School of Philosophy and Bioethics

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Information about School of Philosophy and Bioethics

Published on August 23, 2007

Author: Nickel


School of Philosophy & BioethicsCCP: The Centre for Public Philosophy:  School of Philosophy andamp; Bioethics CCP: The Centre for Public Philosophy VAPS - Plato’s Republic Theory of knowledge Allegory of Sun, Line and Cave The Republic: context and background:  The Republic: context and background Explicit goal of dialogue: to define justice Justice is a virtue, an excellence (others, for Plato, include wisdom, self-control or temperance, courage, and, perhaps piety.) Many different views of what justice amounts to. Is it performing certain actions, like returning what isn’t yours, or is it a psychological state, a disposition? They are concerned with justice in the soul at the outset But Socrates shifts the focus to the city. Easier to see what justice is in a big thing, the city-state. Can then apply this to the soul. The good life and virtue (excellence):  The good life and virtue (excellence) One thing that everyone agrees on is that eudaimonia, wellbeing or flourishing, is a very valuable thing. The goal of life, the mark of the life well lived. As a virtue ethicist, Plato thinks being virtuous makes people flourish. The good life is attained by being virtuous or excellent. (What is this? Being the best you can be.) Being just is a case in point, so one key to the good life. If Plato can discover the definition of justice, and teach it to others,he will directly contribute to the well-being of the Athenians. Knowledge of justice is a valuable commodity, it makes life better. Philosopher Rulers (Guardians):  Philosopher Rulers (Guardians) The ideal city: a tripartite account Three parts of the city, all with their own job or function The rulers rule; the armed forces police the city and defend it from outside attack; the workers produce the goods and services required. The rulers are philosophers, both men and women. These are chosen early in life, each on the basis of his or her keen intellect, and moral and physical courage. The philosopher rulers undergo a very specific educational program. Afterwards they have knowledge, as opposed to belief.This qualifies them to rule! Knowledge of what?!!?:  Knowledge of what?!!? In the Republic, Plato is only interested in knowledge of Forms. So, what are Forms? Forms are what we discover when we discover or learn the definition of something. E.g. the ‘Form’ of ‘human’ or ‘man’ is, let’s suppose, ‘being a rational animal’. Plato thought that Forms were objects or real things, not just concepts in people’s heads. Imagine that the cure for cancer is discovered, and cancer ceases to exist entirely. Scientists get the cure by properly understanding what cancer is, by defining it. They have discovered something that is real, and this knowledge will continue to be valuable, even when there are no actual instances of it. Perhaps especially then! Lovers of sights and sounds: belief:  Lovers of sights and sounds: belief What is beauty? Lots of people are commonly impressed by the way things appear. They are taken by this brightly coloured object or that gorgeous sounding tune. They wrongly think that beauty is nothing more than these appearances. E.g. beautiful Picasso painting. Cannot be the bright colours andamp; shapes. I can think of many paintings with these features that aren’t beautiful. Derivative art. What do beautiful things have in common? If there is one thing, beauty can’t just be the appearances. (Justice e.g.) Lovers have mere belief. What is behind the appearances?:  What is behind the appearances? One thing, beauty itself. If there is one thing that 'the many beautifuls' have in common, we might think it is this thing in virtue of which each is beautiful. I.e. we might think this one thing, present in each case, is what makes each beautiful. If you really want to know about beauty, then, Plato thinks you should investigate this one thing, that makes every other beautiful thing beautiful. The actual argument in the text:  The actual argument in the text 476e-480a (the last part of book V), chapter 8 in your Waterfield translation. Knowledge is about what entirely is. Ignorance is of what in no way is. Belief is in between knowledge andamp; ignorance, so it must be of what is and is not. The many beautifuls that the sight lovers are taken with both are and are not. So, the sight lovers have only belief, not knowledge. At this point, a reader might be forgiven for thinking: 'What the…?' What the argument means:  What the argument means There have been a number of radically different interpretations proposed by some of the leading philosophers of our time, working at Princeton, Oxford, Cornell and Monash. I think the interpretation offered by Vlastos (formerly at Princeton) is a good place to start, since it seems to make good sense of the text. If you know something, you can’t be wrong about that thing you know. So, if I know what beauty is, the thing that I have knowledge about is, in fact, beauty. Some examples:  Some examples Ignorance: My dog, Hercules, is ironically enough a small dog. But he has big desires, mostly for food and playing ‘fetch the tennis ball’. If he could talk, he would doubtless say that beauty is a can of dog food, nothing else. Now, his answer shows that he has failed utterly to comprehend what an aesthetic quality is - not surprisingly, since he is a dog, and so has limited cognitive powers. He is completely wrong about what beauty is, and what is beautiful. He is ignorant. Socrates said at 477a that ignorance is about what is in no way. (See Waterfield’s notes on p. 413.) I think this means that if you are ignorant about some topic, or thing, X, then the thing you are having ignorant thoughts about is in no way X (in no way beautiful). Examples (cont’):  Examples (cont’) Knowledge Assoc. Prof. John Armstrong works in the Philosophy department at the University of Melbourne, where he teaches Aesthetics. