Doxa and Epistêmê as Modes of Acquaintance in Republic V
1The interpretation of Plato’s distinction between epistêmê and doxa is notoriously difficult. One of the reasons for this is that Plato has different uses for these two terms and often uses them in ways that are far removed from the meaning we moderns tend to connect with the concepts of knowledge and belief.
2The usual contemporary distinction between knowledge and (mere) true belief relates to the quality of the justification or evidence the true belief in question is based upon. This kind of perspective does occur in Plato. One of the targets of philosophical dialectic is to provide a foundation for our judgments about concrete actions, situations or rules that require the application of some general action-guiding concept like, for instance, ‘just’. The ability to know if a certain course of action, in a given situation, would be just presupposes, according to Plato, a clear and reliable grasp of what justice is — an understanding of justice which is true to its objective essence. Thus the grasp of such an essence (or eidos, Form) is viewed by Plato as a necessary prerequisite for a justified belief concerning the justice or injustice of a particular action, and he is ready to apply knowledge-words like eidenai or gnônai to judgments about particular actions in that perspective (e. g. Rep. 520C).
3But there are also contexts where he restricts knowability to the Forms as pure intellectual objects and classifies the whole realm of perceptible bodies together with their movements, changes and transient properties as things that are mere doxasta (i. e. merely objects of doxa, incapable of becoming objects of genuine knowledge/epistêmê). One important example for this can be found in Republic V, 476E ff., a passage that I will examine in this paper. Apparently it uses the ‘argument from opposites’ (which could also be called an ‘argument from context-relativity’) in a very questionable way by arguing from the co-presence of opposites in the case of natural and social instantiations of a Form to the conclusion that such instantiations don’t even allow for an unqualifiedly true judgment and thus cannot be objects of knowledge. Another striking example is the passage in Timaeus, 37B, which asserts that the world-soul achieves nous (insight) and epistêmê with respect to the intellectual realm (to logistikon), but with respect to the perceptible realm (to aisthêton) only doxa and pistis (the latter being a type of non-epistemic cognition with a higher degree of truth-approximation and reliability). Yet in the Timaeus-passage, truth and stability/reliability (to bebaion) are attributed to the doxai of the world-soul, as one would expect since the world-soul has direct cognitive access to everything that happens within ‘its body’, i.e. the physical cosmos. So here it cannot be the lack of truth, and not even that of reliability, which separates doxa from epistêmê.
- 1 Cf. J. M. E. Moravcsik, “Understanding and Knowledge in Plato’s Philosophy”, Neue Hefte für Philoso (...)
- 2 Cf. Rep. 527D-530C, Tim. 47E ff.
4So there seems to be an outright inconsistency in Plato’s ideas about knowing. On the one hand, he denies that there can be knowledge about particulars in the sensible world, on the other he affirms that the person who has grasped the essence of a certain property can also know with respect to a particular whether or not it exhibits this property. But this impression of a contradiction may subside if it turns out that he is using different, yet compatible concepts of knowledge that go along with different concepts of doxa. Such a solution seems certainly possible with regard to the Timaeus-passage. It has been a recurring theme in Plato scholarship during the last three decades that Plato’s concept of epistêmê, in many contexts, is a concept of understanding.1 Understanding can be taken as conceptual understanding or as scientific or theoretical understanding (explanation), but for Plato these are two sides of the same coin, because he conceives theoretical knowledge as the result of dialectic, and hence as the result of a systematic effort of working toward adequate concepts that are true to the underlying essences or Forms. He contends that the only fully rational ‘cosmos’ which can become totally transparent or fully understood is the realm of pure intellectual objects. The physical world does not allow for perfect understanding, because there is only partial and imperfect rationality in its structures and movements.2 Accordingly, the object-range of perfect theoretical understanding is the world of pure intellectual entities, and the core of this understanding is one’s conceptual understanding which has been perfected through the elucidation of the Forms and their interrelations.
5So if one uses the words “epistêmê” and “doxa” as names for cognitive states that differ according to the level of insight or understanding they can provide, then Plato’s restriction of epistêmê to the realm of Forms is a consequence of his views on the insufficient rationality and cognitive accessibility of the physical cosmos. This view is compatible with the claim that a person who has achieved adequate understanding of a certain concept or property and has a clear, non-deceptive perception of a particular situation or object, can recognize that this situation or object exhibits a certain property and can know this to be the case—in a different sense of knowing which does not imply full rational transparency of the object in all its properties and relations but only a well-founded judgment that answers to some specific question regarding the object.
6The phenomenon of the co-presence of opposites does not pose a real challenge to the possibility of true and well-founded judgments about concrete instances. Plato himself in Rep. IV, 436B-437A, shows how to handle this. In this passage he elaborates the point that an object cannot exhibit opposite properties or movements except in different respects. The apparent co-presence of opposite determinations should not “disturb” us (436E), since it can always be dissolved by way of an analysis which either points to a difference in respect or reveals that the opposing properties or movements have two different bearers. In a section of the introductory conversation of the Parmenides (129A-E), it is also emphasized that in the case of particular objects the co-presence of opposites does not pose any real philosophical problem since it is always possible to differentiate between the respects in which the opposites occur. The text, moreover, points out that there is no problem with a lack of truth when one or the other of the opposites is ascribed to the object in question. In both cases we have a true statement (129D2).
- 3 Cf. Jan Szaif, Platons Begriff der Wahrheit, 2nd ed., Freiburg/München 1998, 163-168, 307-315, on t (...)
7In the light of this, the argument in Rep. V, 476E ff., proves to be very puzzling. It seems to commit the very mistake of inferring from the co-presence of opposites the impossibility of an unequivocally true ascription of, say, beauty with respect to a particular instance of beauty. The consequence would be, it seems, that even people with an adequate conceptual understanding of beauty or largeness would not be able to apply these concepts to particular instances so as to produce true judgments. Thus they would also not be able to know if this or that particular instance is something beautiful or something large (given that truth is a necessary condition of knowledge). This result seems incompatible with, for instance, a well-known passage in the context of the simile of the Cave (Rep. 520C) where the text clearly states that someone who has gained philosophical insight and returns to the ‘cave’ (i.e. is willing to confront again the social and natural reality), will be able to recognize the exemplifications of the Forms in the ‘cave’ and will know what participates in what. What is more, this result would run afoul, it seems, of the whole tendency of the Socratic quest for a reliable foundation of our practical judgments through the conceptual clarification of Forms. The practical side of dialectic remains a major concern of Plato in the Republic and beyond. It is only supplemented, not pushed aside, by the contemplative ideal of knowledge that seeks fulfillment in a complete rational penetration of reality achievable only with respect to the ‘noetic’ cosmos of the Forms.3 Whereas the Timaeus passage is compatible with the possibility of true and well-founded judgments about concrete objects and situations, the Rep. V passage seems to go too far and to impair the applicability of philosophical knowledge for practical purposes.
8There is another serious difficulty posed by the argument in Rep. V. It distinguishes epistêmê and doxa as two different powers (dunameis) of the soul. That seems to contradict the affirmation later in Rep. VII (518A-519B) that the rational faculty (the “eye of the soul”) is one and that it can achieve only doxa‑type competence as long as it remains focused on the physical and social world, but will produce epistêmê once it has been “turned around” and refocused toward the realm of intellectual objects through the efforts of dialectic.
9In my subsequent remarks I will provide an analysis of the argument in Rep. V, 476E-480A, and comment on the meaning of doxa and epistêmê in this context and their function as ‘powers’. My main contention will be that doxa and epistêmê should be construed here as different qualities of (conceptualized) acquaintance whose achievement or cognitive value is a function of the ontological quality of their objects.
