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    Explanation of Plato's epistemology in the Republic

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    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 not.
    22. Those who look at the many sensible beautiful or just things have beliefs about all these things but have no knowledge of what their beliefs are about. (Lovers of belief)
    23. Those who contemplate the things themselves, which are always the same in every respect, have knowledge and not mere belief. (Philosophers)

    4. General Explanation:

    Socrates aims to establish two conclusions: (1) Philosophers have knowledge on account of their acquaintance with Forms. (2) Non-philosophers have belief but not knowledge on account of their ignorance of Forms. Presumably, philosophers are qualified to rule on account of their knowledge of justice. Only someone who knows what justice is will be able to "make" a just city.

    a. Knowledge and Belief

    Before working through the above argument, let me explain the concepts of knowledge, belief, and existence as they are found in Plato. Plato distinguishes between the following kinds of knowledge:

    1. Propositional knowledge (e.g. knowing that it is raining)
    2. Knowledge by acquaintance (the sense in which one may know, e.g., beauty)
    3. Know-how (technê) or practical knowledge (e.g. knowing how to build houses)

    The above distinction between propositional knowledge and knowledge by acquaintance also has application to belief. This is important because the distinction is not one which is reflected in the grammar of English. In English, the verb 'believe' does not take an object as an object; it takes a proposition. This is not the case in Greek. In English, one can know love, maybe justice, but cannot believe love, or believe justice. Ancient Greek grammar allows that one can know and believe love, justice, etc. Belief is a 'lower' form of acquaintance with properties or universals.

    In sum, we have the following two senses of belief in Plato:

    1. Belief-that (e.g. believing that it is raining)
    2. Belief "by acquaintance" (e.g. "believing love" or "believing justice")

    The concepts of knowledge and belief relevant to the argument are knowledge and belief by acquaintance.

    b. Existence

    At least four different uses of the verb "to be" may be distinguished. It is important to introduce these distinctions because the validity of the above argument depends on which the concept of 'existence' is operative in Socrates' reasoning.

    1. Existential use: E.g. "The Statue of Liberty is, but the World Trade Centre is not."
    2. Predicative use: "Socrates is just", etc.
    3. Veridical use: "It is (so)" = "It is true".
    4. Identity: "Superman is Clark Kent"

    The epistemological argument relies on the second "predicative" sense of existence.

    c. Explanation of the argument

    The first premise is this: knowledge deals with what completely is (476e-477a).

    On the interpretation of knowledge as acquaintance knowledge and the interpretation of "is" as predicative, the first premise means something like this. When one knows what some F is (justice, beauty, etc), then one is acquainted with something that is really F (rather than G, or part F and part G). (The notation is quite standard in contemporary philosophical writing: F, G, H, etc are variables denoting arbitrary properties or universals.) Compare: if you know love, rather than lust, then you must be acquainted with love, not lust.

    The second premise is this: Ignorance "deals with" what [completely] is not (477a9).

    What this means is the following: If one is wholly ignorant of what some F is (justice, beauty, etc), then one is not acquainted with anything F, or with something that is not F at all. One has no experience of the concept

    Premises (3) to (6) should be taken together in order to aid comprehension. They are restated below for your convenience:

    3. Knowledge and belief are powers.
    4. Knowledge and belief are different powers (477b).
    5. Knowledge is infallible; belief is fallible (477e)
    6. Different powers do different work and are set over different objects. (477c6)

    Socrates is thinking of powers on analogy with the senses (sight, hearing, etc). The power of vision enables sight and is set over colours; the power of hearing enables hearing and is set over sounds, etc. So the object of belief is distinct from object of knowledge. This is why he can reasonably infer statements (7) - (8):

    7. Therefore, belief and knowledge must do different work and be set over different objects. (478a)
    8. Therefore, what is known cannot be the same as what is believed.

    You should not think back to premise 1 which specified the object of knowledge. Knowledge is set over what is. From (1) and (8), statement (9) follows logically:

    9. Therefore, what is believed cannot be what is. (478a10-b5)

    Statement (10) is now introduced into the argument. It doesn't follow directly from anything which was said before. The claim is this:

    10. The power of belief does not 'believe nothing'.
    This premise seems reasonable enough. Socrates has already shown that knowledge and belief have different objects. The question is now what the object of belief might be. The intuitive force behind (10) is simply that belief is quite different from ignorance. Belief has an object. Ignorance does not. Therefore, the object of belief is different from the 'object' of ignorance.
    So we can infer (11) and (12):

    11. Object of belief is distinct from object of ignorance.
    12. Therefore, what is believed cannot be what is not. (478c)

    The next bit of reasoning (13-15) is this:

    13. Belief is between knowledge and ignorance.
    14. Belief is "darker" than knowledge but "clearer" than ignorance. (478c)
    15. Therefore, belief must be between knowledge and ignorance. (478d1)

    We have seen that ignorance involves not being in contact with something; belief implies that one has some sense of what the object of belief is, but it is hazy, and defective in comparison with the clarity of knowledge. Ignorance is therefore like darkness, knowledge, light, and belief somewhere in the middle. What remains to be found, of course, is the object of belief. Socrates reasons as follows:

    16. If there is something between knowledge and ignorance, then it is set over what is and is not, if there is such a thing. (477a9).
    17. Belief is between knowledge and ignorance.
    18. Therefore, belief is set over what is and is not, if there is such a thing.

    What Socrates means here is that the power of belief is related to things which are both F and not F, if there are such things. Consider his examples. The beautiful things loved by the sight-lovers are also ugly, just things are also unjust, etc. (479a5). And "acts of truth telling" are sometimes just, sometimes unjust. (Cf. Rep. 331c). The basic point seems to be that when we describe a beautiful object, say, in terms of its colors, and say that it is beautiful because of its colors, we can always find any object which has the same colors, but is not beautiful at all. So the concept of beauty cannot be fully explanation by reducing it to color, or shape, or sequences of patterns, etc. This point seems to apply all across the domain of value and includes justice. We have found an object for belief. Steps (19)-(21) may be summarized as follows:

    20. Sensible things both are and are not F, for any relevant F.
    21. Therefore, belief is set over what is and is not F.

    It follows from this that:

    22. Those who look at the many sensible beautiful or just things have beliefs about all these things but have no knowledge. (Lovers of belief)
    23. Those who contemplate the things themselves, which are always the same in every respect, have knowledge and not mere belief. (Philosophers)

    Because all sensible things are both F and not F, one cannot come to know what F is by focussing on sensible things. Because Forms are purely F, and not in any way not F, one can come to know what F is by focussing on Forms. Those who focus on sensible things have or can have belief (concerning F, G, etc). Those who focus on Forms have or can have knowledge of F, G, etc.

    And so we have worked our way through a labyrinth of argument!

    This content was COPIED from BrainMass.com - View the original, and get the already-completed solution here!

    © BrainMass Inc. brainmass.com December 24, 2021, 10:52 pm ad1c9bdddf>
    https://brainmass.com/philosophy/the-great-philosophers/explanation-plato-epistemology-republic-515434

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