Epistemology Essay, Research Paper
Plato’s View in Human Knowledge
Plato presents three different views about knowledge in Meno, Republic, and Theaetetus. In Meno’s case, Plato believes knowledge as something innate in us when we are born; in his later view, in Republic, Plato believes we perceive things and gain knowledge; and from the last view, in Theaetus, Plato believes knowledge is the combination of a true opinion and a rational opinion. Strangely enough, Plato’s views in Meno, Republic, and Theaetetus are similar, regarding the characteristics of knowledge. Despite that, Plato’s views in Meno, Republic, and Theaetetus have different degrees of weakness in developing his argument about knowledge.
The concrete characteristics of knowledge of Plato’s views in Meno, Republic, and Theaetetus are similar. According to Ron’s Palace,
there are two essential characteristics of the soul. First, knowledge must be certain and infallible. Second, knowledge must have as its object that which is genuinely real as contrasted with that which is an appearance only. Because that which is fully real must, for Plato, be fixed, permanent, and unchanging, he identified the real with the ideal realm of being as opposed to the physical world of becoming (Internet).
Before we are born, our souls stay in the in invisible world and saw all the “Forms” of all things. The “Form”, according to Plato, is eternal, unchanging, and universal. In the dialogue between Socrates and Meno (slave boy), according to Moser’s book, Socrates mentions that
his soul must remain always possessed of this knowledge…. And if the truth of all things always exists in the soul, then the soul is immortal….and try to discover by recollection what you do not now know, or rather what you do not remember (Plato 42).
The knowledge alreadily has existed in us when we are born. By absorbing the information from the visible world into our minds, we then remember what we have forgotten in our previous existence. Since the knowledge in us is from the eternal and unchanging “Form”, the knowledge in us is unchanging and eternal. In similar to Plato’s view in Meno, Plato’s view in Republic has two categories of knowledge. He says “there are two ruling powers, and that one of them is set over the intellectual world, the other over the visible” (Plato 47). On that account, the knowledge we have is from both our perception and our intellectual world. What we perceive is not true and that is not knowledge. When we perceive something that comes in a pattern and has a principle, our reason will process into hypothesis by opinion and our soul will recognize that by reason (Plato 48). Mathematical formulas can be good examples in this argument because mathematical formulas are eternal and unchanging. For instance, before we recognize that “a?+b?=c?” as a hypothesis, we must have had experience of measuring a physical right triangle in order to make sure that hypothesis becomes true at all time. When the hypothesis is true, it then becomes knowledge. That is the procedure of the intellectual world. The intellectual world that is our knowledge is eternal and unchanging. In a similar way, the view in Theaetetus’s case, Plato believes that some true opinions or beliefs can be knowledge. In Theaetetus, Plato thinks knowledge is “right opinion with rational definition or explanation” (Plato 60). For instance, when we hold a true opinion about a right triangle formula, we need to justify that true opinion by our rationality; we know that it becomes knowledge if that formula works with all cases. As a result, that knowledge is unchanging and eternal and knowledge timelessly exists.