10First some remarks about the context of the argument that I am going to analyze : In 473CD, Socrates has disclosed with his contention that philosophers should be the political rulers. Socrates (whose persona serves as a personification of the ideal philosophical inquirer in the dialogue) wants to base the justification of this contention on an explanation of the true nature of philosophers (474B). He starts with an analysis of the meaning of the word “philosopher” as “lover of wisdom/learning”, emphasizing that concepts of the form “lover of F” imply that the person is inclined to love and appreciate all types or instances of that which is F. Thus only someone who loves all kinds of learning can count as a lover of wisdom/learning. Glaucon objects (475D1-E1) that this would enlarge the scope of philosophy so as to include the interests of people who want to watch each new theatrical show (philotheamones) or are fond of insignificant crafts and knacks (technudria). Socrates replies that the philosophers—the true ones (475E3)—are indeed ‘lovers of shows/sights’, but of a specific kind of sight, namely the sight of truth (tês alêtheias philotheamones, E4). (With respect to this turn of phrase one should bear in mind that the Greek word for truth—alêtheia—can be used to name ‘reality’ from the point of view that it can become an object or content of knowledge. Knowledge is always knowledge of some truth. I will come back to this point later.)
- 4 Cf. Myles Burnyeat, Culture and Society in Plato’s Republic, in : The Tanner Lectures on Human Valu (...)
11With this answer, Socrates has hinted that the curiosity which is exhibited by the lovers of theatrical shows and unphilosophical crafts does not concern ‘the truth’ and thus cannot count as genuine love of wisdom or learning since wisdom and learning relate to truth. His ensuing discussion focuses on the ‘lovers of sights and sounds’ who are clearly enough identified as the lovers of the dramatic performances (475D5‑8)—people who believe that those products of poetry are the best source for an understanding of beauty, justice and virtue. So in the background we perceive the recurrent Platonic theme that not poetry (or the arts in general) but only philosophy can truly educate.4 His argumentation exploits the conceptual link between love of knowledge and love of truth (cf. 485B‑D). If, as he tries to show, the exploits of the ‘lovers of sights and sounds’, and of other people similar to them, don’t lead to acquaintance with the truth, their kind of ‘learning’ cannot belong to the scope of a genuine love for truth and learning.
12Theatrical shows provide (amongst other things) examples of beauty (think of the musical and lyrical parts of the Greek drama). The ‘lovers of sights and sounds’ will appreciate that each such performance gives them some new examples of beauty and thus enriches their experience of beauty. They think that this will increase and deepen their understanding of beauty. Yet Socrates points out that they are incapable of “seeing” and appreciating the “nature of the beautiful itself” (476B). They acknowledge the existence of the many instances of beauty yet are unable to grasp “beauty itself”. Being unaware of the reality of the Form behind these instances, they mistake mere images for the real thing. With this state of mind, says Socrates, they are similar to dreamers who take dream-images for real things. They are in a state of mere doxa (opining) and subject to a fundamental error regarding the nature of reality. This is very different with philosophically educated people. They realize that a term like “beauty” denotes a Form and that the instantiations of beauty in the world of ‘becoming’ are only images of this. The latter will be able to discern the Form of beauty and the things that participate in it, and they will not confuse the Form and its participants. Thus they will know (gignôskein) (476CD).—Note that the knowledge attributed to the knowing person includes the ability to discern the participants. So the possibility of some sort of knowledge with regard to objects in the sensible realm is affirmed here, yet as a corollary of the knowledge of the Form.
13Let us call the argument in 475E-476D, which I have just summarized, the Doxa-as-Dreaming-Analogy (DDA). It characterizes the doxastic state of mind as a state of deception and the objects a person in this state is acquainted with as being deceptive or ‘untrue’ insofar as they (like dream images) conceal their nature as mere copies. The only way to overcome this deception is philosophy and its practice of dialectic, since only dialectic can make us aware of the reality of the Forms. (The word “dialectic” serves Plato, roughly, as the name for whatever may be the appropriate argumentative method or methods of investigating our concepts and the underlying objective Forms.)
- 5 There is a tremendous amount of literature on this text. I won’t be able to discuss the conflicting (...)
- 6 This was emphasized by Gosling loc. cit., 120 f., and is also a basic premise of Fine’s interpretat (...)
14DDA presupposes the truth of the theory of Forms. Now, since the ‘lovers of sights and sounds’ don’t recognize the truth of this assumption, they won’t have to follow this argumentation. From their point of view it is not a mistake to consider the many instances of beauty as the only reality the term “beautiful” stands for. The subsequent argument (467E7-480A13)5 is addressed to a hypothetical representative of those ‘lovers of sights and sounds’, and it is intended as a gentle (476E1) refutation of their conviction that the kind of reality they acknowledge could be the basis of genuine knowledge, a refutation that does not rely on the acceptance of the theory of Forms.6
15Yet it would be wrong to reduce the function of this argument to its dialectical role as a refutation of the ‘lovers of sights and sounds’. The core of this argument is a scheme of correlations between three cognitive states or ‘powers’ (dunameis) and three ontological categories. I will call this scheme CS and the argument based on it CSA. It is important to note that CS lays important groundwork for a whole sequence of arguments and similes that will follow in books VI and VII. Therefore it is also no mere accident that Socrates brings in the Forms at a certain point of his argumentation although, at first sight, this might seem inconsistent with his professed aim of refuting the ‘lovers of sights and sounds’ without presupposing the theory of Forms. The refutational part of his argument, directed against the ‘lovers of sights and sounds’, can indeed stand without reliance on the theory of Forms. But Socrates’ argumentation is at the same time also addressed to Glaucon and Adeimantos, his two philosophically educated and sympathetic interlocutors. For them Socrates connects the scheme CS with the theory of Forms as a starting-point for his subsequent more complex explanations concerning the relation of ontological categories and epistemic modes.
16We can break down CSA as follows :
17Section (a), 467E7-477B9, begins the exposition of CS. The ontological categories he distinguishes are (1) that which (perfectly/unqualifiedly) is, (2) that which is-and-is-not, and (3) that which is not at all (or in no way). (The corresponding cognitive ‘powers’ are knowledge (gnôsis/epistêmê), doxa, and ignorance (agnôsia) — this last one rather being a specific form of absence of cognitive power. The ontological categories of things that perfectly are and of things that are-and-are-not will later (in section [d]) be equated with the Forms and their natural or social instantiations respectively.
- 7 Cf. John Palmer, loc. cit., on Plato’s use of Parmenides in CSA.
18The basic idea of this scheme (which obviously harks back to the three ‘ways’ distinguished by the Presocratic Parmenides7) can be represented in this table :
Type of cognitive dunamis
Object (relatum) of the cognitive dunamis
1) knowledge (gnôsis/epistêmê)
what (perfectly/unqualifiedly) is
[☰ a Form]
what is and is not
[☰ a mere exemplification, not the Form itself]
3) ignorance (agnôsia)
what in no way is
20Section (b), 477B10-478A5, explains the concept of a power (dunamis) and tries to validate the claim that epistêmê and doxa, qua cognitive powers, must relate to different ranges of objects and result in different cognitive achievements.
21On this basis section €, 478A6-E6, sets out why we have to identify the objects-range of doxa, as a fallible cognitive state intermediate between knowledge and ignorance, with the things that are-and-are-not.
