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Plato on True Belief and Knowledge

 
 
kennethamy
 
  1  
Reply Fri 20 Nov, 2009 06:35 am
@jeeprs,
jeeprs;104615 wrote:
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?



I am not really an expert on the term, "absolute". It is one of those terms tossed around in philosophy like confetti at a parade. I'll stick with "certainty". And what I mean by "certainty" is the impossibility of error, so that when someone is certain of some proposition, it is impossible for him to be mistaken. And I think that knowledge is plentiful, but that certainty is rare. We know much we are not certain of. Certainty, as I have said, excludes the possibility of error; but knowledge excludes only the actuality of error. If I might be wrong, I am not certain; but if I am wrong, I do not know. Thus, we know that Mars is the fourth planet, but we are not certain of it.
0 Replies
 
Theaetetus
 
  1  
Reply Fri 20 Nov, 2009 08:37 am
@jeeprs,
jeeprs;104615 wrote:
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?


I wish I had a Greek text of the Meno, because I would be able to see what is actually meant by "absolute" in the context of the original language. There are so many subtleties in the ancient Greek language that are not carried through the translation to English. The forms, which are not discussed in the Meno but are in the Phaedo, are things that are absolute, so if someone has knowledge of them, that knowledge would be absolute.

I suggest, though, that all that Plato is doing is distinguishing between strong and weak knowledge or wisdom/understanding and stable right opinion. Wisdom seems to be a form of knowledge that could be considered absolute, because if it wasn't, is the wise man truly wise?
kennethamy
 
  1  
Reply Fri 20 Nov, 2009 09:44 am
@Theaetetus,
Theaetetus;104637 wrote:
I wish I had a Greek text of the Meno, because I would be able to see what is actually meant by "absolute" in the context of the original language. There are so many subtleties in the ancient Greek language that are not carried through the translation to English. The forms, which are not discussed in the Meno but are in the Phaedo, are things that are absolute, so if someone has knowledge of them, that knowledge would be absolute.

I suggest, though, that all that Plato is doing is distinguishing between strong and weak knowledge or wisdom/understanding and stable right knowledge. Wisdom seems to be a form of knowledge that could be considered absolute, because if it wasn't, is the wise man truly wise?


But how does the adjective, "absolute" qualify the noun, "knowledge". How does absolute knowledge differ from just, knowledge? It doesn't help much to say that Plato is distinguishing between strong and weak knowledge unless you inform me of that is supposed to be the difference between those. (I don't understand your point about wisdom). I, myself, think that all that is meant by "absolute knowledge" is certainty. The impossibility of error. And, as I have already pointed out, although it is (A) true that it is impossible that if you know then you are mistaken; that is not the same thing as saying that (B) if you know, it is impossible that you are mistaken, which, it seems to me is false. (B) confuses knowledge with certainty. (A) does not. I think that the failure to distinguish between (A) and (B) is a great cause of the confusion between knowledge and certainty. And, I daresay that Plato (Socrates) made this confusion (as did many after them). It is pretty clear that Socrates makes this confusion in this passage:

SOCRATES: Then right opinion is not less useful than knowledge?
MENO: 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.
SOCRATES: What do you mean? Can he be wrong who has right opinion, so long as he has right opinion?
MENO: 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.


And Meno, who was right the first time, relents (of course). He should have replied to Socrates, "Yes, Socrates. A person can, indeed, be wrong even though he has right opinion". "For example" Meno might have continued, "I believe Larisa is a city in Greece, and I am right to believe that. But it is possible for me to be wrong. I could have been mistaken about Larisa being a city in Greece. But I am not". Could not have Meno replied that way to Socrates?
Theaetetus
 
  1  
Reply Fri 20 Nov, 2009 09:56 am
@kennethamy,
Plato distinguished between wisdom and stable right opinion (strong and weak knowledge) in the Republic, but this discussion is supposed to be dealing with the Meno so I am leaving it at that.

You are missing the point that words that we use have different meanings and subtleties in the ancient Greek language than we are accustomed to. Not to mention, the word meaning wisdom in Greek is often mistranslated as knowledge (which happens in Jowett's translation of the Meno). This is also the reason why many have made the same confusion since Plato's days.

