean I knew the horse would win the race, A lucky guess remains a guess even when you find out that you were lucky.

No. Unless it is justified, it isn't knowledge. It is a true belief.

---------- Post added 11-17-2009 at 01:46 PM ----------

Theaetetus;104092 wrote:
Well, so have I. This could start a discussion on what knowledge is, and whether you actually knew the girls name since you have forgotten it.

As I said, "chaining" mere right opinion turns it into stable right opinion. That does not mean that it can't be forgotten over time. Much like someone could forget where their boat is anchored after much time,they can also forget thing committed to memory. It is likely still in memory but can no longer be recalled because the "location" in memory is forgotten.


You can discuss what you like, but why would you think I did not know the girl's name, and then forgot it?

Is "stable right opinion" knowledge? If it is, then I can know something and forget it, as you say here. If it isn't knowledge, then it is irrelevant. I can be reminded of what I used to know, or I can suddenly remember what I used to know. But that doesn't mean I both know it, and forgot it.
Zetherin
 
  1  
Reply Tue 17 Nov, 2009 12:46 pm
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;104100 wrote:
No. I can guess a horse will win a race, and then, later, the horse does win the race. But that doesn't mean I knew the horse would win the race, A lucky guess remains a guess even when you find out that you were lucky.

No. Unless it is justified, it isn't knowledge. It is a true belief.


In that case, I'm stuck here in the dialogue:

Men. The difference, Socrates, is only that he who has knowledge will always be right; but he who has right opinion will sometimes be right, and sometimes not.

<Soc. What do you mean? Can he be wrong who has right opinion, so long as he has right opinion?>

Men. I admit the cogency of your argument, and therefore, Socrates, I wonder that knowledge should be preferred to right opinion-or why they should ever differ.

What does Soc. mean by this? My thought process follows the same as "Men" did. What cogent argument is he saying Soc. has?
Theaetetus
 
  1  
Reply Tue 17 Nov, 2009 01:02 pm
@Zetherin,
Zetherin;104103 wrote:
In that case, I'm stuck here in the dialogue:

Men. The difference, Socrates, is only that he who has knowledge will always be right; but he who has right opinion will sometimes be right, and sometimes not.

<Soc. What do you mean? Can he be wrong who has right opinion, so long as he has right opinion?>

Men. I admit the cogency of your argument, and therefore, Socrates, I wonder that knowledge should be preferred to right opinion-or why they should ever differ.

What does Soc. mean by this? My thought process follows the same as "Men" did. What cogent argument is he saying Soc. has?


Plato is trying to make a distinction in the different types of "getting it right" that I have been referring to in this discussion. When Meno says "he who has right opinion will sometimes be right, and sometimes not" he is referring to the idea that someone can have chance right opinion by being lucky or accidentally stumbling on right opinion. Socrates makes the point to say that the person still is right regardless of how they came to the right opinion. After Socrates comment, Meno's statement is bringing up the idea that there are different degrees of right opinion.

Remember that much of what Plato says is written between the lines of the dialogues. He knows that he cannot just hand off his knowledge by merely stating it, but rather makes his readers dig for it and do the dirty work.
Zetherin
 
  1  
Reply Tue 17 Nov, 2009 02:34 pm
@kennethamy,
Thanks, but I'm not still not clear on this.

True belief and knowledge at different. I got that. If there is any justification, though, true belief isn't just true belief anymore, is it? It becomes knowledge when justification comes into the mix.

It's hard for me to believe why the guide would believe where somewhere is, without having any justificiation for having that belief. One wouldn't just randomly point in a direction and believe it, would one? If one did, I could see how this would just be true belief, but this is usually not how things happen. I think in the case of giving directions, one would have justification for their belief, whether or not their belief was true or not.

So, if one had justification for believing that Larisa was in a certain location, and one believed that Larisa was in that certain location, and it was true that Larisa was in that certain location, how is that not knowledge? Why would it not be the guide just not knowing they knew, until they found their belief to be true?
0 Replies
 
ACB
 
  1  
Reply Tue 17 Nov, 2009 04:24 pm
@Theaetetus,
Theaetetus;104110 wrote:
When Meno says "he who has right opinion will sometimes be right, and sometimes not" he is referring to the idea that someone can have chance right opinion by being lucky or accidentally stumbling on right opinion. Socrates makes the point to say that the person still is right regardless of how they came to the right opinion.


