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Socrates (469-399 BCE)

Main character in Plato's dialogues (wrote nothing himself) Ideal personality for the Ancient philosopher:
- Wandered around Athens discoursing with anyone - Challenged the most basic beliefs of the whole community

Took upon the role of the gadfly in the Athenian marketplace...

Traditional rationalistic approach to philosophy

Was considered the wisest by the Oracle of Delphi for knowing that he knew nothing

The Unexamined Life is not Worth Living

He was sentenced to death on the grounds of corrupting the youth of Athens and showing impiety to the gods.

Socratic Method and Debate:

Both a literary style and actual form of argumentation Generally a dialectic between two thinkers at a time

One usually leads the other into a contradiction through an analysis through searching for consistency among assumed definitions
There is a tendany for Socrates in Plato's dialogues to disrupt the confidence of an expert in their field by deriving paradoxes in their beliefs, or showing the impossibility of an adequet definition for their practice negative method of hypothesis elimination the best hypothesis are discovered through discovering contradictions amongst prior hypothesis, thus eliminating competing theories (often about essential features of things) A way to discover your (and someone else's) actual opinions and biases

Plato (469-399 BCE)

Student to Socrates and teacher to Aristotle Founded the Academy in Athens in 385 BCE Unique among philosophers for his incredibly systematic interrelationship between his epistemology, ontology, and ethics (there is a vague hierarchy to these areas as well): Epistemology + Ontology Ethics

Five Popular Dialogues:

The Republic

Apology Phaedo Meno (our reading)

Theory of the Forms

The world is composed of imperfect copies of ideal objects which exist independently of any example provided within the sensory world.

Forms are eternal, universal, necessary essences that make possible finite and contigent objects. The highest form to be pursued is the form of the Good it serves to unify the other forms by finding itself in them, and leads us to the good life.

The Allegory of the Cave (THE REPUBLIC, BK VII)

The Divided Line



- Possibly the most important dialogue when it comes to Platonic epistemology in regard specifically to education and whether we can knowingly pursue or be taught virtue. - Entertains several important notions/problems/questions:

1) Can virtue be taught? 2) Is knowledge discovered or remembered? 3) What is the relationship and/or difference between true opinion and knowledge?

CHARACTERS: Socrates Meno Slave Boy Anytus Gorgias (only mentioned)

Gorgias (485-380 BCE)

Most popular sophist along with Protagoras

The Nihilist
- nothing exists
Even if something exists, nothing can be known about it; and Even if something can be known about it, knowledge about it can't be communicated to others. Even if it can be communicated, it cannot be understood.

ironic response to Parmenides

Virtue or Excellence As we saw with Protagoras, Arete can be interpreted by sophists as an excellence in rhetoric and debate (making the weaker argument appear to be stronger). However, this does not follow from a definition of virtue, which is precisely what Socrates/Plato seeks. The challenge posed within the Meno is to discover the whole of virtue, rather than particular virtues (such as justice, temperence, benevelonce, etc.)

Meno's Paradox
A man cannot search for either what he knows or for what he does not know. He cannot search for what he knows for he knows it, there is no need to search nor for what he does not know, for he does not know what to look for.
Basic Premise: Either you know what youre looking for or you dont know what youre looking for.

If knowledge is a state of knowing, and ignorance a state of not knowing, then an ignorant person cannot even begin to learn (know) something that they do not know because they do not know what it is that they are to supposed to learn (know) due to their ignorance of that very thing that they are to know.

Revelation through ignorance a state of puzzlement brought about from running into contradictions with one's beliefs.

Socrates explains that this is an important and productive reaction to being aware of one's natural state of ignorance in this present life.

Plato's Theory of Recollection

The Soul is immortal accordingly there is nothing throughout eternity that it could not have aquired knowledge for
Anamnesis the recollection of knowledge within the world (via some kind of indirect access the forms), which is eternal knowledge but only reveal in short periods of time within our finite lives on earth.

The Slave Boy's Recollective Process

With Socrates' guiding questions, the slave boy does not actually learn anything, since all he does is respond to Socrates' questions and is never directly given any content required for his apparent knowledge of geometry. The slave is shown to

Knowledge vs. True Opinion

Since knowledge is obviously not attainable through the either the senses or capable of being learned (only recollected) within Plato's epistemology, true opinion is suggested as a possible alternative.

Divine Dispensation
If virtue cannot be taught, it appears that the only real alternative to explain it away as a quality that we can intuitively recognize in others (politicians, Mythological heroes, diviners, etc.) is to conceide that it is somehow passed down from the gods onto man. This is certainly consistent with Plato's idea of the forms since the forms are located in a third realm which is compatable with presence of the dieties of the Greek pantheon.
The obvious moral dilemma here (and a possibly aesthetic one if we consider the virtue of the artist) is that virtue, which can amount to something roughly the same as knowledge for the humans present on earth, become more or less deterministic. That is to say, we are endowed with virtue by entities outside of our control. One cannot, therefore, exercize their (supposed) free will in order to attain virtue... this is obviously a problem if we consider as a part of virtue that of the practice of the will.

Flow Chart of Ideas in the Meno:

Looking back...
The safest general characterization of the European
philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.

- Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality

Why is Plato just as interesting to most scholars today as his writings have been constantly throughout history? What is the secret to this lasting appeal?