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DOI 10.1007/s11245-012-9148-5

Knowledge as True Belief Plus Individuation in Plato

Theodore Scaltsas

 Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2012

Abstract In Republic V, Plato distinguishes two different

cognitive powers, knowledge and belief, which operate
differently on different types of object. I argue that in
Republic VI Plato modifies this account, and claims that
there is a single cognitive power, which under different circumstances behaves either as knowledge or as belief. I show
that the circumstances which turn true belief into knowledge
are the provision of an individuation account of the object of
belief, which reveals the ontological status and the nature of
the object. Plato explores many alternative candidates of
individuation accounts of objects of true belief, which he
discards. I conclude with a Platonic sketch of a teleological
account of individuation which would satisfy his requirements of turning true belief into knowledge.
Keywords Plato  Epistemology  Knowledge 

In Republic V, Plato claims that knowledge is not a type of

belief. He says that the power of knowledge is a different
type of power from that of belief, with different objects of
cognition, and thus knowledge states cannot be analysed in
terms of belief states. His position parallels Williamsons
position of knowledge first, according to which Knowledge cannot be given an analysis as a combination of
belief, truth, and other factors.1 Platos argument has
attracted great attention in the exegetical literature, because
of its epistemological and metaphysical significance and
the fact that it lends itself to alternative interpretations,
T. Scaltsas (&)
Department of Philosophy, The University of Edinburgh, Dugald
Stewart Building; 3 Charles Street, Edinburgh EH8 9AD, UK

which explore alternative readings of is/being (esti,

In this paper I follow a different approach to the exegesis of the argument than the type of approach encountered in the literature, concentrating on how the nature and
function of the cognitive powers themselves figures in
Platos epistemology. The challenge presented is to
understand how a conception of the power of knowledge as
incompatible with the power of belief can be part of Platos
system, where, in different works of his, knowledge is
studied as a type of belief, i.e. as true belief with an
account. My ultimate goal is to show how Platos Republic
V conception of knowledge as incompatible with belief
develops into a conception of knowledge as a type of
For Plato, the knowledge of Republic V is a power that
is distinct from the power of belief and functions differently from the power of belief, not only with respect to
fallibility, but also with respect to the kind of cognitive
grasp it has of objects. Yet, I argue that Plato manages to
render his conception of the power of knowledge compatible with the conception of knowledge as a type of true
belief. He does this by reconceiving the Republic V powers
of knowledge and of belief as a single power in Republic
VI, which functions differently under different conditions,
as if it was two different powers. I further show that Platos
conception of knowledge is a constitutional conception,
which is concerned with the individuation of its objects
with their ontological status, and their nature. Coupling
these two results I show that the common cognitive power
of Republic VI can function as knowledge, rather than as
belief, through the provision of individuation accounts for
the objects of true belief. Thus, Platos conception of

Williamson (2000: 21; see also 45).


T. Scaltsas

knowledge is shown to be that of true belief with an

individuation account of its object.

1 Socratic Epistemic Legacy

The early Platonic dialogues show Socrates as being in
search of definitions, primarily in the moral domain. Much
has been written about Socratic definitions and in particular
about his attempts at defining moral concepts and his disavowals of knowledge. I will not here engage in an account
of the literature on this2 but only state my position, that I
agree with S. Marc Cohen regarding Socratic definitions
being about entities, not about words: Socratic definitions
are not of words, but of things. Socrates does not want to
know what the word justice means, but what the nature of
justice itself is. X = df ABC iff (1) all instances of X are
instances of ABC, and all instances of ABC are instances of
X, and (2) all instances of X are instances of X because they
have characteristics ABC.3 Whether or not we assume that
Socrates thought that he did possess examples of successful
definitions, what follows from the realisation that he is
seeking to define entities (in this case, abstract moral ones)
shows that his definitions would give him knowledge of the
constitution of these entities, of what these entities are, and
what makes them such.
The question of Socrates disavowal of knowledge has
been important since antiquity because of the role that
Socrates has played in the history of scepticism, which is
thought to have begun with Xenophanes, and flourished
especially during the Hellenistic era.4 Vlastos has proposed
a position that aims to pay justice to both sets of texts in
Platos works, those that show Socrates to be saying that he
has no knowledge and those that show him to be making a
claim to knowledge:
To resolve the paradox we need only suppose that he
is making a dual use of his words for knowing. When
declaring that he knows absolutely nothing he is
referring to that very strong sense in which philosophers had used them before and would go on using
them long after where one says one knows only
when one is claiming certainty. This would leave him
free to admit that that he does have moral knowledge
in a radically weaker sense the one required by his
own maverick method of philosophical inquiry, the

One can pursue this topic in Nehamas (1975), Vlastos (1981a),

Benson (1990), Rudebush (2009).
Cohen (2004).
For Socrates disavowal of knowledge see Gulley (1968), Vlastos
(1971), Vlastos (1985).
Vlastos (1985), p. 12.


My position is that even if Socrates is disavowing

knowledge, a question that has been one of the centrepieces
of epistemological enquiry in the history of philosophy, he
is still countenancing knowledge to be of the constitution
of the definiendum. In this sense, his understanding of
knowledge remains in the mainstream of ancient Greek

2 Platos Power Epistemology in Republic V

I will concentrate on the theory of knowledge and belief
that Plato puts forward in Republic V, because I see this
theory as the key to understanding the other discussions of
knowledge in Plato. My thesis is that Plato develops a
constitutional account of knowledge, which he does not
abandon in his later works. By a constitutional account
of knowledge I mean that knowing requires a full account
of the constitution of the object of knowledge. The constitutional account is such as to provide the individuation of
the object of knowledge, which enables the knower to
reidentify the object in any of its occurrences.6 Variations
of the constitutional account of knowledge are encountered
in several Platonic dialogues, differing in the way we can
acquire such knowledge, or in the type of information
needed to fulfil these requirements for knowledge.
The Republic V account is significant also because it is
one of the existential arguments for the Platonic Forms,
through which Plato offers his reasons for claiming that
there are such entities as the Forms. It is further important
because it gives us an insight as to what he, and possibly
more broadly at his time, meant by doxa, which is
usually translated as belief.
Plato introduces his discussion of the difference between
knowledge and belief in Republic V by offering the individuation criteria for a power, which is a first in the history
of philosophy. This is important methodologically because
it shows, at this early stage of the development of philosophical method, Platos sensitivity to the introduction of a
new type of entity into the ontology, by requiring the
specification of the criteria by which such entities can be
individuated. Plato says:
A power has neither color nor shape nor any feature
of the sort that many other things have and that I use
to distinguish those things from one another. In the
case of a power, I use only what it is set over and

