Being Versus Knowing: The Distinction

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Glaucon cajoles Socrates to give his account of the Good. Socrates explains to Glaucon that it is beyond his power to give an account of the real meaning of good, but he can tell Glaucon what he pictures to be the offspring of the Good. However, before introducing the offspring of the Good, Socrates re-establishes this premise as a foundation to the subsequent dialogue: "Let me remind you of the distinction . . . between the multiplicity of things that we call good or beautiful or whatever it may be and, on the other hand, Goodness itself or Beauty itself and so on. Corresponding to each of these sets of many things, we postulate a single Form . . . as we call it" (272, 507b). Having said this, Socrates begins his introduction of the offspring of the Good by given his account of the use of sense-faculties in perceiving sensible things.

It is important to note that the immediate context surrounding this passage, as described above, is a segment of the larger conversation that Socrates has been having and will continue to have with Glaucon. Socrates indirectly refers to a previous part of their conversation when he reminds Glaucon that there is a "distinction" between the "multiplicity of things" and the Thing itself (e.g. the Beautiful, the Good). This previous part of their conversation contains initial definitions of the key words, phrases or concepts highlighted in this quotation. Socrates is reminding Glaucon of these definitions so that he can use them as stepping-stones to understanding the "Analogy of the Sun and the Good" and the "Divided Line" later in their conversation.

For example, the first key concept definition mentioned is that which is associated and recalled by Socrates using the word "distinction". Socrates gives an implied definition of this "distinction" in "Book V" of Plato's Republic. The concept is not directly stated, but is inferred by a careful reading of the text. However, in order to properly extract the definition or concept linked to the word "distinction" as used in the quotation under analysis and in this part of the previous conversation, the other terms in the quotation under analysis must be defined and understood first.

Prior to Socrates making his "distinction", he states a premise. This premise immediately follows a discussion between Socrates and Glaucon about what characteristics constitute a philosopher. Glaucon agrees with Socrates that a philosopher has a passion to see the truth. Then, in response to Glaucon asking Socrates to explain his thinking about "genuine philosophers", Socrates offers this premise, ". . . all the essential Forms . . . manifest themselves in a great variety of combinations, with actions, with material things, and with one another, and so each seems to be many" (266, 476a). After stating this premise, Socrates goes on to establish this "distinction" or concept.

Before moving on to addressing Socrates "distinction", it is important to recognize that the term, "multiplicity of things", has just been introduced by the quotation quoted immediately above. There are many different ways in which the Forms exhibit themselves. These manifestations are the things referred to in this phrase and, because there are so many types of manifestations listed, the variety of things is summarized by the phrase, "multiplicity of things." And, it is equally important to realize that the "multiplicity of things" come from the Forms.

Additionally, before addressing Socrates "distinction", there is a crucial adjective in the quotation most recently cited above. The Forms are described as "essential". In other words, the Forms are those "Things" that are the most real, eternal and ultimate. They are the true nature of the things that exist, those things referred to as the "multiplicity of things". The things that exist are simply the appearance of those "Things" that do not exist and yet are the most real.

Finally, we come to Socrates "distinction". In the text immediately following his introducing the "essential Forms" and the "multiplicity of things", Socrates goes on to clarify and expand Glaucon's understanding concerning them. He does this by contrasting two men: One can believe in the "multiplicity of things", but does not have the power to believe in the essential Form itself. The other man not only has the power to believe in the essential Form itself, but he also can make the distinction between the Forms' essence and the appearance of the "multiplicity of things". In this portion of text, Socrates has certainly established the difference or distinction between the "essential Forms" and the "multiplicity of things", however, this is not the entirety of his "distinction". The completion of his "distinction" is found in Socrates concluding claim about the two men when he says that the second man ". . . knows, while the other has only a belief in appearances; and . . . we call their states of mind knowledge and belief." To put it another way, this quote tells us that the second man's state of mind is that of knowledge because he has the power to know that Thing which is most real and yet does not exist. Meanwhile, the first man's state of mind is that of belief because he is only able to grasp in his mind what he sees by its appearance.