Under what conditions would it be paradoxical to consider the possibility of false judgment? Here we claim that in the initial puzzle of Theaetetus 187e5–188c9, where Plato investigates the question of what could psychologically cause a false judgment, the paradoxical nature of this question derives from certain constraints and restrictions about causal explanation, in particular, from the metaphysical principle that opposites cannot cause opposites. Contrary to all previous interpretations, this metaphysical approach does not attribute to Plato any controversial epistemological assumptions (...) and fits better with the text and its role within the dialectic of the dialogue. (shrink)
One Stoic response to the skeptical indistinguishability argument is that it fails to account for expertise: the Stoics allow that while two similar objects create indistinguishable appearances in the amateur, this is not true of the expert, whose appearances succeed in discriminating the pair. This paper re-examines the motivations for this Stoic response, and argues that it reveals the Stoic claim that, in generating a kataleptic appearance, the perceiver’s mind is active, insofar as it applies concepts matching the perceptual stimulus. (...) I argue that this claim is reflected in the Stoic definition of the kataleptic appearance, and that it respects their more general account of mental representation. I further suggest that, in attributing some activity to the mind in creating each kataleptic appearance, and in claiming that the expert’s mind allows her to form more kataleptic appearances than the amateur, the Stoics draw inspiration from the wax tablet model in Plato’s Theaetetus (190e–196d), where Socrates distinguishes the wise from the ignorant on the basis of how well they match sensory input with its appropriate mental ‘seal’ (σφραγίς). (shrink)
This paper is a test case for the claim, made famous by Myles Burnyeat, that the ancient Greeks did not recognize subjective truth or knowledge. After a brief discussion of the issue in Sextus Empiricus, I then turn to Plato's discussion of Protagorean views in the Theaetetus. In at least two passages, it seems that Plato attributes to Protagoras the view that our subjective experiences constitute truth and knowledge, without reference to any outside world of objects. I argue that these (...) passages have been misunderstood and that on the correct reading, they do not say anything about subjective knowledge. I then try out what I take to be the correct reading of the passages. The paper concludes with a brief discussion of the importance of causes in Greek epistemology. (shrink)
In this paper I argue that in several passages Plato sympathizes with the following view: sensible particulars undergo continuous, pervasive physical change; as a consequence, where there seems to be one and the same object which is identical through time, there is in fact a succession of impermanent objects numerically distinct from each other but similar to each other. I illustrate the difference between this view—which invites interesting comparisons with modern and contemporary theories—and other, superficially similar views which Plato criticizes. (...) I also suggest that this view might contribute to explaining Plato’s contention that sensible particulars lack being and are confined to coming to be. Finally, I show that my interpretation was well attested in antiquity; and I put forward the hypothesis that part of the aim of certain Aristotelian claims about substance might be to correct Plato in this respect. (shrink)
The Theaetetus's midwifery metaphor is well-known; less discussed is the brief passage accusing Socrates of behaving like Antaeus. Are philosophers midwives or monsters? Socrates accepts both characterizations. This passage and Socrates's acceptance of the metaphor creates a tension in the text, birthing a puzzle about how readers ought to understand the figure of the philosopher. Because metaphors play a pivotal role in the dialogue's ethical project, the puzzle presents not simply a textual tension but a question of how and why (...) to be a philosopher. (shrink)