When a person at the time of learning writes the name of

Theaetetus, and thinks that he ought to write and does write Th and e;
but, again, meaning to write the name of Theodorus, thinks that he
ought to write and does write T and ecan we suppose that he knows
the first syllables of your two names?
We have already admitted that such a one has not yet attained
knowledge. (Theaetetus 208a).

True Belief plus Individuation

what it does, and by reference to these I call each the

power it is: What is set over the same things and does
the same I call the same power; what is set over
something different and does something different I
call a different one. (477c6-d5)
Is the criterion complete? Are these conditions both
necessary and sufficient for the individuation of a power?
Can there be powers that operate in the same way, but
apply to different objects? Does Plato think this is not
possibledoes he think that if they have the same
operation they must have the same objects? What of
hearing? Dogs hear wavelengths humans do not, although
they also hear the sounds we do. Even if Plato could not
know this, he would have known that dogs have a very
sensitive sense of smell, and can smell what humans can,
but also what humans cannot smell. Would Plato have
considered that their power of smell shares the same
function as the human power of smell, or did he rather
think that the fact that the dogs sense of smell can access
sense objects which our power of smell cannot detect
indicates that it functions in an altogether different way
than ours does? I shall argue in the present paper that,
whereas in Republic V Plato does not allow for the
sameness of powers with different extensions, his corresponding position of Republic VI is different and more
complex, which will play a crucial role in revealing Platos
core conception of knowledge. For the argument of
Republic V we shall assume that Plato would hold that a
dog has a different sense of smell than humans do since
dogs can smell some odours humans cannot. He would in
fact hold that all the odours that dogs smell are different
sense objects than the odours that humans smell, because
their respective powers of smell are different.
On Platos power criterion of Republic V then we do not
smell the same odours as dogs do, since our powers of
smell are different. There is something unsatisfactory about
this position. When dogs and we respond to the smell of the
roast in the oven, there is an overwhelming inclination to
think that we are smelling the same odour and that our
powers are the same, even if not identical in their specifications. What then is unsatisfactory in Platos individuation criterion for powers? To appreciate the problem and
diagnose its solution we need to import some metaphysical
tools that were not explicitly introduced into philosophy
until Aristotle did so in his Categories.
Using an Aristotelian classification system, one would
distinguish between a genus of powers (of smelling) and
the species (human smelling, canine smelling). A genus is
determinable; its different species determine the genus
characteristics in alternative wayse.g. if dog is a genus
then Dalmatian and Terrier forms are alternative species.
Hence we would expect that the power of smelling of dogs

of different species, or of dogs and humans, are generically the same but specifically different. Furthermore, the
question whether humans smell the same odours as dogs
poses an additional component of difficulty for the individuation of their respective powers of smell: we would
have to give the individuation criteria of odours as powerproperties of objects. That is, the objects of the powers of
smell are powers, odours, and hence whatever individuation criterion we settle on for a power it would have to
also be the same criterion as the individuation criterion of
the powers objects. The latter application of the criterion
on the powers objects should not result in undermining
the individuation of the original power. Thus the question
of the sameness or difference of the powers of smell of
humans and dogs as judged by the Platonic individuation
criterion for powers would require the further supplementation of Platos criterion with individuation criteria
for generic properties, and a very careful examination of
how the resulting criterion for a power affects the individuation of that powers objects (which may be themselves powers) without unravelling the individuation
criterion. This will not be undertaken in the present
On the basis of his individuation criterion for powers,
Plato distinguishes between two epistemological powers:
knowledge and beliefgnosis or episteme, and doxa. By
doxa Plato does not mean what we mean by belief. By
belief we understand a mental state of conviction. This
is not what Plato thought doxa signified in the present
context. As we just saw, knowledge and belief for Plato are
mental faculties or powers, which are to be distinguished
according to their respective objects, and by what it is that
they do in cognitively accessing these objects. What
knowledge does is to access reality for us, clearly and
infallibly; what belief does is to represent reality dimly,
fallibly. The infallibility of the former and the fallibility of
the latter is introduced by Plato as a sharp and definitive
operational difference between the two powers:
what about opinion, is it a power or some other kind
of thing?
Its a power as well, for it is what enables us to opine.
A moment ago you agreed that knowledge and
opinion arent the same.
How could a person with any understanding think
that a fallible power is the same as an infallible one?
Right. Then we agree that opinion is clearly different
from knowledge. (Rep. 477e)
In order to avoid misunderstandings by the use of belief,
I will use opinion as a translation of doxa. We will
examine in more detail what opinion is for Plato in what