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that he has knowledge of beauty, he knows what it is. For Plato, he knows the definition. Compare cardio-vascular surgeon. The thing that he is thinking about, when he is thinking of beauty, is in fact beauty. It does not fail to be beauty, which is why he doesn’t make mistakes. (477a) Knowledge is about what really is = knowledge of some subject or topic, X, is about what is really X. Examples (cont’) :  Examples (cont’) (mere) belief Let’s say I’m in between Assoc. Prof. Armstrong and Hercules: If you ask me what beauty is, I say that you should look at the most beautiful things you can find. The paradigms of beauty exemplify beauty. So I say that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are the paradigms - that’s what beauty is. Compare: King Solon or Kofi Annan and justice. I’m not completely utterly wrong, since these people are indeed beautiful. But I’m not completely right either. No person or one instance can be the definition of some property or quality. Why not? Explanatory power. What an instance is of. Can we know the many beautifuls?:  Can we know the many beautifuls? Socrates says that knowledge is of what entirely is, i.e., is entirely F. Distinction between intelligibles and sensibles. A definition is an intelligible thing, while an instance of beauty or an instance of justice, is a sensible thing. Beauty itself is intelligible, the many beautifuls are sensible. Can I have knowledge of Angelina Jolie’s beauty? For Plato, sort of, yes. But only once I properly understand what beauty itself is, once I know the definition. Beauty itself present in her. Compare Kofi knowing a just treaty when he sees one. Knowing and recognising. How else would the Guardians’ knowledge help them actually rule the ideal city? The analogy of the Sun (507b-509d):  The analogy of the Sun (507b-509d) Just as the sun makes physical things visible, so too the Form of the Good makes Forms intelligible. This is deeply mysterious. Perhaps makes 2 points Knowledge and truth are not to be identified with goodness, any more than visible things are to be identified with the sun. Knowledge and truth are good things, because they are reliable, but they are only instances of good things, not goodness itself. The Form of the Good is then something we can have knowledge about, by learning the definition of goodness. The analogy of the doubly-divided line:  The analogy of the doubly-divided line Top 2 parts represent the intelligible, bottom 2 parts represent the sensible Also quite mysterious (the cave is the good one!) At the bottom is picture-thinking; above it is opinion or persuasion. At the very top is understanding (of the Forms) and below that is reasoning based on hypotheses. Connect back to knowledge and belief. How do you know you have the right definition? The allegory of the cave:  The allegory of the cave The allegory can be thought to have two functions An aid in understanding the difficult argument about knowledge and belief Like many metaphors, it enables the reader to go beyond the strictly literal, expands the meaning or application of what was originally said. So, fleshes out the knowledge/ belief distinction. Re-cap of the allegory Cave set up: prisoners, fire, shadows Escapee: sun hurts eyes at first Return to the cave: other prisoners think him quite mad What does the allegory mean?:  What does the allegory mean? Sketch of the Guardians journey to knowledge Everyday life: unreflective thinking, no proper knowledge or truth as such. First sees that shadows are mere shadows. Like discovering that your opinions are false. To discover the proper objects of knowledge, we have to look to not to the physical world around us, but elsewhere: up out of the cave into the real world. But attaining real knowledge is hard. One’s head hurts, just as the escapee’s eyes hurt. Once we can ‘see’ with our minds eye what the proper object of knowledge is, these objects explain the way the other objects are, the way the objects of belief are. E.g. a just person. Fleshing out the kn/ belief distinction:  Fleshing out the kn/ belief distinction When the prisoner gets up into the real world and his sight adjusts, his view of the world, his entire perspective on everything is radically and irrevocably changed. Coming to knowledge is supposed to have an analogous transformative power. Epistemologically transformative: Once I start learning what e.g., a mammal is, I can progress in my study of zoology. The knowledge is reliable, and I can build on it. Morally transformative: if you know what justice is, your soul can come to be an instance of that. This will be a significant step in being excellent, the best person you can be. An important step in living the good life, flourishing. Plato -vs- Kuhn and Popper:  Plato -vs- Kuhn and Popper Descriptive account, a meta-account A theory is descriptive in this way, if it describes what other theories are like. Kuhn’s and Popper’s philosophy of science are in many respects like this. A descriptive account can be tested. You look at actual scientific theories to see if they are as Kuhn describes them. Normative account An account which says how things ought to be. Plato’s account says what ought to count as knowledge - i.e. what is about definitions or Forms, and what is reliable. Also, Plato less interested in facts (not transformative?)

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