All I have to say is that if you want to know what Plato is truly saying you must consult with the Greek text. I have been lucky enough to have a professor who has done that for me to save me much time and effort.
jgweed
 
  1  
Reply Fri 20 Nov, 2009 09:58 am
@kennethamy,
The Greek text can be found here:

Plato, Meno, section 70a
0 Replies
 
kennethamy
 
  1  
Reply Fri 20 Nov, 2009 10:18 am
@Theaetetus,
Theaetetus;104650 wrote:
Plato distinguished between wisdom and stable right opinion (strong and weak knowledge) in the Republic, but this discussion is supposed to be dealing with the Meno so I am leaving it at that.

You are missing the point that words that we use have different meanings and subtleties in the ancient Greek language than we are accustomed to. Not to mention, the word meaning wisdom in Greek is often mistranslated as knowledge (which happens in Jowett's translation of the Meno). This is also the reason why many have made the same confusion since Plato's days.

All I have to say is that if you want to know what Plato is truly saying you must consult with the Greek text. I have been lucky enough to have a professor who has done that for me to save me much time and effort.


I am afraid that many people are not conversant with ancient Greek, and so, I am afraid that if you are right, they will never know what Plato is truly saying. But some of them (I for instance) would still like to discuss the problem raised in Meno about true belief and knowledge. Are we barred from doing that? It seems to me that we can discuss the philosophical problems raised in Meno although we do not know ancient Greek. For example, whether Socrates makes the mistake I accuse him of. Certainly, we can ask this question: If Socrates does say what Jowett says he said, did Socrates make a mistake? You do not object to that, do you?
Theaetetus
 
  1  
Reply Fri 20 Nov, 2009 10:27 am
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;104646 wrote:

And Meno, who was right the first time, relents (of course). He should have replied to Socrates, "Yes, Socrates. A person can, indeed, be wrong even though he has right opinion". "For example" Meno might have continued, "I believe Larisa is a city in Greece, and I am right to believe that. But it is possible for me to be wrong. I could have been mistaken about Larisa being a city in Greece. But I am not". Could not have Meno replied that way to Socrates?


He could have, but he didn't. What Socrates explains afterward does that, although it is done so in a confusing way talking about the statues being bound. Right opinion is not bound so it is possible to be mistaken, but as Socrates says "they are beautiful possessions" when they are correct. What you are looking for is there in the text, although Plato hides it very well.

---------- Post added 11-20-2009 at 10:31 AM ----------

kennethamy;104656 wrote:
I am afraid that many people are not conversant with ancient Greek, and so, I am afraid that if you are right, they will never know what Plato is truly saying. But some of them (I for instance) would still like to discuss the problem raised in Meno about true belief and knowledge. Are we barred from doing that? It seems to me that we can discuss the philosophical problems raised in Meno although we do not know ancient Greek. For example, whether Socrates makes the mistake I accuse him of. Certainly, we can ask this question: If Socrates does say what Jowett says he said, did Socrates make a mistake? You do not object to that, do you?


I agree with you totally. We can discuss the difference between true belief and knowledge, and we pretty much have beaten Plato dead in the discussion. Maybe it is time to move away from the Meno and either look at other instances in the dialogues where Plato makes the distinction or just focus on our understanding of the differences since we are not getting anywhere trying to find the answer in Plato. Plato is going to move on to the theory of the forms to further expand on what he presents in the Meno, and from there it gets rather ridiculous.
kennethamy
 
  1  
Reply Fri 20 Nov, 2009 10:38 am
@Theaetetus,
Theaetetus;104658 wrote:
He could have, but he didn't. What Socrates explains afterward does that, although it is done so in a confusing way talking about the statues being bound. Right opinion is not bound so it is possible to be mistaken, but as Socrates says "they are beautiful possessions" when they are correct. What you are looking for is there in the text, although Plato hides it very well.

---------- Post added 11-20-2009 at 10:31 AM ----------



I agree with you totally. We can discuss the difference between true belief and knowledge, and we pretty much have beaten Plato dead in the discussion. Maybe it is time to move away from the Meno and either look at other instances in the dialogues where Plato makes the distinction or just focus on our understanding of the differences since we are not getting anywhere trying to find the answer in Plato. Plato is going to move on to the theory of the forms to further expand on what he presents in the Meno, and from there it gets rather ridiculous.