In Plato, ‘Becoming like God’ constitutes the telos of the philosophical life. Our ‘likeness to God’ is rooted in the relationship of the divine paradeigma to its image established in the generation of the Cosmos. This relationship makes knowledge and virtue possible, and informs Plato’s theory of education. Related concepts preexist in Judeo-Christian and other traditions and continue to inform our thought on moral and ethical issues, particularly as regards our understanding of what it means to be human. From the (...) idea of ‘likeness to God’, emerges the tradition of philosophical mysticism which has its roots in Plotinus, whose aim is union of the individual soul with its ultimate principle. The task of realizing virtue in daily life appears opposed to assimilation to the divine, because the latter requires a stripping away of finite determinations, and preoccupation with particular things, in order that we may escape from the multiplicity of sensible and even intelligible reality. This article considers the opposition between ‘worldly’ and ‘otherworldly’ virtue, as well as previously neglected aspects of ‘likeness to God’ and ‘becoming like God’ in Plato and Plotinus, and explores their continued relevance for pedagogical theory and practice today. (shrink)
Plato, as a poet, employs muthos extensively to express his philosophical dialectical development, so the majority of his dialogues are comprised of muthoi. We cannot separate his muthos from his philosophical thought, since the former has great influence in the latter. So the methodology of this paper is first to discuss the dialogue "Theaetetus" to find out why he compares Socrates to the Greek goddess Artemis; then his concept of Maieutikē will be investigated. At the beginning of Plato’s "Theaetetus", Socrates (...) first likens himself to the goddess Artemis, who, though unmarried, has a duty to assist women in labour. Socrates’ role, as Plato portrays, is the same as that of Artemis; and the technē he possesses is Maieutikē, which is to assist his students in giving birth to their mental offspring. This paper will focus on discussion on the Socratic mythological role in Platonic interpretation and dialectics so as to reveal the philosophical meaning of Socratic ignorance. (shrink)
The paper offers an interpretation of a disputed portion of Plato’s Theaetetus that is often called the Secret Doctrine. It is presented as a process ontology that takes two types of processes, swift and slow motions, as fundamental building blocks for ordinary material objects. Slow motions are powers which, when realized, generate swift motions, which, in turn, are subjectively bundled to compose sensible objects and perceivers. Although the reading of the Secret Doctrine offered here—a new version of the “Causal Theory (...) interpretation”—is not without problems, these problems are acknowledged in Plato’s text, confirming that this interpretation is correct. (shrink)
We examine the discussion about the definition of knowledge as true judgment accompanied by logos in Theaetetus 201c-210c, in order to ascertain which of the recent alternative interpretations is more consistent with the text. To accomplish this, we intend to analyze the text and explore in detail the secondary literature about it.
A puzzle about false judgement is raised in the Theaetetus (187d-200c), but not successfully answered there. On the proposed account, the confusion that explicitly vitiates Theaetetus’ final attempt to define knowledge is already at work implicitly in this puzzle. Theaetetus shares popular assumptions about knowledge (epistēmē), but also accepts that there are cognitive constraints on judgement (doxa): the puzzle arises because he fails to distinguish the one cognitive condition from the other.
In this second installment on the Theaetetus, I discuss Theaetetus' second and third definitions of knowledge, namely, ‘true judgment’ and then ‘true judgment with the addition of an account’. I offer a brief description of Socrates' intricate examination of these suggestions, concentrating especially on the discussion of false judgment and that of the so-called ‘Dream Theory’. I then proceed to map different lines of interpretation for these passages that have been offered by scholars writing in the last 40 years.
In this paper, I examine several key issues relating to the definition of knowledge as perception in the first part of Plato's Theaetetus. I begin by explaining the workings of the ‘secret doctrine’ of perception, which is introduced in order to support the idea that perception is incorrigible, and then turn to examine the two refutations of the definition of knowledge as perception which appear at the end of the first part of the Theaetetus. I shall present and explain distinct (...) lines of interpretation pertaining to these passages and explore the consequences they attempt to draw regarding Plato's views on the perceptual world, the nature of perception and how these bear on his conception of knowledge. (shrink)
The Unity of Oneness and Plurality in Plato's Theaetetus is a commentary on a single Platonic dialogue that offers readers an example of what it means to meaningfully engage with a dialogue on its own terms. In the process of engaging with the Theaetetus, the book offers an account of a general Platonic epistemology and ontology.