I still don't get this. The underlined statement is a mere truism (if a person is right, he is right, however he came to be right), which is so obvious as to be not worth saying. Meno surely already knew that "if p, then p". Socrates's remark does not address Meno's point. The question is not whether the guide is right this time if he is right this time (of course he is :excl:) but whether he is likely to be right next time.
0 Replies
 
jeeprs
 
  1  
Reply Tue 17 Nov, 2009 04:35 pm
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;104026 wrote:

Soc. You would not wonder if you had ever observed the images of Daedalus; but perhaps you have not got them in your country?

Men. What have they to do with the question?

Soc. Because they require to be fastened in order to keep them, and if they are not fastened they will play truant and run away.

Men. Well. what of that?

Soc. I mean to say that they are not very valuable possessions if they are at liberty, for they will walk off like runaway slaves; but when fastened, they are of great value, for they are really beautiful works of art. Now this is an illustration of the nature of true opinions: while they abide with us they are beautiful and fruitful, but they run away out of the human soul, and do not remain long, and therefore they are not of much value until they are fastened by the tie of the cause; and this fastening of them, friend Meno, is recollection, as you and I have agreed to call it. But when they are bound, in the first place, they have the nature of knowledge; and, in the second place, they are abiding. And this is why knowledge is more honourable and excellent than true opinion, because fastened by a chain.


Some questions about this passage.

First - what are 'images of Daedulus' and what is it about them that makes them able to 'go truant' if they are not fastened? (This might have been explained elsewhere, or at least the reader might be assumed to know this, but it is a bit mystifying. They seem to be possessed of a mind of their own, rather than being 'images'.)

Second this 'fastening' of 'opinions' by 'recollection'. I presume the reference is to the Platonic doctrine of anamnesis. The Wikipedia article on same puts it (rather crudely) as:

Quote:
The soul is trapped in the body. The soul once lived in "Reality", but got trapped in the body. It once knew everything, but forgot it. The goal of Recollection is to get back to true Knowledge. To do this, one must overcome the body. This doctrine implies that nothing is ever learned, it is simply recalled or remembered. In short it says that all that we know already comes pre-loaded on birth and our senses enable us to identify and recognize the stratified information in our mind.


Do you think this is what the passage is referring to? Because in this passage, the nature of 'the chain' seems of central significance. It is hard to conjecture what this might be, in contemporary terms.
0 Replies
 
kennethamy
 
  1  
Reply Tue 17 Nov, 2009 04:52 pm
@Zetherin,
Zetherin;104103 wrote:
In that case, I'm stuck here in the dialogue:

Men. The difference, Socrates, is only that he who has knowledge will always be right; but he who has right opinion will sometimes be right, and sometimes not.

<Soc. What do you mean? Can he be wrong who has right opinion, so long as he has right opinion?>

Men. I admit the cogency of your argument, and therefore, Socrates, I wonder that knowledge should be preferred to right opinion-or why they should ever differ.

What does Soc. mean by this? My thought process follows the same as "Men" did. What cogent argument is he saying Soc. has?


Yes. This is difficult. Meno says that if someone has a true belief he can be wrong. And then, Socrates replies that if someone has a true belief he cannot be wrong (while he has that true belief). I think that Meno is right. A person who can a true belief can be wrong. Suppose the guide has a true belief about the road to Larisa. Can he be wrong? Of course. It is possible for him to be mistaken. But of course, since he has a true belief, he is not mistaken. But that he is not mistaken does not mean he cannot be mistaken. What Socrates points out that as long as the guide has a true belief he is not mistaken. And that is true. But it does not show that the guide cannot be mistaken.

I mentioned earlier in this thread that there is a modal problem in this thread. And this is what I meant.

---------- Post added 11-17-2009 at 06:12 PM ----------

jeeprs;104146 wrote:
Some questions about this passage.

