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Sep 9~Sep 15 Plato’s Theory of Knowledge
www.madwizard.com/theatetus.htm (lines 2691-2851, in blue)
Does the Center Hold, pages 40-42, 41-43 and 44-46, 44-50, or 45-50. (Page numbers in dark red refer to the 6th edition, dark blue numbers refer to the 5th edition, greenish page numbers refer to the 4th edition, and page numbers in light blue refer to the 3rd edition. )
Helpful questions on the Theaetetus, indexed by line number:
2693. What doctrine is Socrates talking about?
2696. What term is Socrates trying to define?
2699. What is the first thing this term could mean?
2704. Why is this a bad idea
The following materials end up not being discussed in class.
2712. What may "he" have meant?
2717. What would they say if they were asked what a wagon is?
2730. Who is he who adds rational explanation to true opinion?
2733. How do you get technical knowledge of essential nature?
2786. What is their third definition of knowledge?
2790. What does Theaetetus think is enough for him to know what the sun is?
2794. What do some say you have to do to get hold of the definition or explanation of a thing?
2798. What happens if you cling to some common quality?
2805. Does Socrates agree with the rule that he just got Theaetetus to agree to?
2809. What does Socrates want Theaetetus to assume?
2810. What does Socrates say has to be added to make this into knowledge?
2811. What does Socrates say he has without this thing?
2813. What does Socrates say he and Theaetetus previously agreed upon?
2818. What does Socrates say he was thinking of?
2821. What does Socrates say is wrong with the opinion he had before he had knowledge?
"How in the world" means "is it possible?"
"In that case" means "if that's true."
"have any opinion" means . . . well, "have an opinion."
"more than" means "rather than" or "instead of"
I personally translate this bit as Socrates saying something like "if what we just said is true,
then the opinion "about you" I had before I had knowledge wasn't really about you at all,
because I was just thinking about things that other men have, just as much as you do!"
I think Socrates is saying that when he only had opinion about Theaetetus, he was only
thinking of "Theaetetus" as "a man with nose and eyes and mouth," but the specification
"a man with nose and eyes and mouth" applies to every grown-up male human being, so
Socrates's "opinion" that "Theaetetus is a man with nose and eyes and mouth" is really an
opinion about every man in the world. (Does this make sense of what Socrates says?)
2823. What examples of common traits does Socrates give here?
2824. What is Socrates asking here? Can you translate it as I did above? Is it the same thought?
2827. How does Socrates improve his specification of Theaetetus?
2828. What is the result of the improvement?
2831. Under what conditions will Socrates have a right opinion about Theaetetus?
2837. What conclusion does Socrates draw about this?
2840. What does Socrates now say about "the addition of reason or explanation to right opinion?"
2843. Why does Socrates think the injuction is absurd?
2847. How does Socrates further characterize the injunction?
What overall conclusion does Socrates come to at this point about his search for a definition of knowledge?
If you don't have the book yet, the reading for this week is Page 40 . Page 41 . Page 42 . Page 43 . Page 44 . Page 45 . Page 46 . Page 47 Please make sure you get a copy of the book within the next two weeks.
In particular, I want you to read the material from the picture of the aged cat up to the word "Concepts."
Plato's epistomology has two parts that are relevant here. They are his definition of knowledge, and his theory of forms.
What are the three elements of Plato's definition of knowledge?
What is "justification" in terms of belief?
How would you justify a belief that a certain object was a horse, rather than, say, a banana, or a pirate ship?
On your understanding of Plato's theory, does it imply that anything other than this kind of justification is needed to know that a horse is a horse?
If it does imply that something else is needed, what is that thing?
(Remember, I want your opinion, not Donald Palmer's!)
What determines whether or not you are in a state of "belief?"
If the object of your awareness is a sensible object, what state are you in?
If the object of your awareness is a form, and not a sensible object, does that necessarily mean you're in a state of belief?
What justification, if any, does the farmer give here for saying that the "creature" is a horse?
Answer the following questions based on Palmer's version of Plato.
If the object of your awareness is an image (like Bearataur or Prince Chaz Aquasparkle), are you in a state of imaging, belief, understanding or pure reasoning?
If the object of your awareness is a sensible object (like a platypus or a tilted building), are you in a state of imaging, belief, understanding or pure reasoning?