22Section (d), 478E7-479E9, explains what sorts of objects belong to the category of the things that are-and-are-not. The answer is that the things the ‘lovers of sights and sounds’ recognize as the only reality, viz. The many instances of the Forms, are things which are-and-are-not. In the course of this explanation the talk of being versus being-and-not-being, which had remained very vague up to this point, acquires a more concrete meaning. Thanks to this, it also becomes clearer why the mix of being and not-being is supposed to thwart epistemic cognition.
23The final section €, 479E10-480A13, carries the argument to the conclusion that people like the ‘lovers of sights and sounds’ should be called philodoxoi (lovers of doxa) instead of philosophoi.
24A number of questions need to be raised with respect to CS.
How can the nature of the correlations between the cognitive dunameis and their types of objects be spelled out in terms of necessary and sufficient conditions ? For instance, the ontological characteristic of unrestricted being seems to function as a necessary condition for something’s being an object of epistêmê. Is that so also in the case of complete non-being and agnôsia ?
What is the sense of “dunamis” here ?
What is the sense of “to be” here, and do the ontological categories define non-overlapping sets of objects ?
In which sense is doxa said to be fallible and epistêmê infallible ?
25If we answer all these questions, then we can hope to reach a well-founded conclusion regarding the nature of the epistêmê and doxa as represented in this argument.
26I will first tackle the third question regarding the concept of being (and I will have to be rather ‘doctrinal’ because there is no room here for discussing Plato’s concept of being in detail).
27Ad 3: It is helpful to distinguish between an absolute and a copulative use of “is” or “being”. Being is attributed “absolutely” in a statement of the form “A is.” It is used for a copulative function in sentences of the form “A is B” (where “B” can be replaced either by a general or a singular term). If the second or mis a general term, we also speak of predicative being. If it is a singular term, the statement expresses an identity relation. The “is” (esti) which is predicated “absolutely” could mean either existence or veridical ‘being the case’, according to the established usages in Ancient Greek.
- 8 On the terminology of ‘being’ in Ancient Greek and in Plato in particular cf. Charles Kahn, On the (...)
28It is, however, essential to note that often Plato understands ‘being’, attributed absolutely, as equivalent to ‘being something’ such that the word “something” functions like a variable for general terms. In this case, the absolute use of “to be” indicates predicative being. Predicative being is closely connected with veridical being, because if some x is F, it is also the case that x is F. Thus a veridical instance of being, i.e. the on in the sense of a state of affairs which obtains and can be known, can ‘unfold’ into an instance of predicative being (x being F).8
- 9 Cf. John Malcolm, Plato on the Self-Predication of the Forms, Oxford 1991, for a comprehensive surv (...)
29CSA is an example for the absolute use of “to be” and “not to be” indicating predicative being and not-being with a veridical connotation. Take the example of an instance of beauty. Section (d) tells us that this is an example of something which IS and IS NOT, because it is and is not beautiful—or because it is both true and false to say of it that it is beautiful. (We might think of Helen being compared to some other, more beautiful entity, or viewed form some unfavorable perspective). Accordingly, something which is beautiful and in no way is not beautiful, would be an example of a thing which unqualifiedly IS (i.e. without a mix with not-being). For Plato, this ontological description singles out the Form of the beautiful – the Beautiful-itself. —Of course this means that this talk of unrestricted being presupposes the possibility of the ‘self-predication’ of Forms.9 The “is” in such a statement oscillates in a problematic way between predication and identity. But either way it is ‘copulative’, not existential.
30Also in the case of the negative limit concept of that which in no way is (=nothing) (477A3-4, 7, cf. 478B12-C4) we have to think of the copulative use : This pseudo-object is nothing or in no way, because there is no way to characterize ‘it’ predicatively.
31Hence, when Plato speaks of things that are and things that are-and-are-not, the predicative or (more generally) copulative sense of “being” is to be understood. Yet this cannot be the whole story. The Forms, which are the example of things that ARE, can also be characterized in a negative way. For instance : “The Beautiful itself is not ugly.” Or : “The Beautiful itself is not perishable.” Plato’s examples and comments (478E-479D) suggest that a Form’s undiluted mode of being consists in the fact that the or mis what it is unequivocally, since it perfectly excludes any contrary quality. The many instantiations of this Form, on the other hand, don’t perfectly exclude contrary qualities. In some way or other they exemplify not just Fness, but also the opposite of Fness, and that is why their mode of being is indistinct and, as it were, “ambiguous” (cf. 479B11-C5). To put it in a slightly more formal way : For any predicative content F or Fness : Only F-itself is unequivocally F (i.e. without any aspect of being not-F), all other objects that are F are also not F. In 479C3‑5, the argument reaches an even more radical analysis of the situation : Because the contrary characteristics cancel out each other and yet obtain somehow, it is not possible to firmly conceive the thing in question as F or not F or both or neither. Although it is not nothing at all, it eludes any firm cognitive hold. (Note that we are talking here about instances, say, of beauty as instances of beauty. The question is not if Helen, as Helen, does allow for any sort of firm cognitive acquaintance, but if this instance of beauty, conceptualized as an instance of beauty, can be firmly represented as such.)
32Thus the ontological status of perfect/unrestricted being (to pantelôs on) is based on the fact that such a thing is perfectly determined since the descriptive (or ‘eidetic’) content thanks to which it is determined is not qualified or cancelled out by the co-presence of a contrary eidetic content. Accordingly we can also say that ‘unrestricted being’ here stands for perfect determinateness.
- 10 Cf. Annas, loc. cit., 193-211.
- 11 Already the brief recapitulation in 485AB of the result of CSA shifts to the antithesis between thi (...)
33Do these ontological categories define exclusive sets of objects ? An object might be perfectly determined in one respect and not so in another. CSA exploits the phenomenon that in the case of properties that constitute pairs of opposites the ascriptions are often context-sensitive or ‘perspectival’. Nothing is large or small absolutely, but only from a certain perspective, viz. Depending on what counts as small or large in the given context. Yet ascriptions of descriptive contents like being human or being a finger are not perspectival in this way (523CD). Also they can’t come in pairs of opposites (enantia, polar contraries) for the simple reason that such individuative terms don’t have opposites. Therefore Plato’s argument in Rep. V can’t apply to such characteristics. Hence, as far as that goes, his argument is open for the possibility that the same object is perfectly determined and hence a ‘knowable’ in one respect, yet in another respect a mere doxaston.10 To be sure, other passages in his middle-period works articulate the thought that sensible objects in general and in all respects don’t qualify as objects of epistêmê (probably as a consequence of Plato’s views concerning the unity and imperishability of an object of epistêmê).11 So, in the end, the two classes of objects are meant to be exclusive, but that doesn’t yet follow from the distinction between perspectival and non-perspectival being.
34Ad 1: Regarding the correlations in CS we have to differentiate between terms for cognitive states like “knowledge” (epistêmê) and terms for dispositional attributes like “knowable” (gnôston) which contain a modal component. At the outset of his argument Plato introduces the correlations (1) and (3) : With respect to (1), he claims that if somebody knows something, this must be something which IS (or unqualifiedly IS). He also states that that which unqualifiedly IS is unqualifiedly knowable. This statement is not free of ambiguity since it can mean that being implies knowability (i.e. is a sufficient condition of knowability), but may also be taken to mean that being is logically equivalent to knowability (i.e. is both a necessary and a sufficient condition of knowability). Later it becomes clear that the argument presupposes that unqualified being is not only a sufficient, but also a necessary condition for knowability, for Socrates claims that knowledge is “set over that which is” and has the function to know of that-which-is which way it is (477B10 f, 478A6). Given that unqualified being is a necessary condition for knowability, it follows that all instances of knowledge are, each of them, of some unqualified being or other.