T. Scaltsas

3 The Objects of Knowledge and Opinion

Platos overall argument structure in distinguishing
knowledge from opinion (Rep. V, 475479) is the following. There is a mental state such as knowledge (antisceptical position), and it is about what is. Ignorance is
about what is not, and opinion is about what is and what is
not. Knowledge represents reality infallibly; ignorance
falsely; and opinion represents reality fallibly. Plato does
not talk much about ignorance (agnosia) and there is little
reason to assume that he considers it a faculty of the mind.
It figures briefly in the argument, primarily to set up the
context between what is and what is not, in order to place
opinions objects in between them.
Although I spoke of knowledge as representing reality,
Platos language is more that of perceptual acquaintance.
He says about philosophers, who alone possess knowledge:
who are the true philosophers? Those who love the sight
of truth.7 (475e) We will have more to say about this,
especially in relation to opinion which involves falsehood.
Since the individuation criterion of powers requires a
specification of the operation and the objects of a power,
having established the difference in the operation of
knowledge and opinion, Plato proceeds to compare their
respective objects. About the objects of knowledge and
ignorance, Plato says: Then we have an adequate grasp of
this: No matter how many ways we examine it, what is
completely is completely knowable, and what is in no way
is in every way unknowable? (477a) That which completely is are the Platonic Forms. Plato introduces them
with the usual designation of an F in itself, and distinguishes them from F things (476b-c).
Furthermore, Plato is concerned to establish the
numerical oneness of each Form:
since beauty is the opposite of ugliness, they are two.
[...] And inasmuch as they are two, each of them is
one. [...] And of just and unjust, good and evil, and of
every Form [eidos], the same remark holds: taken
singly, each of them is one; but from the various
combinations of them with actions and things and
with one another, they are seen in all sorts of lights
and appear many?. (476a)
Plato is saying that it is each Form that appears many when
encountered in the things it characterises, whether in
objects, or in actions, or even in other Forms that partake of
them. Such a position pertains to the nature of participation, which is taken up in the Parmenides. I will not

See also, e.g. The soul, then, as being immortal, and having been
born again many times, and having seen all things that exist, whether
in this world or in the world below, has knowledge of them all.
(Meno, 81d).


attempt an explanation of what the combination of a

Form with its instances entails about the nature of
participation. Yet it may be thought that it raises difficulties
for Plato in the present context. The mode of participation
in the Forms will not play a role in the differentiation.
The numerical oneness of each Form by contrast to the
multitude of its instances is at the heart of the One Over
Many explanatory role of the Forms in Platos account of
similarity. This theme is not of concern in the present
argument. But why is it that Plato goes out of his way to
introduce and establish through an argumentative-seeming
way the numerical uniqueness of each Form? On the one
hand, his reason is that since Forms are posited in his
metaphysics for their One Over Many explanatory role, it is
essential to establish that there is a single Form per character of thing, or per general term of language, as an
identifying feature of the Forms. But more to the point in
the current context, the uniqueness of each Form is contrasted to the multitude of their instances as preparatory
evidence that the objects of knowledge are different from
the objects of opinion. It is not that each Form is one while
each instance is many; rather, there is a uniqueness about
each Form F, which is lacking in any the Forms instances.
The nature of the uniqueness of each Form depends on the
way we read the verb is in Platos argument.
The expressions Plato uses to characterise the status of
the objects of knowledge are: on (being), or eilikrinos
on (what purely is), or pantel os on (what is completely). By contrast, for the objects of ignorance he uses
expressions such as me on (something that is not), or
medame on (what is in no way). By themselves, these
expressions can have alternative interpretations: existentially; predicatively; or veridically. Existentially they
would be treated as complete expressions, and as implying
a type of doctrine of degrees of existence, where Forms
occupy the highest level of being. Predicatively, they
would be read as incomplete expressions, missing the
general terms that complete the characterisation. Veridically they will be read as incomplete sentences. (There is
more discussion of these readings in what follows.) Finally,
the objects of opinion are described as follows:
of all the many beautiful things, is there one that
will not also appear ugly? Or is there one of those just
things that will not also appear unjust? Or one of
those pious things that will not also appear impious?
There isnt one, for it is necessary that they appear to
be beautiful in a way and also to be ugly in a way,
and the same with the other things you asked about.
What about the many doubles? Do they appear any
the less halves than doubles? Not one. So, with the
many bigs and smalls and lights and heavies, is any
one of them, any more the thing someone says it is

True Belief plus Individuation

than its opposite? No, each of them always participates in both opposites. (479a-b)
The challenge has always been to find an interpretation of
is (esti, on) that fits the notions of being completely or
not being in any way, which, at the same time, fits the
notion of something being F and being non-F. The three
interpretations that have been given to the verb to be in
the literature (introduced above) offer alternative readings
of the arguments Plato develops about the objects of
knowledge, opinion and ignorance in the present passage.
The first is the existential interpretation which explains the
objects of knowledge as objects which fully or completely
exist; it further describes the objects of belief as existing in
a less full sense, somehow to a lesser degree; and the
objects of ignorance as not existing at all in any way.8 This
interpretation has been the basis of the tradition of the
attribution to Plato of degrees of reality.9 Of course it is
problematic to understand the sense of a lesser degree of
existence. But this would not count against attributing the
positions to Plato. Yet, I believe there is further motivation
to try to find alternative interpretations of what Plato meant
in his argument, resulting from difficulties that would have
been apparent to Plato. Specifically, the existential interpretation does not fit the explanation of the objects of
opinion. As we shall see, objects of opinion are characterised by Forms and their opposites, e.g. something is
beautiful and ugly. Interpreting this position by the
existential reading, we cannot derive that a beautiful object
exists less than the Form of Beauty because it partakes of
ugliness; this makes the object less beautiful, but not
existentially lacking. Similar problems apply for the
existential interpretation of the objects of the power of
The description quoted just above of the objects of
opinion has invited a predicative interpretation of is
(esti, on). The objects of knowledge are those that are F in
every sense of F, e.g. the Form of Beauty is fully
beautiful, in every way of being beautiful; while the objects
of opinion are F but also non-F at the same time.10
Although this interpretation helps us understand the
objects of knowledge and opinion, it is more problematic
for the objects of ignorance, since being completely non-F,
which is an object of ignorance on this interpretation, is
nevertheless as knowable as being F; being large is as
knowable as being small, and being honest is as knowable
as being dishonest.

For the existential reading of the knowledge arguments see, for

example, Cross and Woozley (1964); Hintikka (1973); Stokes (1992).
Cross and Woozley (1964), Ch. 79.
Allen (1960), Vlastos (1965), Gosling (1968), Annas (1981),
Smith (2000), Sedley (2007), and Gonzalez (1996) combining the
existential and the predicative interpretations.

