Analysis of platos theory of knowledge philosophy essay

Many of Plato’s ideas and theories were largely influenced by his mentor, Socrates, including his theories of knowledge and education. He advocates, through Socrates, the belief that knowledge is not a matter of study, learning or observation, but a matter of recollection. ” We seem to find that the ideal of knowledge is irreconcilable with experience.”[1]Plato’s theory of knowledge is interconnected with his theory of forms – he assumes that if virtue is knowledge ” virtue is a kind of knowledge… Knowledge alone can make them always profitable. Virtue, therefore, must be knowledge.”[2]then it can be taught, and this has to be understood in terms of his theory of Forms – so it is understandable that they should be discussed with relation to one another. What is meant by this is that he defines knowledge as true belief, which must be justified, and he relates knowledge with the comprehension of and relationships of unchanging Forms to one another. In order to understand how Plato’s theory of knowledge informs his theory of education we must look at his political theory, as the structure of his ideal education system is designed to produce men who are able to grasp the Forms. Therefore, because their minds are fully developed, they will be able to make the wisest decisions. Plato called them philosopher-kings, and his idea was that men who complete the whole of his educational process will become philosopher-kings. ” the assumption that knowledge is the only source of usefulness, the only guide to correct action.” pp. 18-19Plato was convinced that knowledge is attainable, but it had to be unerring and definite; ” every soul has a seed or germ which may be developed into all knowledge.”[3]He rejects the claim that sense experience is what knowledge is deduced from, thus rejecting empiricism. According to Plato, propositions derived from sense experience are not certain and therefore the objects of sense experience are not proper objects of knowledge. Plato’s theory of knowledge is laid out in the Republic, in which he discusses two themes. The first is ‘the divided line’, along which, he claims, two levels of awareness run: opinion and knowledge. ” At any rate, we are satisfied, as before, to have four divisions; two for intellect and two for opinion, and to call the first division science, the second understanding, the third belief, and the fourth perception of shadows, opinion being concerned with becoming, and intellect with being”[4]Opinions, being assertions and affirmations about the visible/physical world, do not count as genuine knowledge. ” The one (knowledge) is produced in us by instruction, the other (true belief) by persuasion; the one can always give a true account of itself, the other can give none; the one cannot be shaken by persuasion, whereas the other can be won over”[5]When reason rather than sense experience is involved it is knowledge, therefore it is the higher level of awareness because reason results in definite intellectual insights, the objects of these rational insights being the Forms that comprise the real world. It is stated in the Meno that ” true opinion, so long as one has it, is of the same practical value as knowledge, but… true opinion may not last: it is fleeting and insecure.”[6]The second theme is known as the allegory of the cave. Plato, through Socrates, tells a story of how individuals are chained (so that vision is restricted and they cannot see each another) deep within a cave. The only thing visible is the wall of the cave upon which shadows cast by models of objects and animals appear when passed before a fire. One individual escapes from the bonds into the light of day, and sees the real world with the help of the sun. This person then goes back to the cave to inform the others that what they are seeing in the cave are simply shadows and appearances and that if they are willing to struggle free of their bonds the real world awaits them. Plato is symbolising the shadowy environment of the cave as the physical world of appearances – the shadows representing the passive states which we know by thinking – the bonds are symbolic of the imagination and the setting outside the cave, full of sunlight, is a symbol of the real world i. e. the world of Forms, which according to him is the proper object of knowledge. ” But the release of the prisoners from chains, and their translation from the shadows to the images and to the light, and the ascent from the underground den to the sun… are the shadows of true existence (not shadows of images cast by a light of fire, which compared with the sun is only an image) – this power of elevating the highest principle in the soul to the contemplation of that which is best in existence”[7]In the physical world, forms are models, the resemblance of them gives ordinary physical objects whatever reality they have, therefore they have greater reality than objects because they are stable and perfect. Plato’s theory of forms states how many things can be referred to by one universal term. For example, if an individual participates in or resembles the Form ‘humanness’ (defined, say, in terms of rationality) then they are ‘human’ to the extent that they are rational. ‘Justice’ can be used to refer to many acts because these acts all participate in or resemble the Form ‘justice’. An object is beautiful in the extent to which it participates in the Form of beauty. The extent to which an act is courageous or cowardly is based on the extent to which it participates in its Form. Everything is what it is by virtue of its participation in, or resemblance to, its universal Form. ” with his clear recollection of the Forms (the objects of his knowledge) (he) will be able to recognise the adulterated images of them in the sensible world for what they are”[8]The sun in the allegory of the cave, which illuminates all the other Ideas, is Plato’s metaphor for the Form of the Good, which is the supreme Form. ” virtue is good, and when this is readily accepted as true… deduce from it that virtue is knowledge… based on the assumption that knowledge is the only source of all goodness.”[9]Knowledge of this Form is the root of guidance when making moral or virtuous decisions and an attempt at the ultimate principle of explanation. ” my opinion is that in the world of knowledge the idea of good appears last of all, and is seen only with an effort; and, when seen, is also inferred to be the universal author of all things beautiful and right… the lord of light in this visible world, and the immediate source of reason and truth in the intellectual”[10]. Plato’s theory of Forms is an epistemological thesis, as the theory intends to clarify how one comes to know. Plato’s theory of education stems from his theory of politics, in which he advocates that the ‘ideal state’ is composed of three classes: the military class (security needs), the merchant class(economic structure), and the philosopher-kings (political leadership). Class is ascertained by an educational procedure, beginning at birth and continuing until that person has reached their highest level of educational interest and ability. ” Then you will make a law that they shall have such an education as will enable them to attain the greatest skill…”[11]Philosopher-kings’ minds develop an understanding of the Forms, and ” since Forms are causes, knowledge of them should imply an understanding of their effects”[12]. This is why they should be political leaders. Plato advocates that the ideal educational system should be primarily structured in such a way as to produce philosopher-kings, and secondarily to produce a wholly just state. If each class performs its own function i. e. the enlightened philosopher-kings, supported by the soldiers, govern the rest of society, then this will uphold the just state. In Plato’s view, the generally accepted notion of education constituted the forcing of thoughts into children’s minds. This is not how it should be, because the ability to think is within each one of us, ” our argument shows that the power and capacity of learning exists in the soul already”[13], and by not understanding, it signifies that one is held by the bonds within the cave. If the soul is bound by the bonds of such things as suffering or pleasure it is unable to consider the unchanging patterns of things through its own knowledge. Plato advocates that education means saving the soul from passions and turning the soul in the direction of knowledge. ” They will begin by sending out into the country all the inhabitants of the city who are more than ten years old, and… children… will be unaffected by the habits of their parents; these they will train in their own habits and laws, I mean in the laws which we have given them: and in this way the State and constitution of which we were speaking will soonest and most easily attain happiness, and the nation which has such a constitution will gain most.”[14]