35Thus we get the following two contentions, of which the first is meant to imply the second :
i. For all objects x : if and only if x IS (unqualifiedly), is it possible that there be some epistemic cognition y which is of x.
ii. For all cognitive states y : if y is an epistemic cognition, then there is some object x, such that y is of x and x IS (unqualifiedly).
36The first is a claim regarding the ‘knowability’ of the objects in the first ontological category. The second is a claim about the kind of object the cognitive state of epistêmê requires. Undiluted being is a necessary and sufficient condition of knowability and a necessary condition for becoming an object of somebody’s actual epistêmê :
37What about correlation (3) ? Plato claims that that which IS NOT (anything at all) is completely unknowable (pantêi agnôston). Yet total lack of being is not only sufficient for a total lack of knowability, it is also a necessary condition for it, since only that which in no way is (something or other) will be completely inaccessible to any kind of cognition. Of something which IS, there can be knowledge, but of something which IS NOT anything at all, there must be ignorance. Plato hints at this asymmetry by adding an “ex anankês” in the case of agnôsia’s ‘being set over non-being’ (477A9, 478C3) which he doesn’t do in the other cases.
38Thus we obtain the following claims :
iii. For all objects x : if and only x is not (anything at all), is it necessary that there be ignorance (i.e. no cognition at all) of x.
iv. For all cognitive states y : if there is some object x, such that y is of x and x IS NOT (anything at all), then y is a state of ignorance.
39Let us turn to correlation (2). Here we are not dealing with a total absence of cognition, but with a different type of cognition and a different kind of cognitive accessibility of an object. The same way as epistêmê correlates with that which IS, doxa is said to correlate with that which IS AND IS NOT. Both are characterized as different cognitive ‘powers’ which require a different type of object according to the ontological distinction between undiluted being and being mixed with not-being. Thus we can attribute to Plato the following two claims which match the claims (i) and (ii) regarding epistêmê : (The second claim, which is about the object of doxa, is meant to be implied in the first claim about the cognitive accessibility of objects of that mixed kind.)
v. For all objects x : If and only if x is and is not, is it possible that there be some doxastic cognition y which is of x.
vi. For all cognitive states y : if y is a doxastic cognition, then there is some object x, such that y is of x and x is and is not.
40The suggestion that epistêmê and doxa are two different cognitive ‘powers’ with different ranges of referential objects seems very strange to modern readers who are used to the evidential or justificatory distinction between knowledge and mere true belief. Yet it also seems incompatible with remarks in other contexts in the Republic and elsewhere which affirm the possibility of (some sort of) knowledge with respect to concrete instantiations and of opinion with respect to Forms. I can refer back to my introductory remarks. Even the immediately preceding passage which contains DDA turned out to imply the possibility of knowledge with respect to concrete instantiations.
41There is no way out of this conundrum if we construe the ‘objects’ of the cognitive states distinguished here as the referential objects of propositional cognition, i.e. as that about which something is known or believed. May be a closer examination of the way in which Plato conceives epistêmê and doxa as ‘powers’ will provide us with an alternative.
42Ad 2: Plato’s argument in section (b) about ‘powers’ is built upon an assumption (A) about the general identity criterion for types of ‘power’ formulated in 477D2-5. It can be rephrased in this way :
43A :(1) ‘Powers’ (dunameis) are the same in kind if and only if they relate to the same objects and achieve the same things ; (2) ‘powers’ (dunameis) differ in kind if and only if they relate to different kinds of objects and achieve different things.
44The “and” printed in italics in (2) is the puzzling feature in this assumption, but it is also crucial for the argument because the intended conclusion can be obtained only if this “and” is kept and not replaced by an “or”. For the text will argue from the premise that doxa has a different kind of achievement (and hence is a different kind of dunamis) to the conclusion that its objects must also be different from those of epistêmê. This inference would not be possible if we had an “or” instead of an “and” in (2). This means that Plato does not acknowledge the possibility of two dunameis achieving different things with regard to the same kind of object. But why should that possibility be excluded ? This certainly looks question-begging and thus represents a very questionable move in this argument. Yet we may try to add some extra explanation to the argument that would justify the exclusion of the possibility that powers can achieve different things with respect to the same relata.
45Assumption (A) can make sense only if the object range is conceived of as intrinsically connected with the kind of function or achievement of the power in question. Later metaphysical terminology developed the concept of a ‘formal’ object : A formal object is the type object of a faculty, ability or power that matches its defining function, activity or effect. If we speak of the ability to slap and the ability to caress, their formal objects would be that which is capable of being slapped or that which is capable of being caressed. Of course the same person can be slapped and caressed. The ‘material’ objects, hence, can be the same. But there is still the difference of the formal objects as defined by the kind of power or ability.
46Can we suppose that something like this is going on here ? The only illustrative examples he mentions are sight and hearing (477C3). Unfortunately, he does not give us any further indications as to how he wants us to use these examples. The easiest way of specifying their formal objects would be to call them the visible and the audible. A more sophisticated answer would identify the visible with, say, colors and shapes, the audible with sounds. Now there is an additional complication. The examples Socrates gives in section (d) of CSA suggest that we are invited to consider the objects of doxa and epistêmê as not only formally, but also materially distinct : as two non-overlapping sets of objects, viz. Forms on one side and transient or mixed instances on the other. If we link the faculties of sight and hearing to colors and shapes or sounds respectively, we would also obtain non-overlapping sets of objects. But this is rather an exception. It is obviously not true in general that abilities or faculties define non-overlapping sets of objects, and we don’t have to burden the argument here with such an extravagant assumption. The premise that he needs in section (c) does not imply a stronger claim than that the object-ranges of doxa and epistêmê are formally distinct. That they are also materially distinct and even exclusive sets of objects, this is a consequence of the ontological chorismos between the Forms and their physical and social instantiations, a thesis which is not argued for in this passage.
- 12 Cf. Gosling, loc. cit., Fine, Knowledge and Belief ...(loc. cit.).
- 13 Defenders of the view that the objects which epistêmê and doxa are set over, are propositions refer (...)
47Now, if we want to get clear about as what kind of power doxa and epistêmê are conceived here, we have to understand how their formal objects are characterized. There are basically two possibilities. If we construe doxa and epistêmê as types of propositional cognition, then their formal objects (the ‘opinable’ and the ‘knowable’) would have to be identified as propositional contents or as propositionally structured states of affairs. This would allow for a fairly straightforward answer to the question how these two types relate to two formally distinct object-ranges : Since knowledge implies truth, whereas opinion does not, knowledge is of true propositional contents (or existing states of affairs) while opinion is of true or false propositional contents. Unfortunately this solution, supported by Gail Fine and others12, does not square with the way the objects of knowledge and opinion are described in section (d)—not as propositional contents (like that Helen is beautiful) but as Forms and as physical or social instantiations of a Form (like beautiful things).13
- 14 For the possibility of a non-propositional construction of doxazein cf. Szaif, Platons Begriff der (...)
48The alternative is to read this distinction as one between types of object-cognition or acquaintance. The usage which relates the nominal constructions “doxa tinos” and “epistêmê tinos” (knowledge of something) or the verbal constructions “doxazein ti” and “gnonai/eidenai ti” (knowing something) to objects instead of propositional contents is well established for Plato, the Theaetetus in particular providing ample evidence for that.14 But does that also tally with the way he describes the achievement of epistêmê and doxa in CSA ?