First - what are 'images of Daedulus' and what is it about them that makes them able to 'go truant' if they are not fastened? (This might have been explained elsewhere, or at least the reader might be assumed to know this, but it is a bit mystifying. They seem to be possessed of a mind of their own, rather than being 'images'.)

Second this 'fastening' of 'opinions' by 'recollection'. I presume the reference is to the Platonic doctrine of anamnesis. The Wikipedia article on same puts it (rather crudely) as:



Do you think this is what the passage is referring to? Because in this passage, the nature of 'the chain' seems of central significance. It is hard to conjecture what this might be, in contemporary terms.


1. Daedulus was a famous Greek sculptor who, it was said, created statues which were so life-like that the looked as if they were alive, and could move. Thus, the "go truant".

2. What I have to say now is more speculative. Yes, I am fairly sure the doctrine of "recollection" is being referred to. In the Meno earlier, Socrates expounds on the doctrine that knowledge is actually recollection of what was learned in a previous life. It is presented as a myth, but I think that Plato took it seriously to explain the nature of a priori knowledge, which was the only kind of knowledge he thought worthy of the name. Plato would have held that what I call my knowledge that Quito is the capital of Ecuador was really (at best) right opinion (or true belief), and not knowledge. Knowledge had to be absolutely certain for Plato. So, knowledge cannot be mistaken. There is the same modal difficulty here. There is a difference between:

1. If X knows that p, then it is impossible for p to be false. And.

2. It is impossible for X to know that p, and p to be false.

1. is false, and 2. is true. It looks as if Plato (or Socrates) does not distinguish between 1. and 2. Or, alternatively thinks that because 2 is true, that 1 is true. This is a modal fallacy.

Emil is an expert on this fallacy, and fast knows about it too.
0 Replies
 
jeeprs
 
  1  
Reply Tue 17 Nov, 2009 07:11 pm
@kennethamy,
So perhaps the point of the dialog is to differentiate that knowledge (episteme) is of a different kind to what many of us (cave dwellers, I presume) what regard as 'knowledge', which would at best be 'correct opinions or beliefs' (doxa).

It is hard to ascertain the truth of this statement, insofar as it assumes a distinction which cannot really be proven propositionally. No amount of propositional analysis could establish whether there is such a thing as 'true knowledge remembered by the soul' could it?
kennethamy
 
  1  
Reply Tue 17 Nov, 2009 07:18 pm
@jeeprs,
jeeprs;104172 wrote:
So perhaps the point of the dialog is to differentiate that knowledge (episteme) is of a different kind to what many of us (cave dwellers, I presume) what regard as 'knowledge', which would at best be 'correct opinions or beliefs' (doxa).

It is hard to ascertain the truth of this statement, insofar as it assumes a distinction which cannot really be proven propositionally. No amount of propositional analysis could establish whether there is such a thing as 'true knowledge remembered by the soul' could it?



Never mind the "remembered by the soul" part. If Plato were right, and if knowledge had to be absolutely certain without the possibility of error, then what we call scientific knowledge would be impossible. And, we would not know that the world is round, nor that Mars is the fourth planet. And, further, we would not know more today than we did 100 years ago, since most of what we have learned in the last century is scientific knowledge. Do you think we don't know more today than 100 years ago? I surely don't. So, it seems to me that Plato must be wrong.
0 Replies
 
jeeprs
 
  1  
Reply Tue 17 Nov, 2009 07:34 pm
@kennethamy,
I don't know. I don't think you can discard the idea of 'anamnesis' without eviscerating Platonic philosophy altogether. Certainly it makes interpretation of this dialog impossible. I think the whole point is that Socrates is making a distinction between 'knowledge of an ultimate kind' and 'ordinary knowledge'. There are similar distinctions made in many traditional schools of philosophy (Arabic, Hindu, Buddhist, Medieval). However, there remains scope for 'conventional' knowledge (which includes science) to be perfectly sound, within its frame of reference. But that frame of reference is understood not to be absolute.

Socrates is talking about a 'higher knowledge'.