In this work, I argue that in Theaetetus and Alcibiades I Socrates helps the eponymous characters to acquire self-knowledge by practicing dialectic as a divinely assisted art. In both dialogues, self-knowledge is cashed out as mental seeing and involves inspecting the contents of one’s soul and assessing their viability. The article uses the eye/soul analogy of Alcibiades I as a springboard for an examination of a dialectically induced self-knowledge in the dialogue and for a study of the manifestations of this (...) practice in Theaetetus via Socratic midwifery. (shrink)
Towards the beginning of the self-refutation argument, at 171A1-6, Socrates reaches the conclusion that even if Protagoras believes his Truth, it is still more false than true. This conclusion is puzzling in that it is unclear why it should worry a Protagorean. I argue that the passage presents a genuine dilemma between Protagoras’ claims that we can judge only of our own private worlds and that cities have collective judgements.
While it may be controversial to categorize Plato’s Theatetetus as “epistemological,” given what is implied by this term, the dialogue does offer a discourse on knowledge, at least in the minimal sense of questioning knowledge. But more than that, the dialogue “situates” its questioning, and its critical examination of attempted definitions of knowledge, in two ways that are particularly illuminating: first, its dramatization of Socrates coming-to-know Theaetetus through philosophical dialogue; second, its taking for granted a whole array of epistemic practices (...) and keeping them in view, peripherally, throughout the discussion. The most interesting example of the latter is found in the famous Digression of the Theaetetus, where the difference between philosophy and rhetoric is understood in terms of the knowledge/lack-of-knowledge belonging to each. (shrink)
The Theaetetus is subtitled peri epistemes, on knowledge, and peirastikos, tentative. Theaetetus' three attempted definitions of knowledge, each ventured only to fail, are structured in a cascading reduction. This regress functions both negatively, as an indirect demonstration that knowledge is not definable in term of opinion or judgment, that is, knowledge is not "opinion plus," but also positively, as the ill-fated definitions build upon one another to delineate the elements necessary for a possible theory of judgment. The themes of knowledge (...) and judgment never resolve, yet, through the multiple peirastic beginnings that perish struggling to say something lasting about knowledge, this main theme ties together the dialogue's many subthemes-wisdom and character; sophistry and its relation to philosophy; Socrates' trial; intellectual midwifery, or Socratic dialectic; appearance and reality; Heracliteanism; Eleaticism; forms and participation; unity and plurality; particularity and universality; identity and difference; memory and time; relations; the relation of resemblance. One could go on. The guiding question, how to define knowledge, is a theoretical one, and the reasoning becomes progressively more abstract as the dialogue proceeds, while at the same time never straying far from practical implications: the theoretical conception of knowledge holds consequences made manifest in human action and deliberation. The dialogue about knowledge is also a dialogue about wisdom. (shrink)
The Theaetetus’ ‘secret doctrine’ and the Sophist ’s ‘battle between gods and giants’ have long fascinated Plato scholars. I show that the passages systematically parallel one another. Each presents two substantive positions that are advanced on behalf of two separate parties, related to one another by their comparative sophistication or refinement. Further, those parties and their respective positions are characterized in substantially similar terms. On the basis of these sustained parallels, I argue that the two passages should be read together, (...) with each informing and constraining an interpretation of the other. (shrink)
The Theaetetus is about the definition of knowledge, but also about the young Theaetetus acquiring knowledge and sophia. By defining knowledge he gives an account of his personal vocation. According to the Protagorean interpretation of his first definition, any object of knowledge is at least co-determined by the subject who grasps it. There is no proper distinction between subject and object, no right or wrong epistemic approach or perspective on any object. The digression presents Theaetetus with a comparison of this (...) Protagorean sophia and true sophia which is the aim of the philosopher. It shows Theaetetus and the reader what a life that has either kind of sophia as its end amounts to. It also shows him that true sophia does involve a proper perspective toward its objects, that Theaetetus has to be careful