49The claim that we are dealing here with types of object-cognition is easier to establish with respect to the concept of epistêmê. The type of object that corresponds to epistêmê (or gnônai) is said to exhibit unrestricted, unqualified being‑F, and the reason indicated for this is that such a mode of being allows for a firm and stable cognitive grasp (pagiôs noêsai, 479C4). Since his examples for perfect beings are Forms (the Beautiful itself etc.), we can infer that he has in mind the kind of acquaintance with a Form that reveals the essence that can be ascribed to the Form—if his distinction is indeed about modes of acquaintance. This kind of acquaintance would be the achievement of a progress in conceptual understanding as aimed at by philosophical dialectic.
- 15 This is the way Cornford and G.M.A Grube (revised by C.D.C. Reeve) translate it.—The ambiguity is n (...)
50Yet one can object that the achievement of epistêmê is paraphrased as “to on gnônai hôs echei ” (478A6). Isn’t this stating that the knowledge in question knows “with respect to that-which-is, how it is”, and wouldn’t this knowing how it is (or what it is like) be an instance of propositional knowledge ? Now, this Greek phrase is actually somewhat ambiguous between an objectual and a propositional construal : It can certainly be construed in the way just cited. But since “to on” (“that which is”) functions here also as the object of “gnônai”, the more adequate translation seems to be “knowing that-which-is as it is”.15 Yet this point is not really decisive. However we construe this phrase, there is no incoherence in describing the epistemic acquaintance with a Form F-itself such that it implies that one knows what this Form is like. Some formulation like that could even be used with respect to some strictly non-propositional knowledge-by-acquaintance as conceived by Russell. If somebody is acquainted with the color red, they can certainly be said to know ‘what red is like’, although the content of this knowledge is not expressible in a proposition. Moreover, Platonic theory of object-cognition with respect to Forms should not be construed in this Russellian manner anyway. To begin with, even if not all forms are definable according to Plato, some at least are. And in their case it is possible to reproduce the content of one’s acquaintance in a definitional formula (with some qualifications though—I will come back to this point at the end of my paper).
51So it is possible to construe epistêmê as a mode of acquaintance or object-cognition. If, in the light of this, it is granted that we are dealing here with a classification of modes of object-cognition or acquaintance, it follows that we have to construe doxa as acquaintance with natural or social instantiations of Forms, since doxa is described as being of such instantiations.
52The formal object of doxa is characterized by its mode of equivocal being which cannot be determined as being either F or not‑F or both or neither (479C3‑5), so that the acquaintance with such an object can provide only an unstable appearance (phainesthai, 479A7, B2, 4), not a firm and stable intellectual grasp (noêsai). What then is the characteristic achievement (the ho apergazetai) of doxa with respect to this type of object ?
53Plato says no more than that doxa’s activity is doxazein (478A8) and that it takes place with respect to what is-and-is-not. This does not give us any additional information since the meaning of the verb doxazein depends on how we are supposed to understand the achievement of doxa. The clue we are looking for may lie in the connection between doxa and changing appearance highlighted in section (d). An object of doxa appears, say, beautiful and is, hence, conceived of as beautiful. But while the grasp of some perfect being like the beautiful itself as beautiful/beauty is stable, the conceptual representation of a doxastic instance is unstable as this object can also appear ugly (e. g. if we change the context and compare it to something much more beautiful, or if we see it from a different aspect). Both types of cognitive grasp represent their object as being F, but only when the object is unqualifiedly F, is this representation fully warranted, while in the mixed ontological case the object eludes this representation as being F since it manifests itself both as F and as not‑F.
54Thus we can say that, according to CSA, the cognitive achievement of the activity of doxazein is a certain kind of conceptualized representation of an object which is not unequivocally F, as being F. It is a mode of representation of being which falls short of its object and is unstable because its object lacks genuine being. Its representational truth is equivocal and transient the same way as the instantiated being which it represents is equivocal and transient.—If this is the ‘achievement’ of doxa, it does not seem much of an ‘achievement’ at all, rather a lack of a cognitive achievement. But this is of course the point Plato wants to drive home. This cognitive mode has no real value. To be sure, it is better than total agnôsia, which is the cognitive state in which nothing is presented to the mind—just a total lack of cognition, a black screen, as it were, complete darkness. There is more ‘light’ in doxa than in agnôsia (cf. 478C13-14). But it is only, as it were, a flickering light, a mix of light and darkness, presenting a certain mode of being to the mind and then canceling it out it again.
55I think that this interpretational strategy of construing epistêmê and doxa as two kinds of acquaintance with things that are or appear F, is the only way to provide a reading which stands in agreement with the text and does not lead into the absurd consequence that it is impossible to form an opinion about a Form or that one cannot know anything about concrete objects. When philosophers (as conceived in the Republic) assess presumed participants of ‘F-itself’ in the physical and social world, they will not simply represent them as being or not being F. They will distinguish between the underived being‑F or the Form and the derived being‑F that is based on ‘participation’ in F‑itself, and they will specify the relevant respects in which the case in question qualifies as an exemplification of (derived) being‑F . In other words : They won’t base their judgment on the simple and deceptive appearance of the thing as being F. Theirs will be a differentiated judgment whose main cognitive basis is acquaintance with the Form itself.
- 16 Cf. Annas, loc. cit., 193.
56At this point I want to add some more general remarks as to why Plato bothers to distinguish epistêmê and doxa as two levels of acquaintance with being‑F. As Julia Annas has rightly pointed out, the argument in Rep. V presupposes a certain understanding of knowledge and tries to develop a concept of doxa as its counterpart.16 Now, if epistêmê is conceived as perfected conceptual understanding, rooted in the adequate and firm cognitive grasp of the essence or Form denoted by the concept-word in question, then we ought to expect that doxa stands for some deficient mode of conceptual understanding.
57So what is the point of doxa as a deficient mode of conceptual understanding for an epistemological theory focused on the idea of the possibility of firm and objective conceptual understanding ? Let’s take up again the point about context-relativity and imagine a little example of our own. If a lover of beautiful sights stands in front of a painting of Helen and exclaims : “She is beautiful !”, an uncompromising Platonist in their company would of course retort that this is nothing compared to the beauty of a geometrical construction. Another, more amiable philosopher might come to the aide of the lover of sights and submit : “Well, with respect to her looks and as a human being, it is certainly fair to say that she is extraordinarily beautiful.” If the lover of sights accepts that, they are already on the way to becoming aware of the distinction between Forms and mixed instances. This more sophisticated judgment is immune against the argument from context-relativity because it specifies the relevant context or respect and thus qualifies the attribution of the property in the appropriate way. It does more than just articulate a mode of appearance. It has analyzed the appearance by situating it in its context. This kind of realization of context-dependence is the first step toward understanding why the universal content denoted by the concept-word cannot be identical with any of these derived instances or their sum.
58Yet people who haven’t yet opened themselves to the impact of Socratic dialectic, will rely for their understanding of concepts like beauty, justice, or largeness, on their acquaintance with what they see as uncontroversial or outstanding examples. When Socrates asks someone to explain what justice is, or what beauty is, they will first cite such examples (types or tokens), because it is examples of that kind which their understanding of the concepts in question is based upon. In the case of value-concepts, poetic productions play a significant role for the Greeks in providing such socially accepted examples. (This refers us back to the ‘lovers and sights and sounds’.) Yet like the orators and politicians, the poets as well lack insight into the real nature of the values in question and thus cannot provide any reliable guidance. When Socrates scrutinizes such examples presumed to be ‘clear’ instances of something which is F, it turns out that their appearance of being‑F is not clear at all because a change of context will turn the appearance into its contrary. He will try to make his interlocutors realize that they lack genuine understanding of the property or value in question as long as they rely solely on their acquaintance with socially accepted examples. Yet he will grant that their deficient understanding is more than total ignorance (agnôsia). They are in an intermediate state which is not knowledge but at least provides some starting-points in the quest for real understanding.
