Skeptic Approach to Socrates' Knowledge about Knowledge

Essay by eayazCollege, UndergraduateA-, April 2004

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In Plato's Republic Book V lines 476d to 478e, Plato's main characters Socrates and Glaucon have an interesting discussion about epistemology. The argument in this passage serves to prove that knowledge and opinion are not the same. This argument is based on the premise that knowledge is set over the complete existence of things, whereas opinion is set over "intermediate" existence of things. In this paper, I will first divide the completeness into two categories, that is, mathematical and moral. Then I will contend that mathematical completeness can be achieved, thus known, yet moral completeness is impossible, thus one is bound to opine about moral issues. To substantiate, I will focus on the Form of Justice. I will argue that it is doubtful whether one can know the Form of Justice, since justice does not exist completely, but in contexts that vary. Hence, if justice does not exist completely, due to its lacking Form, then Socrates' main argument loses its soundness, because it is based on the premise that knowledge and Forms apply to everything, which inevitably include knowledge of justice as well.

Socrates' argument starts with the distinction of two types of people regarding their power to think, one's thoughts being opinions and the other's knowledge (476d). What distinguishes these two groups of people, Socrates argues, is their differing ability to see the world (476). The ones who opine can only see what the thing is like (participants), whereas the ones who know can see the thing itself (Form) as well. Socrates declares his first premise in line 477a: "what is completely is completely knowable and what is no way is in every way unknowable". Consequently, he points out the premise that knowledge is assigned to what is, or to elaborate what exists, and ignorance is assigned to...