The difference of knowledge in Meno, Republic, and Theaetetus is the degree of weaknesses in developing the argument of finding out what knowledge is. In Meno case, Plato proves his recollection argument by constantly asking questions and explaining geometrical space of a square to a slave, Meno, who has no mathematical background whatsoever. In a mean while Plato thinks, “There is no teaching, but only recollection” (Plato 39). With a series of simple geometrical diagrams and questions from Socrates, Plato asks Meno is able to make basic conclusion of each question. The method proves that Meno “must have had and learned” the notions “at some other times” (Plato 42). In other words, Meno knowledge can be recollected and learned by “putting questions to him” (Plato 42) and Plato states that our soul “must remain possessed …knowledge” (Plato 42). The idea of what we know about knowledge is too general which is hard to define knowledge; thus, that is the weakness of Plato’s view in Meno’s case. In distinction to Meno’s case, in the Republic Plato develops a narrower conception of knowledge. Plato believes that the knowledge and perception are the same because “the soul perceives and understands” (Plato 46). When we perceive things by our senses we achieve knowledge; so each of our senses uniquely functions in its own nature. For instance, the object, such as color, belongs to the faculty of sight by the light (Plato 46). According to Jowett, “general ideas are perceived by the mind alone without the help of the senses” (246); “The senses perceive objects of sense, but the mind alone can compare them” and “sensations are given at birth, but truth and being, which are essential to knowledge, are acquired by reflection later on” (247). That is the weakness of this argument in Plato’s view in; we do not gain knowledge unless we think and rationalize. However, in Theaetetus’s case, Plato proposes a different aspect of knowledge as a true opinion or belief and a rational explanation (Plato 60). This view is more abstract than the other two earlier views of Plato on knowledge; as a matter of fact, it attacks two earlier views of Plato in Meno and Republic as the development of the theory of knowledge persists. As this argument continues, Plato believes that “knowledge is true opinion” (Plato 50) on the first move. A true opinion or belief cannot be equivalent to a true belief in a persuasive case in court. For instance, in a jury trial, the juror believes that the defendant is guilty from the attorney’s argument rather than seeing the concrete evidence (Plato 60). In this case, true opinion is not always knowledge; that is why this argument is weak. Furthermore, when there is a true opinion, there is also a false opinion that is not knowledge. In the case of “5+7=11”, “5+7” is the object of opinion and “=11” is not a false opinion which “is impossible… in the sphere of knowledge” (Jowett 249) but it is erring by “a confusion of thought and sense” (Plato 56). A true opinion must be what is the case and the object of the opinion must exist. Moreover, “the differences in the kinds and degrees of knowledge depend on the extent and the qualities of the wax” (Jowett 258). Therefore, it is agreeable that some true opinions can be knowledge. As Plato approaches to his final move on his argument, he explains
in the first place, the meaning may be, manifesting one’s thought by the voice with verbs and nouns, imaging an opinion in the stream which flows from the lips, as in a mirror or water. Does not this appear to you to be one kind of explanation (Plato 61).
Plato thinks that explanation is “the reflection of thought in speech.-But this is not peculiar to those who know” and “the enumeration of the parts of a thing” (Jowett 275). The weakness is that it is possible for “enumerations of parts without knowledge” (Jowett 276). Nonetheless, this weakness in Theaetetus’s case is not that bad comparing to other two cases (Meno and Republic) in terms of different degrees of weakness in the development of knowledge theory.
Plato’s late view in Theaetus is superior to all of his early views in Meno and Republic. In Meno, Plato’s view falls short on his argument of recollection because this visible world has nothing to do with the invisible world. If there were another world beside our world, it would have nothing to do with our knowledge. In a sense, if we need measure how much knowledge we, we can hardly tell our knowledge at certain degree when situations may arise to us case by case because every case is not the same. For almost the same thing in Meno’s case, in Republic, Plato’s view is insufficient; our senses cannot give us knowledge when we hear people speaking different languages that we have never learned and when we see magicians performing illusions. In these cases, we do not understand what people are talking about in foreign languages and the illusions deceive our eyes; as a result, our senses and perceptions do not give us knowledge. On the other hand, Plato’s view in Theaetetus is stronger as we see in our world today. A true opinion can be understood as a hypotheses; a rational explanation is the experiment of the hypothesis. When a hypothesis matches with a rational explanation, a large possibility that it can become theory. When we know the theory and we can explain it, then we have knowledge. This argument in Theaetetus has less weakness than other arguments in his earlier views (Meno and Republic). Likewise, we can be sure how much we know at least in a certain degree. For instance, if we take a math test, we can measure how many principles, theories, and formulas we have learned. For that reason, Theaetetus is more concrete than other two earlier views although Socrates is not satisfied at all with Plato’s views in Meno, Republic and Theatetus about the definition of knowledge.
After comparing and contrast Plato’s views in Meno, Republic, and Theaetetus, I find that the similarity is the uniqueness of knowledge in Plato’s argument. I also find that the differences are the degree of weaknesses of each of his view. I think Plato presents a strong argument on we define knowledge. In Theaetetus’s case, realistically we can tell that we have some degrees of knowledge by having tests; I think this argument is the best. This definition of knowledge, I think, can apply to our world today. Most importantly, knowledge is involved not only in what we learn, but also in what interpret and process from what we learn in our mind.
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