which perspective he chooses, that he can improve upon his perspective, and that not everyone will approve of his choice of perspective and of the ensuing activities. The Thracian servant is an example for someone who does not approve, since she doesn’t know about perspectives. This is brought out in the anecdote, which presents the servant’s point of view. It is only the servant’s assumption that Thales fell into the well while observing stars. In fact, Thales wanted to observe zenith stars and deliberately chose a point of view, namely the bottom of a well, which allowed him to focus his field of vision on a well-defined section of the sky. Theaetetus must come to understand that the servant is missing the point of Thales’ actions. It must become clear to him that epistemic and moral success requires a careful choice of one’s perspective – and that this choice matters despite all adverse reaction he may have to face because of it. (shrink)
Stoics and Sceptics distinguish belief (doxa) from a representationally and functionally similar but sub-doxastic state: passive yielding to appearance. Belief requires active assent to appearances, that is, affirmation of the appearances as true. I trace the roots of this view to Plato's accounts of doxa in the Republic and Theaetetus. In the Republic, eikasia and pistis (imaging and conviction) are distinguished by their objects, appearances versus ordinary objects; in the Theaetetus, perception and doxa are distinguished by their objects, proper perceptibles (...) versus ‘commons’, including being. But underlying these ontological distinctions is a psychological one: the lower mental states are confined to their lower objects because they are passive; the higher mental states have access to higher objects because they result from questioning appearances and making active affirmations about how things are. This doctrine of doxa anticipates both the Hellenistic one and modern accounts of belief as ‘aiming at truth’; it also shows Plato's views of doxa to have more in their favour philosophically and to cohere better with one another than generally thought. (shrink)
Unlike most readings of Plato’s Theaetetus, which concentrate on gnoseology, this paper places it in the debate on commensurable and incommensurable magnitudes that distinguished Greek philosophical and mathematical thought at the beginning of the 4th century BC and in which Theaetetus played a leading role. The argumentation of the dialogue shows clearly how this debate was important for Plato, to the point that the entire dialogue can be considered as an attempt to consider seriously how incommensurability, and its ontological correlate, (...) the concept of dynamis, could elaborate a new form of logos. (shrink)
Zina Giannopoulou offers a new reading of Theaetetus, Plato's most systematic examination of knowledge, alongside Apology, Socrates' speech in defence of his philosophical practice, and argues that the former text is a philosophical ...
Martin Heidegger is one of the most important and influential philosophers of the 20th Century. A major figure in the development of phenomenology, his work also profoundly influenced many of the intellectual movements that followed in his wake, from Sartre's Existentialism to Derrida's deconstructionism. Towards the Definition of Philosophy brings together two seminal lectures that mark a breakthrough moment in Heidegger's thought and introduces the major themes that he would develop in his opus Being and Time.
This paper examines a passage in the Theaetetus where Plato distinguishes knowledge from true belief by appealing to the example of a jury hearing a case. While the jurors may have true belief, Socrates puts forward two reasons why they cannot achieve knowledge. The reasons for this nescience have typically been taken to be in tension with each other . This paper proposes a solution to the putative difficulty by arguing that what links the two cases of nescience is that (...) in neither case do the jurors act from an epistemic virtue and that doing so is a necessary condition of knowledge. Appreciating that it is a necessary condition of knowledge that it be the result of an epistemic agent's agency in a distinctive way provides a satisfying solution to the difficulty Burnyeat detected and also does justice to an otherwise neglected aspect of Plato's epistemology: his talk of cognitive capacities and virtues and his focus on what it is that is active and passive in epistemic processes. (shrink)
The character Protagoras in Plato's Protagoras holds similar views to the one in the Theaetetus, and faces similar problems. The dialogue considers issues in epistemology and moral epistemology, as a central theme. The Protagorean position is immune from Socrates' attacks, and Socrates needs Protagorean methods to make any impact.
