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Explanation of Plato's epistemology in the Republic

The argument of Republic 5 is one of the most difficult in the Platonic corpus. It is crucial for an understanding of both Plato's epistemology in general and also the specific political proposals of the Republic. I will start by offering some contextual information, and then lay out the argument as a whole. I will then offer a general explanation of the concepts of knowledge, belief, and existence, operative in the argument. Finally, I work through the main steps more slowly and with explanation as appropriate.

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Epistemology in Plato's Republic

1. Introduction:
The argument at the end of Republic 5 is one of the most difficult in the Platonic corpus. It is crucial for an understanding of both Plato's epistemology in general and also the specific political proposals of the Republic. I will start by offering some contextual information, and then lay out the argument as a whole. I will then offer a general explanation of the concepts of knowledge, belief, and existence, operative in the argument. Finally, I work through the main steps more slowly and with explanation as appropriate.

2. Context:
The epistemological argument I am focusing on is presented at the end of Republic 5. The context is Socrates' proposal that his ideal city can be actualized only if philosophers become kings or kings become philosophers (472e-473e) In order to defend his proposal, Socrates needs to answer 2 questions (474b): (1) what is a philosopher? (2) Why is the philosopher qualified to rule? The ensuing argument gives answers to both.

3. Laying out the argument (Rep. 476d-484b)

1. Knowledge is set over what is
2. Ignorance is set over what is not.
3. Knowledge and belief are powers.
4. Knowledge and belief are different powers.
5. A power is something that enables one to do something of which one is capable. (Examples: sight, hearing)
6. Different powers do different work and deal with different objects.
7. Therefore, knowledge and belief deal with different objects.
8. Therefore, what is known is not the same as what is believed.
9. Therefore, what is believed is not what is.
10. The power of belief does not believe nothing.
11. Therefore, what is believed is not what is not.
12. Belief is "more opaque" than knowledge but "clearer" than ignorance.
13. Therefore, belief must be between knowledge and ignorance.
14. If there is something which both is and is not at the same time, it will lie in between what purely is and what in every way is not.
15. If there is something between knowledge and ignorance, then it deals with that which is between what purely is and what in every way is not, if there is such a thing.
16. Belief is between knowledge and ignorance.
17. Therefore, belief deals with that which is between what purely is and what in every way is not, if there is such a thing.
18. All of the many beautiful things are also ugly, just things are also unjust, etc.
19. Therefore, beautiful things loved by the sight-lovers both are and are not.
20. Therefore, there are such things as are between what purely is and what in every way is not.
21. Therefore, belief deals with that which is between what purely is and what in every way is ...

Solution Summary

An explanation of Plato's epistemology in the republic is determined.

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