Of course, we know more facts today than we did 100 years ago. But there can well be a sense in which we know more and more, about less and less. Maybe there is a really important perspective which Plato and Socrates shared, which we don't have, and which might not be gained by the accumulation of facts. But of course the modern outlook will generally reject this idea so I don't expect that it will be accepted. This is, however, what is at issue in this dialog.
kennethamy
 
  1  
Reply Tue 17 Nov, 2009 07:53 pm
@jeeprs,
jeeprs;104180 wrote:
I don't know. I don't think you can discard the idea of 'anamnesis' without eviscerating Platonic philosophy altogether. Certainly it makes interpretation of this dialog impossible. I think the whole point is that Socrates is making a distinction between 'knowledge of an ultimate kind' and 'ordinary knowledge'. There are similar distinctions made in many traditional schools of philosophy (Arabic, Hindu, Buddhist, Medieval). However, there remains scope for 'conventional' knowledge (which includes science) to be perfectly sound, within its frame of reference. But that frame of reference is understood not to be absolute.

Socrates is talking about a 'higher knowledge'.

Of course, we know more facts today than we did 100 years ago. But there can well be a sense in which we know more and more, about less and less. Maybe there is a really important perspective which Plato and Socrates shared, which we don't have, and which might not be gained by the accumulation of facts. But of course the modern outlook will generally reject this idea so I don't expect that it will be accepted. This is, however, what is at issue in this dialog.


On the other hand, Plato lived and wrote nearly 2,000 years before the rise of science. His paradigm of knowledge was mathematics (geometry, actually). There was what is called a "paradigm shift" in the 16th and 17th centuries from mathematics to what Robert Boyle called, "the experimental sciences". And what we have learned about nature dwarfs what we knew in the previous two thousand years. We have learned, too, that knowledge is fallible, and not certain. Whatever we know is, of course, true, else it would not be knowledge. But that does not mean that what we know must be true. It is true that Quito is the capital of Ecuador. But it is not the case that it must be true. A different city might have been the capital of Ecuador. For instance, Guayaquil. (Indeed, there was some dispute before Quito was designated the capital. And it might have gone the other way).
0 Replies
 
jeeprs
 
  1  
Reply Tue 17 Nov, 2009 10:08 pm
@kennethamy,
that is true in a way, but it is rather beside the point. Besides it assumes that in all respects, modernity is superior to the ancient world. I think this is 'cultural chauvinism'. It might be the case that the modern outlook on life is better in some ways than ancient one. But there might have been some ways in which their's was better than ours. Experimental science is of course very useful, and reveals the details of nature very well. But at the end of the day we live in a human reality, and reality is a lived experience. Science is but one facet of that lived experience. Certainly it provides many powerful tools and other benefits, but does it make me any wiser? Does having access to all of this knowledge make me a better person? It is quite possible that the ancients understood other facets about which modern science has no knowledge or interest.

I seem to recall that Plato took a dim view of the hoi polloi. They were the great majority who dwelt in the realm of doxa. Of course these aristocratic tendencies were why Popper saw Plato as an enemy of the 'open society'. But on the other hand, what we call modern science might be just the way that the hoi polloi have organised things for their own convenience. And it certainly seems to be more convenient in some respects, but then on the other hand, we seem to permanently hovering on the edge of global catastophe as well, so maybe the 'jury is still out' as the saying goes.
kennethamy
 
  1  
Reply Wed 18 Nov, 2009 02:51 am
@jeeprs,
jeeprs;104208 wrote:
that is true in a way, but it is rather beside the point. Besides it assumes that in all respects, modernity is superior to the ancient world. I think this is 'cultural chauvinism'. It might be the case that the modern outlook on life is better in some ways than ancient one. But there might have been some ways in which their's was better than ours. Experimental science is of course very useful, and reveals the details of nature very well. But at the end of the day we live in a human reality, and reality is a lived experience. Science is but one facet of that lived experience. Certainly it provides many powerful tools and other benefits, but does it make me any wiser? Does having access to all of this knowledge make me a better person? It is quite possible that the ancients understood other facets about which modern science has no knowledge or interest.