Finally, there is the veridical interpretation, which

understands is (esti, on) as is true. It says that the
objects of knowledge are completely true; the objects of
opinion are true and not-true; while the objects of ignorance are completely false.11 On Gail Fines version of the
veridical interpretation, what is known is completely true,
while what we believe can be true or false. This means that
the objects of knowledge can overlap with the objects of
belief true propositionswhich Fine exploits to argue
that Plato did not hold a Two World view of reality,
namely the world of the objects of knowledge and the
world of the objects of belief. Gonzales (1996) has argued
against Fines reading of Republic V. In the veridical
interpretation the objects of the cognitive powers are
propositions, as opposed to objects, which they are in the
existential interpretation, and can be in the predicative one.
On my understanding, Platos argument requires that we
take different passages to have different readings, or at
least some passages read most naturally under one of the
three readings of is (esti, on). But we cannot use the
same reading throughout the whole argument. Yet, I will
not engage here in a detailed reading of the text so as to
exhibit how different parts of it read under alternative
exegeses, as this has already been done exhaustively in the
secondary literature on Republic V.12
What I wish to centre on regarding the knowledgeopinion argument of Republic V is that it tells us that the
power or faculty of knowledge is different from the power
or faculty of opinion. It follows from Platos criterion for
powers that what is known cannot be opined and vice
versa. It is instructive to note the example Plato uses to
explain what he means by different powers in the present
context; he asks us to consider sight and hearing (477c).
What is important about them is that their objects are
totally non-overlappingcolours and soundsand different in kind, as is what each of these powers does from what
the other one doesseeing and hearing.
It follows from this distinction between knowledge and
opinion that knowledge cannot be analysed or defined in
terms of opinion, as a special kind of opinion, in Republic
V, any more than e.g. sight can be defined as a special kind
of hearing. If we were to think along these lines, its significance would be that we would be attributing to Plato a
stance which would contravene what philosophers have
thought for millennia about knowledge and belief, namely,
that knowledge is a kind of belief, specifically, justified
true belief. In fact, the origin of this conception of
knowledge is generally thought to be Plato himself, in such

Gail Fine (1978, 1990). A critical discussion of the veridical

interpretation is further offered by Job van Eck (2005).
A comprehensive survey of the interpretative scene of Plato
theory of knowledge and belief in Republic V is given by de Harven.


T. Scaltsas

passages as in the Meno or the Theaetetus where he seems

to be defining knowledge as a kind of true belief, e.g. true
belief with an account. In the Meno Plato says: [true
opinions] are not worth much until one ties them down by
(giving) and account of the reason why (98a); in the
Theaetetus he investigates whether knowledge is true
judgement with account, but that true judgement without
an account falls outside of knowledge (201c-d).
This type of conception of knowledge as true belief with
an account has been challenged only in our time by Gettiers famous counterexample (Gettier 1963), which
showed that justified true belief is not sufficient for
knowledge. Many attempts have been made to rectify this,
primarily by adding a fourth condition to the justified true
belief requirement for knowledge without success; there is
no satisfactory addition found which can block Gettier type
of cases passing the knowledge test.
In response to the many unsuccessful attempts at fortifying the justified true belief analysis of knowledge
against the Gettier counterexample in the past 40 years,
Timothy Williamson proposed an alternative conception of
knowledge as a primitive mental state, not reducible to a
kind of belief.
knowledge, and only knowledge, constitutes evidence. This paper defends that principle; it equates
Ss evidence with Ss knowledge, for every individual or community S in any possible situation Call
this equation E = K.13
On Williamsons knowledge first analysis, although
knowledge is not a type of belief, nevertheless knowledge
entails belief,14 while:
belief aims at knowledge (not just truth). To know
is not merely to believe while various other conditions are met; it is to be in a new kind of state, a
factive one.15
What is most relevant for our present concerns is that for
Williamson, knowledge is not a kind of belief. Knowledge
is not analysable into belief plus conditions that select out
those beliefs the ones which enjoy the status of knowledge.
Rather, opinion is a different type of mental state
altogether, primitively so. It is the non-analysability of
knowledge into belief plus conditions that I wanted to
bring out as a common feature between Platos and
Williamsons theories of knowledge; but I would like to
also emphasise the difference of their accounts: the Plato of


Williamson (1997), p. 717.

Williamson (2000), 4148.
Williamson (2000), 47.


Republic V did not think that knowledge entails belief. In

subsequent treatments of knowledge and belief their
relation becomes closer in so far as the conditions that
need to be satisfied if belief is to become knowledge are
such that they somehow transform belief into knowledge.
According to Republic V, knowledge is not reducible to
a type of opinion any more than sight is reducible to a type
of hearing. Rather, knowledge and opinion are two different mental powers or faculties. But as opposed to sight
and hearing, the difference of opinion and knowledge, as
we shall see, will allow Plato to speak of opinion transforming into knowledge, which cannot happen with sight
and hearing. To see how knowledge is related to opinion
according to Plato, we shall turn to the description Plato
gives of the state of opinion in Republic V.