If the object of your awareness is scientific concept (like fusion), are you in a state of imaging, belief, understanding or pure reasoning?
If the object of your awareness is a form (like beauty), are you in a state of imaging, belief, understanding or pure reasoning?
Does being in a state of "belief" or not depend on how you're thinking or on what kind of thing you're thinking about?
Does Palmer's word "belief" mean the same thing as what ordinary people mean by the word "belief" when they use it outside the classroom?
Does Palmer's mean the same thing by "belief" here as he meant by it when he describe knowledge as justified true "belief?"
Isn't it a bit weird to say that the state you're in depends on the category of the idea you're thinking about?
The Real Problem with the Theory Epistemology Traditionally Attributed to Plato
I don't think that Plato's theory implies that a farmer doesn't know a horse is a horse. However, I do think that Plato's theory is wrong. He says that knowledge is justified true belief. I think that this is a bad way to describe knowledge. I think that when we refrain from assuming that a belief is true, we will be unable to find an actual case of something that meets three different criteria of being a belief, being true and being justified.
Plato supposedly says that knowledge is justified true belief. (Not "justified belief" or "true belief" or "justified justified belief" or "true true belief" but "justified true belief") Does this definition of knowledge make sense?
One way to think of this is to say that a thing counts as a piece of knowedge if:
that thing is a belief
that belief is justified, and
in addition to being justified, that belief is also true.
Thus, the theory says there are three distinct things involved in knowledge. "Justification," "truth" and "belief" are therefore three different words that denote three distinctly different things. But are they really?
For an exercise, write down something that you know. Then write down three things about that piece of knowledge.
Your reasons for thinking that you believe it. (This could be just the fact that you think it's true. That's what belief is, after all.)
Your reasons for thinking that this belief is justified. (This could just be the way you came to fully believe in this piece of knowledge.)
Your reasons for thinking that this belief is true. (This has to be different from #2, otherwise "true" is just another word for "justified.")
If you can't come up with a #3, then for you knowledge is just justified belief, and "true" is basically just another word for justified.
If you can come up with a #3, then write out the rule for telling the difference between something that counts as a reason for thinking that a belief is justified and something that counts as a reason for thinking that a belief is true.
If Plato thinks that the slave boy knows the answer to the square-doubling problem, what does he think about the slave and the answer?
J. The answer is __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __
T. The answer is __ __ __ __
B. The slave boy __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ the answer.
If Plato's definition of knowledge is correct, all three criteria have to be met.
In order for Plato to say that the slave knows the answer, Plato has to be able to say that the answer is true as well as justified.
Apart from any justification he might have, how does Plato know that the answer is true?
Does Plato have adequate reason to think that the answer is true, or does he just assume that it's true?
If Plato is just assuming that the answer is true?
If, apart from his justification for the answer, Plato is only assuming that the answer is true, can he really say the slave boy knows it?
Now go back and look very carefully at Palmer's example of the farmer and the animal in the field.
Waaaaaaait a moment! How does Palmer know that this particular animal is a horse? Well, of course, we do start off by imagining an animal in a field. But it appears that Palmer also imagined that the was a horse. Imagining is a lot like pretending, or assuming, so we can look at Palmer as asking us to assume that it's true that there's a horse in a field and that the farmer believes that it's a horse. He wants us to assume, with him, that the animal is a horse.
Now, lets think about what would be going on if you, me, and Donald Palmer were watching an incident like that occur, in real life, outside of our imaginations. What would we see?
We see a farmer pointing at a nearby object and saying "that's a horse!" (Let's trust him to be telling the truth that he believes it's a horse.) We can also see that he's offering some justification for this belief because he says "look at it," which implies he thinks it looks like a horse. We also see the other guy, who also appears to believe the thing is a horse. And he offers the following justification "A horse is a domesticable quadruped with closed hooves and 32 pairs of chromosomes; and that creature is such an entity. Ergo, it is a horse." Okay, now we've got two people, each of whom has both a belief that the object is a horse and a justification for that belief.
Now suppose Donald Palmer says "it is true that that object is a horse." Does that mean that it is true that the object is a horse? Why would that mean that it's true that the object is a horse? Wouldn't that just mean that Palmer also believes that the object is a horse? Can you think of any real difference between the meanings of the statements "it's a horse," "I believe it's a horse," and "it is true that it's a horse?"