59So from the point of view of a theory of conceptual progress, one needs to discuss this mode of acquaintance because it is the basis of our insufficient conceptual understanding before the onset of philosophical investigation. It is easy to show how, from this point of view, CSA fits into the context of the central books of the Republic, which are inspired by an ethical and pedagogical idea according to which the objectivation of our leading concepts is of paramount significance for the realization of human happiness. Genuine conceptual understanding requires that one become aware of the existence of Forms and of the derivative character of determinations in the physical and social world. This is the theme of DDA. Genuine conceptual understanding would have to have the character of a firm and stable acquaintance with a descriptive content and should not be subject to changes according to context and perspective. Yet the instantiations in the physical and social world cannot provide this because their mode of being is context-relative and unstable. This is the theme of CSA. Only the person who is acquainted with the Form itself and has a clear representation of it in his soul will be competent to judge upon and produce things that instantiate the Form in the physical and social world. This is the theme of the passage that immediately follows upon CSA (484A‑D). It provides the epistemological justification for the contention that the philosophers alone are entitled to rule over a human commonwealth. These three aspects of the description of the doxastic state of mind and its objects (i.e. the concealment of the underlying reality of the Forms, the instability of appearance, the insufficiency as models or standards for judgment and production) together provide the basis for the subsequent epistemological and pedagogical discussions in books VI and VII about how we can advance toward a genuinely true conceptual representation of reality and value.
60Ad 4) As to the remaining question in which sense epistêmê is infallible and doxa fallible I can now confine myself to some brief comments. In a way, the answer can be very simple : Since the doxastic representation is not true without qualification, it cannot be called infallible. The epistemic acquaintance, on the other hand, provides a firm and stable representation which is true of its object without any restriction and cannot turn into something false. Yet the remark in 477E that doxa is apt to fail while epistêmê isn’t, is likely to have a wider scope. It seems to characterize the doxastic state of mind in general, i.e. the cognitive condition that we are in as long as we have not gained an objective foundation for our concepts and rely on examples instead. The lack of adequate and reliable concepts is a the source of mistaken judgements. People whose understanding of justice is based solely on their acquaintance with supposedly clear instances of justice and who try to extrapolate from these to new situations with the help of similarities and analogies, may be lucky enough to hit upon a right answer here and there. But they may quite as well go wrong, not having grasped the essence of justice. To be sure, also someone with perfected conceptual understanding can go wrong if their information about the details of the situation is insufficient. But the cause of their error does not lie in their knowledge of the Form. In that sense, genuine conceptual knowledge is infallible.
- 17 Cf. Rep. 488C-E, 493A-C, 516E-517A, 517D.
61In my introductory remarks I mentioned the problem that CSA distinguishes epistêmê and doxa as two different powers (dunameis) of the soul, while later on, in Rep. VII, 518A-519B, he stresses that the rational dunamis of the soul (the “eye of the soul”) is just one and that it is not implanted into our soul by philosophical or scientific education, but has been active all along if with respect to the inappropriate kind of objects. The word “dunamis” is used in many different ways by Plato. In the passage in Rep. VII “dunamis” means a faculty, indeed the rational faculty of the soul. Yet in the text in Rep. V that sets out CSA, it is crucial not to interpret “dunamis” as “faculty”. His examples of sight and hearing are misleading in that respect because they are faculties. In the Rep. VII passage, Socrates grants that the rational faculty, when it applies itself to the objects and processes of the social or natural world, can achieve a high degree of shrewdness and sharpness of mind with respect to these, even though it has not been enlightened by philosophy. This is a kind of competence which is based on experience and socially transmitted ideas, but without real understanding regarding the basic ethical concepts that should lead one’s pursuit of private and public happiness. There are several striking passages in books VI and VII that situate this sort competence at the level of doxa.17 So, from the point of view of Rep. VII, 518A-519B, the one rational faculty can and does produce doxa-type cognition. Furthermore, there is a clear thematic sequence that links CSA with this passage in Rep. VII. The Sun follows up on the description of epistêmê and doxa as different cognitive states and powers, describing them as different achievements of the intellectual faculty (represented as an analogon to the visual faculty) that correlate with the ontological quality of the object of acquaintance such that only an object which exhibits “truth and being” allows for epistêmê. The imagery of the Sun is then integrated into the much more complex imagery of the Cave, and the passage in Rep. VII which emphasizes the unity of the rational faculty, belongs to Socrates’ comments about the meaning of the Cave.
62So all this, taken together, makes it quite clear that also doxa, as described in CSA, is a product of the rational core of the soul when it is in a deficient condition. The rational faculty of the soul, which is metaphorically named as ‘eye of the soul’, can produce cognitive states with different levels of cognitive ‘power’ or ‘force’. Only epistemic cognition is able to present an object to the mind that allows for a firm and unequivocal grasp. Doxa does not achieve that.
- 18 On the relation between Plato’s concept of truth and his epistemology cf. Szaif, Platons Begriff .. (...)
- 19 Cf. Rep. 485A-487A, 489E-490D, Rep. 535 DE (see also Legg. 730C ff.). On this topic, cf. Jan Szaif, (...)
- 20 E. g. Rep. 525C5-6, 526B2-3, 527B9, E2-3.
63I want to conclude with some general remarks on the concepts of truth and knowledge18 (as acquaintance with Forms) and about the problem of the assertibility of knowledge in order to shed some more light on the background of CSA. When Socrates started his reasoning as to why the kind of ‘learning’ which is provided by theatrical performances or minor crafts, should not count as genuine interest in knowledge, he hinted at the connection between the concepts of knowledge and truth, calling the philosophers ‘lovers of the sight of the truth’ (475E), and he implied that the kind of experience such performances and crafts can provide is irrelevant for the achievement of knowledge because it can grant no acquaintance with ‘the truth’. At the same time, his remark also points forward to one of the central thematic lines that can be followed through books VI and VII : The idea that the orientation toward truth and genuine being is the defining characteristic of a philosophical pre-disposition and a philosophical life,19 and that the main goal of the whole curriculum of mathematical and philosophical subjects for the future philosopher-rulers, the crucial end of their cognitive ascent, is to let the students become acquainted with ‘the truth’.20 The concept of ‘truth’ in play here is to a large extent determined by the basic epistemological and metaphysical idea of Plato’s, viz. the idea that real knowledge and understanding must be based on an objective clarification of our concepts and that this can be achieved only by becoming acquainted with the underlying objective essences or Forms. Plato has adjusted his talk of truth to the purposes of his epistemology and ontology of Forms.
- 21 Cf. Phd. 84A8, Symp. 212A5, Rep. 519B4, Phdr. 247D4, 248C3-4, 249D5. This usage is also incorporate (...)