I seem to recall that Plato took a dim view of the hoi polloi. They were the great majority who dwelt in the realm of doxa. Of course these aristocratic tendencies were why Popper saw Plato as an enemy of the 'open society'. But on the other hand, what we call modern science might be just the way that the hoi polloi have organised things for their own convenience. And it certainly seems to be more convenient in some respects, but then on the other hand, we seem to permanently hovering on the edge of global catastophe as well, so maybe the 'jury is still out' as the saying goes.


I am assuming only that science, and the scientific outlook has revolutionized the world we live in, and that any view that implies there is no scientific knowledge must be false. So, if the choice is between whether knowledge must be infallibly certain, or science affords us knowledge, the evidence comes down in completely in favor of science. Why we have science and its origins, or the value of science, are rather beside the point. (Although I am awed by the belief that human life is not better for the discovery of anesthesia and antibiotics). It is preposterous to believe that we do not know more about the world now than we did a century ago. Do we not know that water is H20, or that Mars is the fourth planet? Certainly we do, for if we do not know things like that, we know nothing at all. And, if we have not learned that we are fallible creatures in the last two thousand years, we have learned nothing at all.
0 Replies
 
jeeprs
 
  1  
Reply Wed 18 Nov, 2009 03:20 am
@kennethamy,
But learning that we are fallible creatures does not require science. Some people would have known it 10,000 years ago.

I did not imply, or say, that there is 'no scientific knowledge', rather that scientific knowledge is perfectly valid within its frame of reference. Actually this is not even a particularly controversial claim. This is in accordance with what Kuhn and Polanyi say about scientific knowledge. I don't accept Bertrand Russell's idea that 'all can be known, can be known by means of science'. there are other types of knowledge, intuitive and spiritual understandings, which are not in the province of empirical science, because they require our participation as subjects.

And I don't make a religion out of science. I don't think 'the scientific worldview' amounts to a philosophy of life, nor that evolutionary biology accounts for the nature of human beings. I am not a scientific ideologue, although I will defer on scientific questions to scientists.

And Socrates is talking about a higher knowledge.
kennethamy
 
  1  
Reply Wed 18 Nov, 2009 03:52 am
@jeeprs,
jeeprs;104243 wrote:
But learning that we are fallible creatures does not require science. Some people would have known it 10,000 years ago.

I did not imply, or say, that there is 'no scientific knowledge', rather that scientific knowledge is perfectly valid within its frame of reference. Actually this is not even a particularly controversial claim. This is in accordance with what Kuhn and Polanyi say about scientific knowledge. I don't accept Bertrand Russell's idea that 'all can be known, can be known by means of science'. there are other types of knowledge, intuitive and spiritual understandings, which are not in the province of empirical science, because they require our participation as subjects.

And I don't make a religion out of science. I don't think 'the scientific worldview' amounts to a philosophy of life, nor that evolutionary biology accounts for the nature of human beings. I am not a scientific ideologue, although I will defer on scientific questions to scientists.

And Socrates is talking about a higher knowledge.


I should have explained that what I mean by saying that we are fallible is that we know nothing for certain, and not, as you had a right to think, that we sometimes err. It is true that we sometimes (often?) believe we know something, and it turns out that we do not know what we thought we knew. And that is what people have "known 10,000 years ago". But, as we have been discussing, Plato, and Descartes, and others have also held a different thesis, namely that there are some things we can know for certain, and, also, that only certain and infallible knowledge is really knowledge (with a capital 'K'). Everyone knows, of course, that we often think we know, and find out later that we don't know what we thought we know. Plato knew that too. I call that "weak fallibilism". But the view that there is no certainty, and that knowledge does not imply certainty, I call, "strong fallibilism". And it is strong fallibilism I mean when I say that we are all fallible. And, clearly, Plato did not accept strong fallibilism.