So, in a real life situation, we would then have three people who believe that the object is a horse, two of whom have given justifications for their belief.
Remember that Plato's theory of knowledge is that knowledge has three elements. His theory is that knowledge is (1) Justified (2) true (3) belief. This means that we can have a claim that is justified and true but not believed, a claim that is justified and believed but not true, a claim that is and true and believed but not justified.
If it's true that knowledge is justified true belief, then justification, truth and belief are all different from each other.
If justification, truth and belief are all different from each other, then we can have statements that are believed, but neither justified nor true.
If justification, truth and belief are all different from each other, then we can have statements that are justified, but neither true nor believed.
If justification, truth and belief are all different from each other, then we can have statements that are true, but neither justified nor believed.
Well, plenty of people believe things that are neither justified nor true, so that's easy to imagine.
But can there really be a statement that's justified but not true?
Can you come up with an example of a statement that's actually justified but actually not true?
If it's not true, how do you know it's not true?
If there's something about it that makes it not true, is it really justified?
And what about a statement that's true but neither believed nor justified?
What would it look like if there was statement that was true and believed but not justified?
Well, if we can have statements that are true but not justified, then we could have a situation in which it's true that a particular object is a horse, and this particular object looks like:
Okay, say that the creature is a horse, and it still looks exactly like this. Does that make any sense?
Suppose someone says to you "It is true that this object is a horse, even though no-one believes it to be a horse and we have absolutely no reason to think it's a horse."
If Plato's theory is correct, this statement has to make sense.
If this statement doesn't make sense, then Plato's theory is not correct.
Suppose Palmer is saying: "the farmer believes it's a horse (belief); it is a horse (truth);" and it still looks like a green blob with a puppy. Can this work?
Does it make sense to say that something is a horse when at the same time we have absolutely no reason to believe that the thing is a horse?
Are we entitled to just decide that something is a horse independently of both belief and justification?
Would we ever say that anything is a horse independently of our justification for thinking it's a horse?
If we did, it might go something like this:
Stan. I know that it's raining.
Ollie. Can you be sure of that?
Stan. Of course I'm sure. Here we are, out in the open air with no buildings around, a sky full of clouds above us, water falling on us from above and we are absolutely soaking wet. Of course I'm sure it's raining.
Ollie. Oh no my friend, you misunderstood the question. I didn't ask if you were sure it's raining. I'm sure that you're sure it's raining. I also am sure it's raining. My question was, can you be sure that you know it's raining?
Stan. But if I know something, then I'm sure of it.
Ollie. That's true, if you do know it. But can you really be sure that you do know it's raining?
Stan. But if I'm sure of something, then surely I know it!
Ollie. Oh no no no! Remember when you were sure you had a hundred dollar bill, and we ate that sumptuous repast at that fancy restaurant?
Stan. Oh yes, I was sure, but it was actually a one dollar bill, so I didn't know I had a hundred dollar bill after all.
Ollie. So then can you be sure that you do know that it's raining?
Stan. So how do I tell?
Ollie. Well, there's at least two theories about that. There's Plato's theory, that knowledge is justified, true belief. And there's my theory, that knowledge is just justified belief.
Stan. You're theory is silly! If it's not true it can't be knowledge!
Ollie. I didn't say it wasn't true. But we don't need to do more than sufficiently justify a claim in order for it to be knowledge.
Stan. No, it's got to be justified and true for it to be knowledge.
Ollie. So you're going with Plato, then. Okay then, in order for you to be sure that you know it's raining, you have to be sure of three things. You have to be sure that you believe that it's raining.
Ollie. You have to be sure that your belief that it's raining is justified.
Ollie. Just to clarify things, how can you be sure that your belief that it's raining is justified?
Stan. By the open air, by the clouds, by the falling water, and by the wet.
Ollie. I'll buy that. Finally, you have to be sure that your belief that it's raining is true.
Ollie. Check? How?
Stan. What do you mean, how?
Ollie. How can you be sure that it's true?
Stan. But I am sure! I've never been more sure of anything!
Ollie. I know you feel sure. What I'm asking you is what reason you have to think that your belief is true, independently of it being justified.
Ollie. In order for Plato's theory of knowledge to be correct being justified has to be different from being true, right?
Stan. I guess so.