64A very important factor, in this connection, for Plato’s understanding of the term ‘truth’ is his tendency to see truth as the relatum of knowledge (epistêmê). As he points out in his discussion of the theory of Forms in the Parmenides, knowledge is supposed to be “of the truth” (tês alêtheias, Parm. 134A). In this turn of phrase, alêtheia is understood as reality which can become known. Since Plato conceives epistêmê primarily as conceptual clarification on the basis of a specific type of object-cognition, viz. cognition of the Forms, the corresponding concept of alêtheia as knowable reality is not conceived as the counterpart of assertoric truth (which would be something like facts or existing states of affairs). Rather he uses the phrase ‘the truth’ (or interchangeably “that which is true”, ta alêthê) to name the whole realm of Forms.21 The Parmenides-passage is an example for that because it treats alêtheia as the generic object of generic epistêmê, but the different Forms as the objects of the different kinds of epistêmê (e. g. knowledge of justice, which is knowledge of the Form the Just). In a similar manner, though only implicitly, the first of the two arguments in Rep. V (DDA) identifies ‘the truth’ with the Forms by identifying the ability to see or contemplate ‘the truth’ with the ability ‘see’ the Forms.
- 22 The association between the term “true” (in its attributive meaning) and the idea of the Form as an (...)
65Yet in the context of Plato’s theory of Forms, ‘truth’ does not only function as the notion for knowable reality. When Plato identifies the Forms with ‘the truth’ (hê alêtheia) or ‘that which is true’ (ta alêthê), which he does frequently in the books VI and VII, we are also supposed to understand that only the Forms are what they are in a not-derivative way, while the being of the instances we are at first familiar with, is only derivative, only a copy of that which is the only ‘true F’, the essence itself. Also the idea of the Form’s pure and undiluted being-what-it-is, not compromised by the admixture of contrary properties, is supposed be an aspect of the truth of the Forms. (The linguistic basis for these connotations of the word “true” is the attributive use of “true”).22
66These very specific aspects of ontological truth restrict the application of this term to objects and, moreover, to a specific ontological category of objects, the Forms. This concept of truth is adjusted to the purposes of his metaphysical epistemology of acquaintance with Forms. (It needs to be mentioned that beside this theoretically loaded concept of truth there is also a much more down-to-earth usage of “true” in the Republic and elsewhere meaning assertoric truth—a concept that he can’t renounce if he wants to uphold the applicability of the knowledge of Forms to concrete objects in the sensible word. Yet this meaning does not yet get Plato’s full philosophical attention in the Republic.) Now, if the truth that can become the content of the epistemic representation is a set of intellectual objects, not of propositions, does this mean that the truth which can become known is not assertible at all ?
- 23 Cf. Annas, loc. cit., 192.
67For Plato, knowledge is first and foremost knowledge-what23, i. e. the grasp of essences. That is why the passage in the Parmenides breaks down truth (alêtheia), as the generic object of knowledge, into Forms. In CSA, Plato speaks of ‘knowing that-what-is as it is. Yet in the case of a Form knowing the thing as it is is knowing what it is. It is the kind of knowledge Plato’s Socrates aims at when he discusses questions like “What is beauty ?”. Now, the grasp of such an essence is typically described by Plato as a kind of acquaintance (witness the pervasive use of visual metaphors in passages that describe the cognitive ascent to the Forms). On the other hand, it is also a methodological principle of dialectical enquiry that it should try to provide a definition of the Form in question, a definition that can be asserted and defended in an argumentative exchange. So this type of acquaintance cannot be totally disconnected from assertibility. Yet how it connects with assertibility, seems to be a rather complex issue in Plato.
68A Form, in Plato, is a reified essence such that the content of which the Form is supposed to be the one and only pure instantiation can be ascribed to the Form itself (the so-called ‘self-predication’ of the Form). Therefore the content which is that as which the Form becomes known, can also be asserted of the Form. This is the minimum of assertibility which is fulfilled even by simple, unanalyzable Forms. Yet such an assertion in which the unanalyzable content is predicated of itself, would have no more information value regarding the content of this Form than a tautology. Thus this propositional formulation would certainly be secondary to the pre-propositional acquaintance with the Form and not be able to express the truth which has become known, in an informative way. In the case of analyzable Forms, the question what it is can be answered with an informative definitional statement. Yet even here it seems that this propositional articulation is somehow secondary to the familiarity with the Form which cannot be established simply by learning a definitional formula. Otherwise philosophical instruction would be easy and could consist in memorizing definitional formulae. This is definitely not Plato’s position. The ways in which dialectic can establish knowledge of and acquaintance with Forms, are not the topic of this paper though.
- 24 This is a point that I have not touched upon at all in this paper. It is the reason why in Plato kn (...)
69I want to end by summarizing what I see as three defining characteristics of Plato’s concept of epistêmê that are in the background of the arguments in Rep. V. First, knowledge is conceived primarily as a type of object-cognition or acquaintance, with Forms as objects. Secondly, this object-cognition is primarily a kind of knowledge-what and as such the foundation for a perfected conceptual understanding which is adequate in virtue of being true to the Forms. Thirdly, this kind of object-cognition connects (in ways that need further investigation) with the ability to assert and rationally defend statements about the Form in question (and ultimately about the whole network of Forms24). In contrast to this, doxa is understood as a developmental stage of conceptual understanding in which a person has nothing but derivative instantiations to rely upon—instantiations of F-itself whose being‑F is context-depended and transient. These derivative instantiations will turn out not to provide a reliable basis if someone in this condition is confronted with the question what it is to be an F. Not being acquainted with that which is ‘true’—viz. the original itself behind the transient images, the one pure and faultless instance of being‑F—clinging instead to examples in the natural or social world which are accepted by the multitude without a sufficient rational foundation, they will not stand up to the dialectical test.
1 Cf. J. M. E. Moravcsik, “Understanding and Knowledge in Plato’s Philosophy”, Neue Hefte für Philosophie 15/16 (1979), 53-69 ; Julia Annas, An Introduction to Plato’s Republic, Oxford 1981 ; Myles Burnyeat, Aristotle on Understanding Knowledge, in E. Berti (ed.), Aristotle on Science. The “Posterior Analytics”, Padua 1981, 97-139.
2 Cf. Rep. 527D-530C, Tim. 47E ff.
3 Cf. Jan Szaif, Platons Begriff der Wahrheit, 2nd ed., Freiburg/München 1998, 163-168, 307-315, on the influence of practical and contemplative ends on Plato’s conception of knowledge.
4 Cf. Myles Burnyeat, Culture and Society in Plato’s Republic, in : The Tanner Lectures on Human Values, vol. 20, ed. by G. B. Peterson, Salt Lake City 1999, 215-324. About the vocabulary of thea, theôria etc. see also A. W. Nightingale, Spectacles of Truth in Classical Greek Philosophy : Theoria in its Cultural Context, Cambridge 2004.