Saying that right opinion is not bound is not something I find particularly helpful. But what Socrates says in reply to Meno about whether true belief can be false is simply wrong. Since I can belief true contingent propositions, and true contingent propositions can be wrong. Indeed, that is what it mean for them to be contingent. Until that is pointed out, Plato is not beaten dead. My interest here is not in an explication of the text, but in discussing the problems of epistemology raised by the text.
0 Replies
 
jeeprs
 
  1  
Reply Fri 20 Nov, 2009 03:45 pm
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;104656 wrote:
I am afraid that many people are not conversant with ancient Greek, and so, I am afraid that if you are right, they will never know what Plato is truly saying. But some of them (I for instance) would still like to discuss the problem raised in Meno about true belief and knowledge. Are we barred from doing that? It seems to me that we can discuss the philosophical problems raised in Meno although we do not know ancient Greek. For example, whether Socrates makes the mistake I accuse him of. Certainly, we can ask this question: If Socrates does say what Jowett says he said, did Socrates make a mistake? You do not object to that, do you?


But isn't it at least possible that the grounds for the difficulty are that we are not actually understanding what Plato is saying? I certainly do not read Greek, and am no scholar of Plato either. However it seems to me (purely on intutuition) that to believe that Socrates is wrong about this issue, and also to 'leave aside' all of what Plato has to say about 'anamnesis' and 'the soul', may mean you never will know what Plato is saying, because you are not prepared to accept his major premisses, or 'where he is coming from'. It might be necessary to be more sympathetic to his perspective. What if, for example, there is a type of knowledge which is completely certain, which we (culturally) don't have? Is it not at least possible?

Also I wonder what the Meno says about Justice? (if anything). I have a feeling this will help illuminate something about knowledge as well.
kennethamy
 
  1  
Reply Fri 20 Nov, 2009 04:41 pm
@jeeprs,
jeeprs;104727 wrote:
But isn't it at least possible that the grounds for the difficulty are that we are not actually understanding what Plato is saying? I certainly do not read Greek, and am no scholar of Plato either. However it seems to me (purely on intutuition) that to believe that Socrates is wrong about this issue, and also to 'leave aside' all of what Plato has to say about 'anamnesis' and 'the soul', may mean you never will know what Plato is saying, because you are not prepared to accept his major premisses, or 'where he is coming from'. It might be necessary to be more sympathetic to his perspective. What if, for example, there is a type of knowledge which is completely certain, which we (culturally) don't have? Is it not at least possible?

Also I wonder what the Meno says about Justice? (if anything). I have a feeling this will help illuminate something about knowledge as well.



But let's suppose he is saying what he is translated as saying. I am not so much interested in what he is actually saying in Greek as I am what he is translated as saying in English. Suppose that two individuals were arguing in that way in whatever language. Who would be right? It really doesn't matter, philosophically speaking, that they happen to be Socrates and Meno. After all, this is not an issue of the history of philosophy. It is an issue of a problem in philosophy. Can a person have a true belief and yet it be possible that he is wrong? Does it really matter who it is who is discussing the question? Of course there can be a type of knowledge which is certain. That is just certainty. But the question is whether I can know that Quito is the capital of Ecuador in the ordinary sense of "know" but it be possible that I am mistaken? The answer seems to me to be, yes. For it is a logical error to think that knowledge implies certainty.
jeeprs
 
  1  
Reply Fri 20 Nov, 2009 06:41 pm
@kennethamy,
I don't think there is a resolution available within your terms of reference.

Speaking on behalf of analytical philosophy, Russell said "We refuse to believe that there some 'higher' way of knowing, by which we can discover truths hidden from science and the intellect." (History of Western Philosophy, Unwin, 1979, p789)

I am sure Plato's whole outlook was based on an understanding that there was just such a higher way of knowledge. If you reject that, then indeed much of what is in platonism, and neoplatonism, makes no sense whatever. So why bring it up?
kennethamy
 
  1  
Reply Fri 20 Nov, 2009 06:55 pm
@jeeprs,
jeeprs;104747 wrote:
I don't think there is a resolution available within your terms of reference.

Speaking on behalf of analytical philosophy, Russell said "We refuse to believe that there some 'higher' way of knowing, by which we can discover truths hidden from science and the intellect." (History of Western Philosophy, Unwin, 1979, p789)

I am sure Plato's whole outlook was based on an understanding that there was just such a higher way of knowledge. If you reject that, then indeed much of what is in platonism, and neoplatonism, makes no sense whatever. So why bring it up?