If Plato were right, and if only certain knowledge is knowledge, then there is no scientific knowledge. And that, as I have already said, seems to me to be preposterous. For, if we know anything about empirical science, we know that it is strongly fallible. That is, scientific knowledge is not certain knowledge. So it does not seem to be that this notion that it is "valid" within its own frame of reference is much help, even if I were clear about what that means, which I must admit, I am not. What is science's "frame of reference"? If science tells us that the Earth is many billions of years old, is it within its own frame of reference? How do we know whether it is or it is not? If science tells us the Shroud of Turin is a fraud, is it within its own frame of reference. How do we tell? (What is "higher" knowledge? Did Socrates know "highly" that he lived in Athens, or did he not?).
0 Replies
 
jeeprs
 
  1  
Reply Wed 18 Nov, 2009 04:57 am
@kennethamy,
I agree, it is a difficult perspective. There is a saying in literature that 'the past is another country' and this is especially applicable to the thought of the ancient Greeks which is of course extremely foreign to the contemporary outlook. So it is very difficult to get into the 'mindset' of such a time, especially one so culturally and temporally removed.

You will recall that Plato used to talk of 'recollecting the knowledge of the soul'. But what if he actually meant it? Maybe in so doing, his very conception of who he was, and what life is actually about, was completely changed. 'Previously, I thought that I was such and such - now, I have a completely different understanding of who I am'. (I don't know if there is an equivalent quote from Plato, but I am sure that there must be one like it.) Now this might be knowledge of quite a different order to the knowledge of facts-about-the-world. (And, let us recall, the Delphic injunction Man, Know Thyself.)

However I do understand why one would reject that. We live in a scientific age. No-one believes these kinds of things any more: 'soul', 'forms', 'higher knowledge' and the like. But leaving aside, or bracketing, whether you or I actually believe that, I think it is essential in the understanding of the nature of the dialog, because I think this is what the dialog is about.

So really there is a religious dimension to this whole discussion. However, that too should be interpreted carefully, because again it may not mean 'religious' in the sense that moderns will understand. But it is a fact that Plato was in some respects, as illustrated by such passages as the famous allegory of the Cave, a mystic. And mystics believe, or declare, that there is a kind of knowledge specific to mystical experience or realisation which is not available to the - how shall we say - 'mundane' intelligence.

Now you would not at all be the first person to react against this aspect of Plato's personality. In fact, Aristotle did likewise, and as he grew older, became more and more antagonistic to the mystical elements in Plato's teaching. He thought the the Theory of Forms was 'fatal to science'. And accordingly, he devised a much more realistic ontology which became instrumental in the formation of Western thought.

However the Platonic lineage, or stream, call it what you will - which arguably started with Pythagoras and other predecessors - nevertheless continued down through the generations, and remained a major component of Western philosophy up until the beginning of the modern age. (I was reading a book recently where a professor declared that everyone is 'either an Aristotlean or a Platonist'. I think I have decided the latter.)

But be that as it may, none of it changes the fact that Quito is the capital of Ecuador, and that water is made from hydrogen and oxygen, and that if you put enough of it on a wood fire, it will go out. But there is a side of philosophy that deals with a different level of explanation, one where the types of questions we deal with are much less clear cut. Is the universe evolving towards an outcome, or is everything just a result of chance and necessity? Does human life have any particular significance in the scheme of things, or are we just acidental tourists? And so on.

Many in the modern world look to science to give us an account of the nature of the world we live in and the kind of people we are. This is not an unreasonable belief, but I do agree with Plato, and disagree with Russell, in that I too think there are kinds of knowledge in addition to the scientific. This does not mean I deny science or even doubt it. But there are questions it won't ask, and answers that it won't receive, and I think, again, this is what the Socrates dialog is about.

I hope that clarifies what I am getting at.
kennethamy
 
  1  
Reply Wed 18 Nov, 2009 07:42 am
@jeeprs,
jeeprs;104253 wrote:
I agree, it is a difficult perspective. There is a saying in literature that 'the past is another country' and this is especially applicable to the thought of the ancient Greeks which is of course extremely foreign to the contemporary outlook. So it is very difficult to get into the 'mindset' of such a time, especially one so culturally and temporally removed.