5 There is a tremendous amount of literature on this text. I won’t be able to discuss the conflicting views here in any detail. Important contributions include : R. E. Allen, “The Argument from Opposites in Republic V,” in Review of Metaphysics 15 (1961), 325-335 ; Julia Annas, loc. cit., 190-241 ; Myles Burnyeat, Plato On Why Mathematics is Good for the Soul, in T. Smiley (ed.), Mathematics and Necessity (Proc. Brit. Acad. 103), Oxford 2000, 1-81 ; Nicholas Denyer, Language, Thought and Falsehood in Ancient Greek Philosophy, London 1991, 46-67 ; Gail Fine, Knowledge and Belief in Republic V‑VII, in S. Everson (ed.), Epistemology, Cambridge 1990, 85-115 ; Lloyd Gerson, Knowing Persons. A Study in Plato, New York / Oxford 2003, 148 ff. (yet cp. the critical comments in T. Butler, “Identity and Infallibility in Plato’s Epistemology,” Apeiron 39 (2006) 1-25) ; Francisco Gonzales, “Propositional as Objects ? A Critique of Gail Fine on Knowledge and Belief in Republic V,” Phronesis 41 (1996), 245-275 ; J.C.B. Gosling, “doxa and dunamis in Plato’s Republic,” Phronesis 13 (1968), 119-130 ; Andreas Graeser, “Platons Auffassung von Wissen und Meinung in Politiea V,” Philosophisches Jahrbuch 98 (1991), 365-388 ; B. E. Hestir, “A Conception of Truth in Republic V,” History of Philosophy Quaterly 17 (2000), 311-332 ; Jaakko Hintikka, Knowledge and its Objects in Plato, in J. M. E. Moravcsik (ed.), Patterns in Plato’s Thought, Dordrecht 1973, 1-30 ; Charles Kahn, “Some Philosophical Uses of ‘to be’ in Plato,” Phronesis 26 (1981), 105-134 ; Yvon Lafrance, La théorie platonicienne de la doxa, Montreal/Paris 1981 ; John Palmer, Plato’s Reception of Parmenides, Oxford 1999, 31-87 ; Peter Stemmer, “Das Kinderrätsel vom Eunuchen und der Fledermaus,” Philosophisches Jahrbuch 92 (1985), 79-97 ; Gregory Vlastos, Platonic Studies, 2nd ed., Princeton 1981, 43-57, 58‑75.
6 This was emphasized by Gosling loc. cit., 120 f., and is also a basic premise of Fine’s interpretation (loc. cit., 87).
7 Cf. John Palmer, loc. cit., on Plato’s use of Parmenides in CSA.
8 On the terminology of ‘being’ in Ancient Greek and in Plato in particular cf. Charles Kahn, On the Theory of the Verb ‘To Be’, in M. K. Munitz (ed.), Logic and Ontology, New York 1973, 1-20 ; idem, “A Return to the Theory of the Verb be and the Concept of Being,” Ancient Philosophy 24 (2004), 381-405 ; idem, “Some Philosophical Uses of ‘to be’ in Plato,” Phronesis 26 (1981), 105-134 ; Lesley Brown, The Verb ‘To Be’ in Greek Philosophy: Some Remarks, in S. Everson (ed.), Language, Cambridge 1994 ; Szaif, Platons Begriff der Wahrheit ... [loc. cit.], passim.
9 Cf. John Malcolm, Plato on the Self-Predication of the Forms, Oxford 1991, for a comprehensive survey and analysis of the positions on ‘self-predication’ in Plato.
10 Cf. Annas, loc. cit., 193-211.
11 Already the brief recapitulation in 485AB of the result of CSA shifts to the antithesis between things that always are and things that are subject to coming-into-being and passing-away, which does affect the status of individuative properties.—For a comprehensive discussion of Platonic arguments for the existence of Forms cf. Gail Fine, On Ideas. Aristotle’s Criticism of Plato’s Theory of Forms, Oxford 1993.
12 Cf. Gosling, loc. cit., Fine, Knowledge and Belief ...(loc. cit.).
13 Defenders of the view that the objects which epistêmê and doxa are set over, are propositions refer to 479D4, where the text specifies the objects of doxa as “ta tôn pollôn polla nomima kalou te peri kai tôn allôn” : “the many nomima of the multitude with respect to what is beautiful et cetera”. Fine, for instance, translates “nomima” as “beliefs” (loc. cit., 92). Yet “ nomimon” can also denote that which is an object of belief or acknowledgement. In the present context, the word “nomimon” harks back to what was said about the ‘lovers of sights and sounds’ in the preceding passage DDA : that they “acknowledge (nomizei) many beautiful things”, but not the beautiful itself (476C2-3). So the nomima are the things acknowledged by them. In this case, then, the “peri” after “nomima” does not mean “about” so as to point to an object of reference of a belief (that which the belief is about), but more vaguely indicates the respect : ‘In respect of beauty, they acknowledge nothing else than the many instances of beauty which are and are not beautiful.’
14 For the possibility of a non-propositional construction of doxazein cf. Szaif, Platons Begriff der Wahrheit ...(loc. cit.), 357 f. A general grammatical analysis for the verbs of knowing is provided by John Lyons, Structural Semantics. An Analysis of Part of the Vocabulary of Plato, Oxford 1963.
15 This is the way Cornford and G.M.A Grube (revised by C.D.C. Reeve) translate it.—The ambiguity is not removed by the parallel formulation in 477B10-11. Although the word-order is slightly different, the syntactical structure is the same.
16 Cf. Annas, loc. cit., 193.
17 Cf. Rep. 488C-E, 493A-C, 516E-517A, 517D.
18 On the relation between Plato’s concept of truth and his epistemology cf. Szaif, Platons Begriff ...(loc. cit.), 72-324 (see also idem, Der Wahrheitsbegriff in der klassischen Antike“, in M. Enders, idem (eds.), Der philosophische Wahrheitsbegriff in seiner Geschichte, Berlin/ New York 2006, 1-32.). Two recent interesting attempts at elucidating the role of alêtheia in the simile of the Sun (which is pivotal for our understanding the role of this concept in the Republic) are Franco Ferrari, “La causalità del bene nella Repubblica di Platone,” Elenchos, 22 (2001), 5-37 ; B. E. Hestir, “Plato and the Split Personality of Ontological Alêtheia”, Apeiron 37 (2004), 109-150.
19 Cf. Rep. 485A-487A, 489E-490D, Rep. 535 DE (see also Legg. 730C ff.). On this topic, cf. Jan Szaif, Die Aletheia in Platons Tugendlehre, in M. van Ackeren (ed.), Platon Verstehen. Perspektiven der Forschung, Darmstadt 2004, 183-209.
20 E. g. Rep. 525C5-6, 526B2-3, 527B9, E2-3.
21 Cf. Phd. 84A8, Symp. 212A5, Rep. 519B4, Phdr. 247D4, 248C3-4, 249D5. This usage is also incorporated into the three central similes of the Republic (cf. Rep. 508D4-6, 510A9, 511E, 515C2, D6-7).
22 The association between the term “true” (in its attributive meaning) and the idea of the Form as an ‘original’ (the thing ‘itself’) of which certain other things are mere ‘copies’, is particularly prominent in 510A, 520C, Symp. 212A (see also Rep. 484CD, 533A, Crat. 439AB, Soph. 240A). Phd. 67AB explicitly asserts the conceptual connection between truth and purity (to eilikrines). Cf. the use of “eilikrinôs” in Rep. V, 479D5.
23 Cf. Annas, loc. cit., 192.
24 This is a point that I have not touched upon at all in this paper. It is the reason why in Plato knowledge as conceptual understanding based on acquaintance with the Forms connects with knowledge as systematic understanding. This becomes more transparent in Plato’s later dialogues. (Yet see Jan Szaif, “Platon über Wahrheit und Kohärenz,” Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie 82 (2000), 119-148, on the role of the systematicity of dialectical knowledge in the Republic)Haut de page
Pour citer cet article
Jan Szaif, « Doxa and Epistêmê as Modes of Acquaintance in Republic V », Études platoniciennes, 4 | 2007, 253-272.
Jan Szaif, « Doxa and Epistêmê as Modes of Acquaintance in Republic V », Études platoniciennes [En ligne], 4 | 2007, mis en ligne le 01 septembre 2016, consulté le 30 mars 2017. URL : http://etudesplatoniciennes.revues.org/915 ; DOI : 10.4000/etudesplatoniciennes.915Haut de page
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