The notion of a "higher way of knowledge" is not, it seems to me just to be posited, but needs to be examined. Your question seems to imply that the idea of a "higher way of knowing" is something to be either accepted or rejected, but not a subject for discussion or analysis, but is above criticism. I see no good reason for thinking this way. It seems to me that in philosophy, everything can be discussed, and subject to criticism.
0 Replies
 
jeeprs
 
  1  
Reply Fri 20 Nov, 2009 07:37 pm
@kennethamy,
Well I don't think it is above criticism, but I do think that it is a controversial idea in the modern world and will generally be rejected.

I am reading The Shape of Ancient Thought by Thomas McEvilly. His basic thesis is that there are much greater correspondences between Ancient Greek and Classical Indian philosophy than has been commonly accepted in the past. The contact came about partially through trade and commerce and also through the conquests of Alexander.

He draws quite a few parallels between Platonism and Indian philosophy, especially the Upanisads, which are the esoteric spiritual texts of the latter, and portrays Pythagoras, Socrates and Plato very much as 'spiritual sages' in the same sense as the Upanisadic seers.

In support of this he says as follows:

Quote:
"In certain passages (e.g. Meno 81cd; Phadoe 75cd-79c; Syposium 211-121; Republic 479, 490a-b, 500b-d, 508d, 514 ff; Phaedrus 249e - 250c, 247d;Timaeus 41d) it requires special pleading to deny that Plato speaks of a mystical knowledge..... Here [is one] example:

[INDENT] When returning into itself, the soul reflects, then it passes into the other world, the region of purity and eternity and immortality and unchangeableness which are its kindred and with them ever it lives, when it is by itself and is not let or hindered; then it ceases from its erring ways being in communion with the unchanging, is unchanging. And this is the state of the soul called knowledge. (Phaedrus 79c - emphasis added.) [/INDENT]

Plato presents this special knowledge as the crux of his philosophy. it is the culimating topic of the Phaedo, the Symposium, the Republic, The Phaedrus, and the Meno, and is assumed as background in most of the other major dialogs. If such ecstatic verbiage is only an elevated way of talking about logical thought or academic investigation, then Plato seems a bit simplistically amazed by it all. Does he mean a truth only on the level of concepts and their interactions? He denies this emphatically in several places.

The usual view of modern western scholars is that Plato is merely distiniguishing between sense consciousness on the one hand and intelligible cogitations such as those of math and deductive logic on the other. In the Philebus, Plato distinguishes them like this:

[INDENT]"Knowledge differs from knowledge - one having regard to the things that come into being and perish, the other to those that do not come into being nor perish, but are always unchanging and unaltered. revising them on the score of truth, we concluded that the latter was truer than the former" ( Philebus 61d-e) MacEvilly, p 187 [/INDENT]


The text at this point presents a number of comparisons between Platonic and Hindu thought on the topic of the 'true object of knowledge' and 'real nature of being'.

Hence, I still say the difficulty you are having with Plato's idea of knowledge is that he is not talking about where in the world is Quito. He is talking about something else altogether and it is quite probable that none of us really has much of an idea as to what it might be.
kennethamy
 
  1  
Reply Fri 20 Nov, 2009 07:52 pm
@jeeprs,
jeeprs;104758 wrote:
Well I don't think it is above criticism, but I do think that it is a controversial idea in the modern world and will generally be rejected.

I am reading The Shape of Ancient Thought by Thomas McEvilly. His basic thesis is that there are much greater correspondences between Ancient Greek and Classical Indian philosophy than has been commonly accepted in the past. The contact came about partially through trade and commerce and also through the conquests of Alexander.

He draws quite a few parallels between Platonism and Indian philosophy, especially the Upanisads, which are the esoteric spiritual texts of the latter, and portrays Pythagoras, Socrates and Plato very much as 'spiritual sages' in the same sense as the Upanisadic seers.

In support of this he says as follows:



The text at this point presents a number of comparisons between Platonic and Hindu thought on the topic of the 'true object of knowledge' and 'real nature of being'.

Hence, I still say the difficulty you are having with Plato's idea of knowledge is that he is not talking about where in the world is Quito. He is talking about something else altogether and it is quite probable that none of us really has much of an idea as to what it might be.


Whether it is a controversial idea is not, I think, to the point. But what is to the point is that anyone (including Plato) who proposes the idea is obligated to argue for it. He may not be talking about knowing ordinary truths, but then, so what? If by "higher knowledge" he only means knowledge of "higher truths" and not just ordinary truth like that Quito is the capital of Ecuador, then he ought to say that. But that has nothing to do with different kinds of knowledge. It has to do with knowledge of different kinds of truths. And, that distinction is obviously important.