You will recall that Plato used to talk of 'recollecting the knowledge of the soul'. But what if he actually meant it? Maybe in so doing, his very conception of who he was, and what life is actually about, was completely changed. 'Previously, I thought that I was such and such - now, I have a completely different understanding of who I am'. (I don't know if there is an equivalent quote from Plato, but I am sure that there must be one like it.) Now this might be knowledge of quite a different order to the knowledge of facts-about-the-world. (And, let us recall, the Delphic injunction Man, Know Thyself.)

However I do understand why one would reject that. We live in a scientific age. No-one believes these kinds of things any more: 'soul', 'forms', 'higher knowledge' and the like. But leaving aside, or bracketing, whether you or I actually believe that, I think it is essential in the understanding of the nature of the dialog, because I think this is what the dialog is about.

So really there is a religious dimension to this whole discussion. However, that too should be interpreted carefully, because again it may not mean 'religious' in the sense that moderns will understand. But it is a fact that Plato was in some respects, as illustrated by such passages as the famous allegory of the Cave, a mystic. And mystics believe, or declare, that there is a kind of knowledge specific to mystical experience or realisation which is not available to the - how shall we say - 'mundane' intelligence.

Now you would not at all be the first person to react against this aspect of Plato's personality. In fact, Aristotle did likewise, and as he grew older, became more and more antagonistic to the mystical elements in Plato's teaching. He thought the the Theory of Forms was 'fatal to science'. And accordingly, he devised a much more realistic ontology which became instrumental in the formation of Western thought.

However the Platonic lineage, or stream, call it what you will - which arguably started with Pythagoras and other predecessors - nevertheless continued down through the generations, and remained a major component of Western philosophy up until the beginning of the modern age. (I was reading a book recently where a professor declared that everyone is 'either an Aristotlean or a Platonist'. I think I have decided the latter.)

But be that as it may, none of it changes the fact that Quito is the capital of Ecuador, and that water is made from hydrogen and oxygen, and that if you put enough of it on a wood fire, it will go out. But there is a side of philosophy that deals with a different level of explanation, one where the types of questions we deal with are much less clear cut. Is the universe evolving towards an outcome, or is everything just a result of chance and necessity? Does human life have any particular significance in the scheme of things, or are we just acidental tourists? And so on.

Many in the modern world look to science to give us an account of the nature of the world we live in and the kind of people we are. This is not an unreasonable belief, but I do agree with Plato, and disagree with Russell, in that I too think there are kinds of knowledge in addition to the scientific. This does not mean I deny science or even doubt it. But there are questions it won't ask, and answers that it won't receive, and I think, again, this is what the Socrates dialog is about.

I hope that clarifies what I am getting at.


"The past is another country. They do things differently there". I agree. But I agree that the world before the scientific revolution was a very different world from the world after it. In fact, I insisted on it. But one important thing we have learned from the revolution is that empirical science is a source, and a primary source, of knowledge about the world, but that, nevertheless, or rather just because it is empirical knowledge, it cannot be known with certainty. Now, Plato, and Descartes argued insistently that just because empirical knowledge was not known with certainty, it could not (really) be knowledge. They begin with the premise that knowledge must be certain, and conclude that empirical knowledge is not real knowledge. I think that must be wrong. I think we must begin with the premise that empirical knowledge is knowledge, and that, therefore, knowledge need not be (and is not) certain. The question is, of course, which premise one thinks is more likely to be true.

---------- Post added 11-18-2009 at 08:48 AM ----------

jeeprs;104253 wrote:
I agree, it is a difficult perspective. There is a saying in literature that 'the past is another country' and this is especially applicable to the thought of the ancient Greeks which is of course extremely foreign to the contemporary outlook. So it is very difficult to get into the 'mindset' of such a time, especially one so culturally and temporally removed.

You will recall that Plato used to talk of 'recollecting the knowledge of the soul'. But what if he actually meant it? Maybe in so doing, his very conception of who he was, and what life is actually about, was completely changed. 'Previously, I thought that I was such and such - now, I have a completely different understanding of who I am'. (I don't know if there is an equivalent quote from Plato, but I am sure that there must be one like it.) Now this might be knowledge of quite a different order to the knowledge of facts-about-the-world. (And, let us recall, the Delphic injunction Man, Know Thyself.)