4 Problems with Opinion in Republic V

Plato distinguishes between the lovers of sights, who do not
possess knowledge but only opinion, and the philosophers,
who possess knowledge:
And this is the distinction which I draw between the
sight-loving, art-loving practical people, and those
who are alone worthy of the name of philosophers.
The lovers of sounds and sights like beautiful tones
and colours and forms and all the artificial products
that are made out of them, but their thought is incapable of seeing or loving the nature of the beautiful
itself. (476a-b)
It is important to understand the exact nature of the failings
of the lovers of sights which Plato identifies. On the one
hand, they fail to like the beautiful itself and only like the
instances of beauty in colours and sounds and items generated from these. But more importantly, they fail to grasp
the conception of beauty itself. This I take to be the fundamental failing of the lovers of sights, which points to the
core difference between opinion and knowledge. As we
will see below their cognitive state involves misidentification and confusion, which marks a qualitative difference
in the content of the cognitive states of knowledge and
opinion. It is not only that knowledge is factive, for Plato,
while belief can be true or false; it is further that even at
best, belief lacks the type of contact with reality that allows
it to see reality for what it is, and it only carries traces of
truth in its states mixed up with falsehood.
Plato is at pains to explain that the sight lovers, who lack
the faculty of knowledge and have only the faculty of
opinion, cannot be led to knowledge by being presented
with the truths that the knower possesses. Their failing is
more fundamental because the sight lover cannot see
these truths even when shown them:

True Belief plus Individuation

he who, having a sense of beautiful things has no

sense of absolute beauty, or who, if another lead him
to a knowledge of that beauty is unable to follow
Why can the sight lover not follow? What is it that blocks
the lovers of sights from attaining the cognitive state of
knowledge of beauty? To understand this we need to see
how Plato describes the state of opinion, so as to
understand what it is that the lover of sights is missing.
Plato continues:
of such a one I ask, is he awake or in a dream only?
Isnt this dreaming: whether asleep or awake, to think
that a likeness is not a likeness but rather the thing
itself that it is like? (476c)
The state of the person who has opinion and not knowledge
is described as a state of dreaming. Plato explains this state
by saying that opinion sees similarity where there is none.
Furthermore, it sins more deeply by confusing the original
with the copy. This is not only a mistake of identity, but
also a mistake of ontological status, and of the type of
relation of things to one another. They are mistaking a
distinct domain of ontology with another, which shows that
the dreamer, generally, has a different vision of reality than
the non-dreamer. The dreamer cannot tell the difference
between entities in different domains of reality. The
confusion between like, but categorically different entities
generates distortion.
Admittedly, a case could be made that the sight lovers
are far from confused, but rather, they are metaphysical
non-realists, of the particularist variety. They may be
committed to the rejection of any type of transcendental
being, including universals and Platonic Forms, in favour
of a Wittgensteinian account of similarity as a primitive
relation of resemblance between particulars. But what is of
interest to us here is to uncover what the cognitive state of
opinion is, for Plato, rather than verify whether the sight
lovers do suffer by being confined to opinion rather than
knowledge. We shall therefore assume the soundness of
Platonic ontology and judge the state of the sight lovers in
relation to it.
To understand the profound state of the sight lovers
confusion, we can compare their erroneous cognitive state
to that of a case of mistaken identity of the type described
in the Theaetetus. There, the perceiver takes Socrates, who
is seen at a distance, to be Theaetetus. This is a mistake of
identity of objects of the same type. It does not tell us
anything about the perceivers state of understanding of
reality, other than their mistaken perception. By contrast,
the failing the sight lover displays is a lack of understanding of realitynot a mistake of which object they are
attending to, only, but a mistake in the type of object they

are attending to, which reveals a defici ent grasp of what

there is in the cosmos. The lover of sights is missing out,
according to Plato, not rejecting, a whole domain of reality
with its characteristic ontology, and nevertheless, he thinks
that his limited ontology covers the whole of reality. They
are unable to understand or embrace the nature of
beauty itself:
Their thought is unable to see and embrace the nature
of the beautiful itself. (476b)

5 The Individuation of Entities: Their Type and Nature

The lovers of sights fail in two ways. They cannot grasp the
type of entity a Form is, and further, they cannot grasp the
nature of the Form itself. They fail to grasp the type of
entity the Form of Beauty is when they fail to distinguish
the Form from its instances, i.e. the beautiful things in
nature which participate in the Form of Beauty. They fail to
grasp the nature of the Form of Beauty when they fail to
recognise that the beautiful objects in the world are mere
copies of a single Form of Beauty. The lovers of sights are
missing theoretical understanding akin to mathematical
understanding, rather than to perceptual ability, and
because of this, they are not aware that entities of a certain
type exist; what the role of these entities is in the cosmos;
and the reason why these entities are what they are.
Additionally, because they lack this understanding, they
cannot distinguish such entities from others which are like
them but also fundamentally different entities; nor can they
be shown such entities, because their lack of understanding of reality is such that they cannot comprehend the
need for such entities in the ontology, or their relation to
the things of our experience.
These are not failings of justification of a belief, but of
the individuation of objects the belief is about. In fact the
shortcomings in their understanding works both ways: not
only do the lovers of sights not recognise a whole domain
of entities in the world, the Forms; they also fail to realise
that the instance, e.g. the beautiful things around them are
not the Form itself, but only copies of it. This means that
the belief state is not, strictly speaking, even about the
objects of experience, since the lovers of sights cannot
distinguish between them and their respective Forms.
On the reading I am defending of the epistemo-metaphysical argument of Republic V, I diverge from the
received views in the literature on this topic. These
broadly, either divide sharply the objects of knowledge
from the objects of opinionan ontological division
between Forms and things in the worldor they hold them
to be overlapping classes of objectse.g. true propositions.
What I find Plato is telling us in this passage is that the


T. Scaltsas

philosophers have a grasp of the whole ontology of the

universe, while people such as the lovers of sights make
cognitive contact with some, only, of the ontology of the
universe, and this, through a veil of confusion with
respect to the type, and the nature of these objects.
Platos position is revealed in a passage that is telling us
what the philosopher is capable of, and implicitly reveals
what the limits of even the philosophers cognitive
capacities are, in view of the way things are in the world.
Describing the cognitive state of the lovers of wisdom, by
contrast to the cognitive state of the lovers of sights, Plato
tells us that the lovers of wisdom are able to recognise the
Forms as the perfect paradigms they are, but also the
objects of experience as the copies and instances of these
But someone who, to take the opposite case, believes
in the beautiful itself, can see both it and the things
that participate in it, and doesnt believe that the
participants are it or that it itself is the participants
is he living in a dream or is he awake? (476c-d)
The lover of wisdom, the philosopher, differs from the
lover of sights because they succeed in individuating the
objects of their cognitive states. The philosopher recognises that Forms exist; he recognises that objects in the world
participate in the Forms, which in this context (476c)
means that they are copies of the Forms; and is able to
distinguish between the two classes of things. So the
philosopher recognises the type of entity the Forms are, i.e.
their ontological status; the type of entity the things in the
world are; and the difference between the two types, which
has implications about their respective natures. By contrast,
we saw that the lover of sights does not recognise either
type of entity as such, or the differences between their
respective natures. This I take to be the ground of Platos
distinction between knowledge and opinion:
So wed be right to call his [the lovers of wisdom]
thought knowledge, since he knows, but we should
call the other persons thought opinion, since he
opines. (476c)