In this contribution, I aim to show how locating the Platonic dialogues in the intellectual context of their own time can illuminate their philosophical content. I seek to show, with reference to a specific dialogue (the Theaetetus), how Plato responds to other thinkers of his time, and also to bring out how, by reconstructing Plato’s response, we can gain deeper insight into the way that Plato shapes the structure and form of his argument in the dialogue. In particular, I argue (...) that the subtler thinkers (hoi kompsoteroi) discussed by Plato’s Socrates at Tht. 156a3 are Aristippus and the early Cyrenaics. (Recent scholars, such as Giannantoni and Tsouna, have rejected this identification, which was earlier defended by Schleiermacher, Grote, Zeller and Mondolfo.) Further, I claim that, once we recognise that the subtler thinkers are most likely to be the early Cyrenaics, we can make better sense of the scope and content of the arguments Plato puts forward at Tht. 156a - 160e (especially 156a - 157c). Also, I suggest that this identification helps us to understand a crucial part of Tht. 184b - 186e. Here Plato, in exploring the account of perception offered at 156a - 157c, uses the metaphor of the Wooden Horse to illustrate the conception of perception that he attributes to thinkers such as Protagoras and, in my view, the early Cyrenaics, who maintain that knowledge is a form of perception. (shrink)
For Plato, the crucial function of human cognition is to grasp truths. Explaining how we are able to do this is fundamental to understanding our cognitive powers. Plato addresses this topic from several different angles. In the Cratylus and Theaetetus, he attempts to identify the elemental cognitions that are the foundations of language and knowledge. He considers several candidates for this role, most notably, perception and simple meaning-bearing concepts. In the first section, we will look at Plato’s worries about semantic (...) instability and its epistemic consequences. The central role of basic cognitions in Plato’s account of knowledge in the Theaetetus will be explored in the second section. In the final section, the relevance of Plato’s conception of cognition to modern discussions in the philosophy of language and epistemology will be noted. (shrink)
In this paper I explore a famous part of Plato’s Theaetetus where Socrates develops various models of the mind (picturing it first as a wax tablet and then as an aviary full of specimen birds). These are to solve some puzzles about how it is possible to make a mistake. On my interpretation, defended here, the discussion of mistakes is no digression, but is part of the refutation of Theaetetus’s thesis that knowledge is “true doxa”. It reveals that false doxa (...) is possible only if there is a certain stock of abstract knowledge, conceptual knowledge, that is not awareness of the particular individual that is being described. The individual must be identified under some description, or seen as something of a certain kind. Error can only occur if the description applied misdescribes the situation, but then if it is to be applied falsely it must first have been known from somewhere else. So knowledge cannot be reduced to the application of descriptions to particulars, but is to be found in the prior possession of abstract descriptions that can be deployed in identifying particular individuals on the ground. (shrink)
In this paper I argue that in the digression in Plato’s Theaetetus godlikeness may be construed as Socrates’ ethical achievement, part and parcel of his art of mental midwifery. Although the philosophical life of contemplation and detachment from earthly affairs exemplifies the human ideal of godlikeness, Socrates’ godlikeness is an inferior but legitimate species of the genus. This is the case because Socratic godlikeness abides by the two requirements for godlikeness that Socrates sets forth in the digression: first, it is (...) a kind of escape from the phenomenal world; and second, it allows Socrates to become just and pious with wisdom. The crucial difference between Socrates and the philosopher that prevents the former from being as godlike as the latter is his epistemic barrenness, on account of which he cannot define the constitutive virtues of godlikeness, i.e., justice, piety, and wisdom. As a barren midwife of the intellect, Socrates practices godlikeness but does not have a philosophical understanding of its nature. Nevertheless, by extolling the life of the philosopher he urges others to aspire to what he can never attain, philosophical godlikeness. (shrink)
Traditionally, scholars have taken homoiôsis theôi in the Theaetetus digression to require neglect of particulars, but they have noted that although Socrates advocates it, he does not live such a life. To explain the discrepancy, Mahoney and Rue both argue that we need to reinterpret godlikeness to require active engagement in the city. I reject their reinterpretations and I revise the traditional view, arguing that godlikeness is not a single ideal. Instead, I argue, Plato provides several different portraits of godlikeness (...) that together suggest interest in particulars makes the person neither better nor worse as a philosopher. (shrink)