However I do understand why one would reject that. We live in a scientific age. No-one believes these kinds of things any more: 'soul', 'forms', 'higher knowledge' and the like. But leaving aside, or bracketing, whether you or I actually believe that, I think it is essential in the understanding of the nature of the dialog, because I think this is what the dialog is about.

So really there is a religious dimension to this whole discussion. However, that too should be interpreted carefully, because again it may not mean 'religious' in the sense that moderns will understand. But it is a fact that Plato was in some respects, as illustrated by such passages as the famous allegory of the Cave, a mystic. And mystics believe, or declare, that there is a kind of knowledge specific to mystical experience or realisation which is not available to the - how shall we say - 'mundane' intelligence.

Now you would not at all be the first person to react against this aspect of Plato's personality. In fact, Aristotle did likewise, and as he grew older, became more and more antagonistic to the mystical elements in Plato's teaching. He thought the the Theory of Forms was 'fatal to science'. And accordingly, he devised a much more realistic ontology which became instrumental in the formation of Western thought.

However the Platonic lineage, or stream, call it what you will - which arguably started with Pythagoras and other predecessors - nevertheless continued down through the generations, and remained a major component of Western philosophy up until the beginning of the modern age. (I was reading a book recently where a professor declared that everyone is 'either an Aristotlean or a Platonist'. I think I have decided the latter.)

But be that as it may, none of it changes the fact that Quito is the capital of Ecuador, and that water is made from hydrogen and oxygen, and that if you put enough of it on a wood fire, it will go out. But there is a side of philosophy that deals with a different level of explanation, one where the types of questions we deal with are much less clear cut. Is the universe evolving towards an outcome, or is everything just a result of chance and necessity? Does human life have any particular significance in the scheme of things, or are we just acidental tourists? And so on.

Many in the modern world look to science to give us an account of the nature of the world we live in and the kind of people we are. This is not an unreasonable belief, but I do agree with Plato, and disagree with Russell, in that I too think there are kinds of knowledge in addition to the scientific. This does not mean I deny science or even doubt it. But there are questions it won't ask, and answers that it won't receive, and I think, again, this is what the Socrates dialog is about.

I hope that clarifies what I am getting at.


"The past is another country. They do things differently there".* I agree. But I agree that the world before the scientific revolution was a very different world from the world after it. In fact, I insisted on it. But one important thing we have learned from the revolution is that empirical science is a source, and a primary source, of knowledge about the world, but that, nevertheless, or rather just because it is empirical knowledge, it cannot be known with certainty. Now, Plato, and Descartes argued insistently that just because empirical knowledge was not known with certainty, it could not (really) be knowledge. They begin with the premise that knowledge must be certain, and conclude that empirical knowledge is not real knowledge. I think that must be wrong. I think we must begin with the premise that empirical knowledge is knowledge, and that, therefore, knowledge need not be (and is not) certain. The question is, of course, which premise one thinks is more likely to be true.


*L. P. Hartley, not one of Tory Historian's favourite writers, started his best-known book (mostly because of the film with Julie Christie and Alan Bates) with the words: "The past is another country; they do things differently there".
jeeprs
 
  1  
Reply Fri 20 Nov, 2009 05:07 am
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;104270 wrote:
Now, Plato, and Descartes argued insistently that just because empirical knowledge was not known with certainty, it could not (really) be knowledge. They begin with the premise that knowledge must be certain, and conclude that empirical knowledge is not real knowledge. I think that must be wrong. I think we must begin with the premise that empirical knowledge is knowledge, and that, therefore, knowledge need not be (and is not) certain. The question is, of course, which premise one thinks is more likely to be true.


Do you think 'certainty' is another word for 'absolute' in this context? Are they saying, knowledge is not worthy of the name unless it is absolute? I suppose the corollary is that if knowledge is not certain, but it is all we have, is there anything certain? Archimedes said 'give me a lever and I will move the world'. Do we have such a point in modern thought?
 

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