6 The Dimness of Opinion, the Indeterminacy

of the Nature of Objects, and the Deficiency
of Language
A tension seems to arise in the argument on my interpretation. On the one hand, the philosophers are presented as
having knowledge of the Forms and their many participantsthe objects of our experiencewhereas the lovers
of sights do not have knowledge of either, but rather have
opinion, namely, a confused conception of just the many.


On the other hand, the objects of the power of knowledge

are claimed to be different from the objects of the power of
opinion, because they are different powers; accordingly,
the objects of knowledge are only the Forms, whereas the
objects of the opinion are only the many objects of experience around us. In short, the tension arises as the powers
are claimed to have different objects,16 while the philosophers are claimed to have knowledge of the Forms, and
their participants, which are also the objects of opinion.
I believe that this tension exists but further, that it is
informative about a metaphysical problem that Plato is
identifying and facing in his account. The problem is that
there are two types of indeterminacy: the indeterminacy of
the nature of the power of opinion, and the indeterminacy
of the nature of opinions objectsof the many.
The way that Plato describes the indeterminacy of the
nature of the power of opinion is through the metaphor of
dreams (see quotes above), and the metaphor of darkness:
Opinion is darker than knowledge but clearer than
ignorance so is intermediate between the two.
Plato further explains the nature of the power of opinion by
the fallibility of opinion (477e). Opinion can be wrong
about its objects, it is not factive. It misrepresents how
things are, opining about objects opinions that may be fully
or partially false. Furthermore, opinion is confused in its
grasp of its objects, and, as we have seen (476c6-7), makes
mistakes about their identity:
to think that a likeness is not a likeness but rather the
thing itself that it is like? (476c)
Thus opinion is described as a cognitive power that grasps
reality multiply deficiently.
But independently of opinion, the many objects are
indeterminate in their nature, as opposed to the objects of
knowledge, the Forms, that have pure, clearly demarcated natures. When Plato is exploring the objects of
opinion he says:
if something could be shown to be and not be at the
same time, it would be intermediate between what
purely is and what in every way is not. (478d)
What purely is are the Forms. To show that the many are
not like the Forms, Plato argues:
Of all the many beautiful things, is there one that will
not also appear ugly? Or is there one of these just
things that will not also appear unjust? Or one of


I read the text, 477d4, 478a12-b5 as claiming them to be different

objects, rather than different classes of objects.

True Belief plus Individuation

these pious things that will not also appear impious?

The conflict of opposites in the many is not to be explained
away as an appearance, which the continuation of his
argument establishes by turning to their metaphysical
There isnt one [that does not appear F and not F], for
it is necessary that they appear to be beautiful in a
way and also to be ugly in a way, and the same with
the other things So, with the many bigs and smalls
and lights and heavies, is there any one of them any
more the thing someone says it is than its opposite?
No, each of them always participates in both
Is any one of the manys what someone says it is, then,
any more than it is not what he says it is?
No, they are like the ambiguities one is entertained
with at dinner parties or like the childrens riddle
one cannot understand them as fixedly being or fixedly not being or as both or as neither. (479a-c)
It is not a question of the objects of opinion appearing thus
and so because of the circumstances, of the perspective or
of the context, but a matter of being so. In fact, each of the
many things participates in both opposites, if it participates
in either of two opposites. The reason why it is necessary
that things always participate in both opposites is what we
have already found out, that things in the world are only
copies of the Forms. Things in the world are imperfectly
what the Forms are, just because they are only copies of the
Forms. Alexander Nehamas has argued that to be a copy
for Plato is the same as to fall short of, or to be imperfect
in comparison to the model. The copies imperfection does
not reside in the properties that make them copies, but in
the way these perfect properties are possessed.17 This is
the character of the nature of the constitution of the many,
rather than the character of the nature of our cognitive
relation to them.
The passage quoted above gives us even further information about the many, but it is also revelatory of the way
that Plato sees the relations between things, language, and
the mind. Language is used to make characterisations of
objects, e.g. a is just, b is beautiful, c is pious. What is the
purpose of such statements if objects always possess both
opposites? On might have through that the solution to this
predicament is simply to always mention both opposites:
a is just and unjust; b is beautiful and ugly; c is pious and
impious, and so on. Would this enable one to make true
statements about the nature of the objects of opinion, the

Nehamas (1975) 109.