Ollie. So in order for you to be sure that you really do know something you have to have a way of being sure that that belief is true that is different from your way of being sure that that belief is justified, right?
Ollie. Because if the two ways are not different, then being sure that a belief is true is exactly the same as being sure that that belief is justified.
Stan. I guess.
Ollie. But if the two ways are the same, then as far as you're concerned, being true is the same thing as being justified. And if that's true, then as far as you're concerned, "justified true belief" is exactly the same as "justified belief."
Stan. But that's silly! They cannot be the same thing!
Ollie. Can you tell the difference?
Stan. Of course!
Stan. Easy, one is justified and true, and the other is just justified.
Ollie. Um Stan, that's just saying the difference. How do you tell the difference?
Stan. Easy, you find a justified belief, and you check to see if it's true.
Ollie. And how do you check? For instance, your belief that it's raining is justified by the fact that you see the open air around us, clouds above us, water falling around us, and feel wet upon us. Given all that, how would you go on to check that your belief is true, without checking the things you used to justify that belief?
Stan. Can't I just look at the sky and so on?
Ollie. Sure, and how is that different from checking to see if your belief is justified?
Question, can you see a way for Stan to check to see if his belief is true that would be different from checking to see if his belief is justified?
The following questions may appear on the next exam. Your answers should fully explain and properly organize all the information relevant to each question. This will include a variety of ideas developed in response to the above questions, in your personal reading and in class discussions.
4. Explain The Full Meaning of This Excerpt From The Theaetetus:
SOCRATES: Still other proofs of this might be brought out, I think; but let us not on that account lose sight of the question before us, which is: What is meant by the doctrine that the most perfect knowledge arises from the addition of rational explanation to true opinion?
THEAETETUS: No, we must not.
SOCRATES: Now what are we intended to understand by “rational explanation”? I think it means one of three things.
THEAETETUS: What are they?
SOCRATES: The first would be making one's own thought clear through speech by means of verbs and nouns, imaging the opinion in the stream that flows through the lips, as in a mirror or water. Do you not think the rational explanation is something of that sort?
THEAETETUS: Yes, I do. At any rate, we say that he who does that speaks or explains.
SOCRATES: Well, that is a thing that anyone can do sooner or later; he can show what he thinks about anything, unless he is deaf or dumb from the first; and so all who have any right opinion will be found to have it with the addition of rational explanation, and there will henceforth be no possibility of right opinion apart from knowledge.
To answer this question, you must at least explain in your own words what question they are trying to answer here, explain the answer to that question that they consider here, what Socrates thinks of his answer, and the exact reason that Socrates gives for thinking what he thinks
5. Explain What Studying This Tiny Excerpt Tells Us About Philosophy. Explain in general terms what went on as we worked through those few lines, and then explain how that exemplifies a model of how to do philosophy, and finally discuss whether or not this represents the right way to do philosophy, and explain your answer as best you can.
6. Explain and criticize Plato's definition of knowledge as “Justified True Belief”. Your answer should explain the definition fully, explain how the parts of the definition are supposed to be different from each other, and why each part is considered necessary. You should also fully explain the main criticism of Plato's definition, explaining how it is supposed to show that Plato's definition gives an innaccurate picture of what knowledge really is.
7. Explain how criticism of Plato’s theory of knowledge reveals new insight into how "knowledge," "truth" and "belief" are related to each other. This question asks you to explain in your own words what we now (after studying Plato's theory) know about these three words. How are the phrases "I believe this", "I know this" and "this is true" related to each other? What is the practical difference between saying things like "he believes this", "he knows this" and "this is true"? Make whatever other comments about knowledge, truth and belief seem reasonable to you.
Any exam answer can be enhanced by addition of any comments that occur
to you. The more you think about a topic, the more likely you are to
come up with something that can earn you a little more credit for your
answer. I never deduct points, so it can't hurt to add your own
How To Make Up Quizzes
If for some reason, (illness, family emergency, conflicting academic obligation, sudden discovery that you have superpowers coupled with the need to save the Earth from a hurtling asteroid that only you can deflect), you miss one of my delightful quizzes, you can make up the lost points by writing up a clear, precise, and deeply insightful answer to one of the potential exam questions and turning the results in as "make-up quiz." Illustrations are not absolutely necessary, but will add a nice touch.
Copyright © 2006 by Martin C. Young