If none of us knows what Plato is talking about, what makes you assume that Plato knows what he is talking about? It may be that Plato is confused. Not we.
0 Replies
 
jeeprs
 
  1  
Reply Fri 20 Nov, 2009 09:59 pm
@kennethamy,
OK correction, I won't say 'none of us knows what Plato is talking about'. But I will say that what he is talking about is not well understood and there are major cultural impediments to understanding him. I don't think Plato is confused. Do you really think he would have been remembered as one of the founders of Western culture if he was simply 'confused'? It is more likely that we no longer understand or meet his standards.
Theaetetus
 
  1  
Reply Sat 21 Nov, 2009 12:37 am
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;104732 wrote:
I am not so much interested in what he is actually saying in Greek as I am what he is translated as saying in English.


The problem is that many scholars have translated the Meno, which are available to the general public, and they tend to vary on what Plato is saying. Jowett's translation is easily one of the worst since he was not even a philosopher, and thus, is not going to understand the philosophic subtleties employed by a philosopher. Both of the translations I usually consult differ from each other, but they are far more consistent and clear than the woefully murky Jowett translation. Just the difference between Jowett's use of true belief, and most other translations use of right opinion already throws off the whole conversation. And after looking at the Greek text, I can say that right opinion is a much better translation.
0 Replies
 
kennethamy
 
  1  
Reply Sat 21 Nov, 2009 01:17 am
@jeeprs,
jeeprs;104774 wrote:
OK correction, I won't say 'none of us knows what Plato is talking about'. But I will say that what he is talking about is not well understood and there are major cultural impediments to understanding him. I don't think Plato is confused. Do you really think he would have been remembered as one of the founders of Western culture if he was simply 'confused'? It is more likely that we no longer understand or meet his standards.


Sure. He might be confused about this or that. He certainly confused the "is" of identity with the "is" of predication in his theory of Forms.* In fact, it might be that part of why he was so influential is that he made mistakes. In fact (like Descartes) it is only the greatest of philosophers who make the greatest of mistakes. It it is just because of their mistakes that we learn so much from them; largely from unraveling their mistakes and understanding them. Plato makes a very wonderful mistake in the passage we have been discussing.

*That confusion is epitomized in the Platonic Keat's famous line about how beauty is truth, and truth beauty
0 Replies
 
jeeprs
 
  1  
Reply Sat 21 Nov, 2009 03:39 am
@kennethamy,
Ha! Don't know if I concur, but I love the idea of 'wonderful mistakes'. Wish my mistakes were wonderful....
kennethamy
 
  1  
Reply Sat 21 Nov, 2009 07:32 am
@jeeprs,
jeeprs;104810 wrote:
Ha! Don't know if I concur, but I love the idea of 'wonderful mistakes'. Wish my mistakes were wonderful....


Don't we all? I would even settle for doing something wonderfully right. But wonderfully right things are even rarer than wonderfully wrong things.

---------- Post added 11-21-2009 at 08:42 AM ----------

Theaetetus;104789 wrote:
The problem is that many scholars have translated the Meno, which are available to the general public, and they tend to vary on what Plato is saying. Jowett's translation is easily one of the worst since he was not even a philosopher, and thus, is not going to understand the philosophic subtleties employed by a philosopher. Both of the translations I usually consult differ from each other, but they are far more consistent and clear than the woefully murky Jowett translation. Just the difference between Jowett's use of true belief, and most other translations use of right opinion already throws off the whole conversation. And after looking at the Greek text, I can say that right opinion is a much better translation.


But Jowett does, in fact, use "right opinion". So I don't know why you say that. I used, "true belief". At Oxford (in those days) those who took "Greats" were steeped in Greek philosophy. And, Balliol, Jowett's college, was especially famous for that. In any case, I would have thought there was an advantage in having a philosophically neutral view when translating.
Theaetetus
 
  1  
Reply Sat 21 Nov, 2009 10:33 am
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;104843 wrote:

But Jowett does, in fact, use "right opinion". So I don't know why you say that. I used, "true belief". At Oxford (in those days) those who took "Greats" were steeped in Greek philosophy. And, Balliol, Jowett's college, was especially famous for that. In any case, I would have thought there was an advantage in having a philosophically neutral view when translating.


Sorry my bad. I was assuming that since you used it, he did too. I have been consulting my other translations and ignoring the Jowett.
 

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