I believe not. It may appear that the conjunction of

opposites describes the nature of the many, but a simple
reflection reveals to us, as it must have to Plato as well, that
this is not the case. Let us consider a just person; the
description that would apply to her on this method would
be exactly the same as the description that would apply to
an unjust person: each is just and unjust. The same with all
cases. Furthermore, there is great variation of qualification
between even two just persons. How can one describe the
less just one while still keeping this description different
from the more just one and the unjust person?
Plato expresses total pessimism about the nature of the
many. He goes as far as to say that that:
Is any one of the manys what someone says it is, then,
any more than it is not what he says it is? No, they are
like the ambiguities one is entertained with or like
the childrens riddle about the eunuch for they are
ambiguous, and one cannot understand them as fixedly being or fixedly not being or as both or as neither. (479b-c)
There seems to be Heraclitean radical flux associated with
the nature of the many, if they cannot even be fixedly being
and not being or neither. I will not here examine why Plato
thinks so or what could make object be this way, but only
register the extreme indeterminacy that Plato finds in the
nature of each of the many.
It seems that according to Plato, language is not suited
to describe the many but is perfectly suited to describe the
forms. It will not help to say that a is just, or a is unjust, or
a is just and unjust, or a is neither just not unjust, because
of the indeterminacy and the fluidity in the nature of a with
respect to being just and unjust or any opposite. By contrast
Forms are determinate and unchanging, and so they can be
perfectly described by language: the Form of Justice is just;
the Form of Beauty is beautiful, etc.
There are therefore three reasons why opinion is different from knowledge. First, the power of opinion has an
inadequate cognitive grasp on the ontology of the cosmos
and thus confuses objects between them, or takes the one to
be many or the many to be the one; secondly, the nature of
the many is indeterminate and fluid; and thirdly, the
predicative structure of language and thought is ill-fitted to
grasp and express truths about the indeterminate and fluid
nature of the many. Hence, the content of ones opinions is
muddled; what they opine about is indeterminate in its
nature; and what they can think and say about the object of
opinion is inappropriately expressed by language or
By contrast, the power of knowledge has a clear, accurate grasp of whos who in the ontology of the cosmos;
the objects it comes to know have determinate and
unchanging natures; and our thought and language is


T. Scaltsas

perfectly suited to think about, and describe these objects

of knowledge.
It is because of the three types of problem in the case of
opinion and its objects, rather than because of linguistic
ambiguities of is/being (esti/on), that the argument in
Republic V can be read (in parts of it) in different ways i.e.
existentially, predicatively, and veridically. The three
failings pertain to: which individuals; what they are; how
they are described. At every junction in the argument there
is more than one failing: of cognitive discrimination, of
object constitution, and of conceptual/linguistic description, which is why the argument has so many possible
interpretations. This is also why going down the route of
particular choices of readings of is or being is not
what will lead to an understanding of this argument.
Rather, the three types of deficiency reveal, not only the
difference between opinion and knowledge, but more
broadly a multiplicity of relatively independent problems at
the epistemological, metaphysical, and descriptive
Returning to the tension in my interpretation of the
argument of Republic V that the present section begun
with, I can now present the fuller picture of the predicament, not as a problem of my interpretation, but as a difficulty that Plato is revealing through his argument, which
will shape the final form of his theory of knowledge and
belief in his system.
Why are the many objects in the world of our experience
objects of both knowledge and opinion, when these two
powers are said to have different objects? My claim is that
the conflict subsides when we understand a further feature
of Platos account of knowledge in Republic V, which has
not received attention in the literature, but which I will
argue, plays a formative role in Platos understanding of
Plato is operating with a distinction between the ontological status of an object and the nature of the object. The
ontological status of an object can be that of a Form, or of a
participant in Forms. The nature of an object is the character of the object under consideration, e.g. being beautiful
or just or pious; the nature of an object can be determinate
and unchanging, as in the case of Forms, or in flux (using
this term to capture the indeterminacy and instability that
we found Plato associating with the many objects of
experience). Plato does not say unqualifiedly in Republic V
that the philosophers have knowledge of the many objects
in the world. What he says is that philosophers can discern
the Forms from their participants (476c9-d7). What the
philosophers know is what the ontological status of the
Forms is (476a2-8), and the nature of each Form (479e7-9
with 477a3, 478b3). The two, namely the ontological status
and the nature of an object provide the individuation criteria for these objects. Furthermore, what the philosophers


additionally know is the ontological status of the participants in the Forms (476c9-d7). But it is nowhere claimed
that the philosophers know the nature of the many. They
could not so know it, because the nature of the many is
indeterminate, in flux. So, do the philosophers know the
many or not? Does the power of knowledge have objects
which overlap with the objects of the power of opinion?
The answer is neither yes nor no. The philosophers
know an aspect of the many, but do not know the other
aspects of the many.
The philosophers cognitive contact with the many
enables them to discern any one of the many, even though
they cannot know its nature. It is this minimal cognitive
contact of the philosophers with the many that will be the
basis for the transition to knowledge being true belief
with an account in Platos work, because it gives the
philosophers a foothold into the world of experience and
becoming. My claim is that the epistemological/metaphysical groundwork for understanding what is missing
towards achieving knowledge of the many is carried out in
the Republic V argument. What this argument shows us is
that the philosophers have cognitive access sufficient for
discerning, delineating the many, but do not have an
individuation account of the many, namely, an account that
gives them cognitive access to the nature of the many.

7 The Emerging Theory of Knowledge and Belief

It may be helpful to give an outline of the position on
knowledge and belief I find in Republic V, and how this
position develops in Platos work. In Republic V Plato
explores the thought that knowledge and opinion are two
different cognitive powers which are as different between
them as e.g. sight and hearing; their operation is different
and their objects are different. Knowledge, which the
philosophers possess, attends to Forms, while opinion,
which the sight lovers possess, attends to the many objects
of our experience. But already in Republic V Plato realises
that in order to understand what the Forms are the philosophers need to know the difference between the Forms
and their participants; the philosophers must be able to
discern the Forms from the manywhich is a distinction
that the lovers of sights fail to make. So Plato realises, in
the Republic V account of knowledge, that the philosophers
have knowledge of the difference in ontological status
between Forms and participants. The philosophers do not
have knowledge of the many, because the nature of the
many is indeterminate and unstable, making them incompatible with the requirements of pure being for the
proper objects of knowledge (477a1; 478a; d). So the
power of knowledge crosses over, partially, onto the world
of becoming, not by knowing some of the objects of

