plato's theory of knowledge
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THE LIBRARY OF LIBERAL ARTS
puzzles concerning size and
Theory of the nature of sense-perceptionTheaetetus accepts the theory of perception157E-160E.i6oe-i6ib.
of perception, so defined, to be infallible
objections against Protagoras
A- I 64 B.
Objections to a simple identification of perceiving
and knowingI64C-165E. I65E-I68C.
Socrates undertakes to defend Protagoras
Criticism of Protagoras' doctrine as extended to all
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6062 65 68 75 76the
Restatement of the questionsuperiority of the wiseDigression.?.
The contrast of Philosophy and Rhetoricix
Refutation of the Defence of Protagoras
The extreme HeracleiteanParmenides' denial of
position, contrasted with
motion and change.
Criticism of extreme HeracleiteanismInterlude.'
Socrates declines to criticise Parmenidesis
The Claim of True Judgment
Theaetetus states the claim of true judgment
judgment possible ? .110 False judgment as thinking that one thing (known or unknown) is another thing (known or unknown) 11is false.
False judgment as thinking the thing that
impossibility of false
judgment as. .
mistaking one thing for another
One class of mistakes can be explained by taking into account memory. The Wax Tablet .120.
False judgment in general cannot, however, be defined as the misfitting of perception to thought
to an Aviary, to provide for mistaken judgments not involving perception.'
Rejection of interchange of pieces of knowledge as an account of false judgment..
Knowledge cannot be defined as true
The Claim of True Belief accompanied by an account or explanation to be Knowledge.
Socrates states this theory as he has heard
making elements un.
Three possible meanings of account (1) Expression of thought in speech (irrelevant) .154' '
Enumeration of elementary parts. This will not convert a true notion into knowledge.
This of a distinguishing mark. not convert a true notion into knowledge
Epilogue. All these attempts to define knowledge have failed
INTRODUCTIONSince the commentary aims at furnishing the reader with information as the need arises, it will be enough, by way of introduction,to indicate the place of the Theaetetusof Plato's dialogues,
and the Sophist
in the series
define briefly the position
the inquiry starts. Our two dialogues belong to a group consisting of the Parmenides, the Theaetetus, the Sophist, and the Statesman, As M. Di&s has observed, 1 Plato leaves no doubt that the dialogues are meant to
be read in
The Parmenides describes a meeting imagined
as taking place about 450 B.C. between Socrates, who would then be about twenty, and the Eleatic philosophers, Parmenides and
Zeno. To suppose that anything remotely resembling the conversation in this dialogue could have occurred at that date would make nonsense of the whole history of philosophy in the fifth and and I believe, with M. Dies, that the meeting fourth centuries itself is a literary fiction, not a fact in the biography of Socrates. No ancient historian of philosophy mistook it for the record of an actual event, which, had it occurred, would have been a very important landmark. The Theaetetus (183E, p. 101) alludes to this meeting, and it is once more recalled in the Sophist (217c, p. 166) The Theaetetus, in terms that can only refer to the Parmenides. again, ends with an appointment which is kept at the beginning of the Sophist ; and the Sophist itself is openly referred to in the;
As for the order of composition, no one doubts that the Sophist and the Statesman, which contain one continuous conversation,are later than the Theaetetus.
In the Theaetetus many critics have noticed that the style changes towards the end in the direction of Plato's later manner. If that is so, stylometric results based on the dialogue as a whole will be misleading. The latter part of the Theaetetus, as we have it, may have been finished years after the beginning, and the Parmenides may have been composed in the interval. On the other hand, we need not suppose any very long gap between the completion of the Theaetetus and the composition of the Sophist1
and the Statesman.Parminide(1923), p. xii.
that this group as a whole
Timaeus, the Philebus, and the Laws, and later than the Meno, the Phaedo, and the Republic. The Republic is the centre of a group of less technical works, intended, not primarily for students of philosophy/ but for the educated public, who would certainly not read the Parmenides and would find the Theaetetus and the Sophist intolerably difficult. These more popular writings would serve the double purpose of attracting students to the Academy and of making known to the Greek world a doctrine which, in common with most scholars, I hold to be characteristically Platonic. Its two pillars are the immortality and divinity of the rationalsoul,
real existence of the objects of its'
separate from the things our senses
Neither doctrine clearly appears in any dialogue that can be dated, on grounds of style, as distinctly earlier than the Meno. Both are put forward in the Phaedo in a manner suggesting that Plato arrived at them simultaneously and thought of them as interdependent. The Meno had already announced the theory of Anamnesis that knowledge is acquired, not through the senses or as information conveyed from one mind to another by teaching, but by recollection in this life of realities and truths seen and known by the soul before its incarnation. Socrates bases this doctrine on an account which he believes to be true, 2 learnt from men and women who are wise in religious matters and from inspired poets. The human soul is immortal (divine) and is purified through a round of incarnations, from which, when completely purified, it may finally escape. So the soul is immortal and has been many and since it has seen all things, both in this world times reborn and in the other, there is nothing it has not learnt. No wonder, then, that it can recover the memory of what it has formerly known concerning virtue or any other matter. All Nature is akin and the soul has learnt all things so there is nothing to prevent one who has recollected learnt, as we call it one single thing from discovering all the rest for himself, if he is resolute and unwearying for seeking or learning is nothing but recollecin the search:' ;
tion \agree with Mr. J. D. Mabbott (' Aristotle and the ^cupta/xo? of Plato ', Classical Quarterly, xx (1926), 72) that the separate existence of the Forms, attacked by Aristotle, is not to be explained away. 2 Meno 8 1 a, \6yos dXrjd^s, not (xvdos, though the form which contains the So at Gorgias 52 a, he calls the myth of the true account may be mythical. judgment of the dead a \6yos dAi^ifc, though Callicles may think it a fivOos. I take the Socrates of the Meno and the Phaedo as stating Plato's beliefs, not those of the historic Socrates.1
INTRODUCTIONSocrates goes on to prove this doctrine by experiment. By questioning a slave who has never been taught geometry, he elicits from him, after several wrong attempts, the solution of a not very
easy problem of construction. He claims that he has not taught the slave the true belief he now has, any more than the false beliefs he produced at first. At the outset the slave had not knowledge but these beliefs were in him, including the true belief which he did not know. They have been stirred up in him, as it were in a dream ', and if he were questioned again and again in various ways, he would end by having knowl