True Belief plus Individuation

becoming, which it does not, but by having a discerningability between objects of this ontological status in opposition to objects of the ontological status of the Forms.
Duncan Pritchard has recently argued that there are
further principles at play in ruling out misidentifications
which do not rest on discriminating between the objects:
there is a sense in which one can rule out an alternative
where this is not to be construed in terms of a discriminative ability.18 Rather, Pritchard introduces and argues
for the Favouring Principle which provides evidence, other
than through discrimination, for discarding error-possibilities. (2012:76) Plato is doing something parallel but different; he is introducing a discerning-ability which does not
presuppose knowing the object of becoming, but only
being able to tell its difference from the Form that it partakes in.
This partial cognitive contact of a knower with the many
will help facilitate the transition from Platos Republic V
account of knowledge as a different power from belief to
Platos account of knowledge as a type of belief in other
passages in his work. In fact, we can see the bridge being
built only a few pages after the Republic V argument is
when we turn our eyes to things whose colours are no
longer in the light of day but in the gloom of night,
the eyes are dimmed and seem nearly blind as if clear
vision were no longer in them Yet whenever one
turns them on things illuminated by the sun, they see
clearly, and vision appears in those very same eyes?
Well understand the soul in the same way: When it
focuses on something illuminated by truth and what
is, it understands, knows, and apparently possesses
understanding, but when it focuses on what is mixed
with obscurity, on what comes to be and passes away,
it opines and is dimmed, changes its opinions this way
and that, and seems bereft of understanding. (508c-d;
my emphasis)
The bridge between the two Platonic accounts of the
relation between knowledge and belief is the cognitive
power that Plato mentions in this quotation which is the
same for knowledge and opinion; this common power
performs differently under different conditions or on
different types of object; operating in truth (infallibly,
factively) on the unchanging pure being it operates as
knowledge, while operating fallibly on objects with
obscure natures in flux it operates as opinion. Like
vision, this cognitive power performs as different cognitive powers under different circumstances. This is what
allows Plato to now explore knowledge as a type of belief.
If knowledge and belief are the same power, what is

Pritchard (2012) 72.

needed to enable this power to operate as knowledge

rather than as belief is the provision of the right enabling
conditions for clear vision, which can turn even beliefcircumstances into knowledge-circumstances. The right
circumstances for knowledge are provided by supplying
an individuation account for the object of the cognitive
power, which reveals its nature by shining light onto the
obscurity of indeterminacy. Of course, it may turn out
that it is not possible to provide such an individuation
account for the many; it may turn out that the indeterminacy and instability of their natures blocks all attempts
at providing an individuation account for them, in which
case knowledge of them will not become possible. But
Plato explores finding such an individuation account to
supplement true belief and turn it into knowledge.
Generally for Plato knowledge of the many will be
possible to the degree that it is possible to provide an
individuation account of their nature, either on the
grounds of perceiving them (Theaetetus 201b7-8), or in
some other way of cognising them.
In the Theaetetus, Plato is exercised by the endeavour to
find a satisfactory explanation of what an account
(logos) is which will turn true belief into knowledge. The
suggestions he goes through are constitutional accounts,
exploring alternative individuation criteria of the prospective knowledge-objects. He considers an account that offers
an analysis of the object of true belief into its simple
constituents (201e); an account that specifies the composition of the object (202b7); an account that gives the
elements of the object (206e7-207a1); an account that
identifies the differentiating trait of an object (20208c7-8).
Plato is not happy with any of them, but this is not seen as
decisive defeat.

8 Teleological Individuation Account of Objects

In closing I will only mention a further dimension of
individuation relevant to knowledge that is present in
Platos system, although not fully developed by him. It is a
teleological individuation account. This results from a
combination of Platos teleological explanation of the
universe in the Sun Simile, and the role of dialectic in
inquiries into what there is. In the Sun Simile, Plato points
to the Form of the Good as being the ultimate reason why
things are the way they are in the universe, not only individually for each thing but also collectively, why this
universe as opposed to a different one, and why it is that we
can have knowledge of it:
Therefore, you should also say that not only do the
objects of knowledge owe their being known to the
good, but their being is also due to it, although the


T. Scaltsas

good is not being, but superior to it in rank and

power. Rep. 509b
When analysing dialectic as an epistemic process of
discovery, he says:
Whenever someone tries through argument [dialegesthai] and apart from all sense perceptions to find
the being itself of each thing and doesnt give up until
he grasps the good itself with understanding itself, he
reaches the end of the intelligible . (Rep. 532a)
Therefore dialectic is the only inquiry that travels this
road, doing away with hypotheses and proceeding to
the first principle itself, so as to be secure. And when
the eye of the soul is really buried in a sort of barbaric
bog, dialectic gently pulls it out and leads it upwards
using the crafts we described to help it and cooperate
with it in turning the soul around. From force of
habit, weve often called these crafts sciences or
kinds of knowledge, but they need another name,
clearer than opinion, darker than knowledge. .
(Rep. 533d)
Dialectic can attain knowledge by delivering a full
individuation of its object, buttressed by the teleological
explanation that accounts for the objects being and its
place in a universe that is such as our own. This is the
fullest individuation account that could be given for an
object of knowledge, including functional as well as
teleological explanations of the objects nature. This is an
ideal case. But it shows how the cognitive gap from true
belief to knowledge could be bridged for the objects of
experience by the provision of such individuation accounts
of the objects of true belief.

9 Conclusion
The Republic V account of knowledge shows what the
failings of opinion and of the nature of its objects, the
many, are in relation to knowledge and to the paradigmatic
objects of knowledge, the Forms. It further analyses
knowledge of objects into knowledge of their ontological
status, and knowledge of their nature. In Republic VI, Plato
shows that enabling conditions can bridge the cognitive
gap between knowledge and opinion, because ultimately
the cognitive power for knowledge and opinion is one, but
it performs as two different powers under external different
conditions. In the Theaetetus Plato explores various versions of enabling conditions for true belief, namely, various
versions of individuation criteria that would provide the
type of information about the objects of experience that the
philosophers have about the Forms in Republic V: criteria
for their ontological status and for their nature. The fullest


such individuation account would be one that provided the

teleological information regarding each object. Thus ultimately for Plato knowledge is true belief with a teleological individuation account of its object.

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