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Plato`s Theory Of Knowledge Essay, Research Paper
Plato’s Theory of Knowledge is very interesting. He expresses this theory with
three approaches: his allegory of The Cave, his metaphor of the Divided Line and
his doctrine The Forms. Each theory is interconnected; one could not be without
the other. Here we will explore how one relates to the other. In The Cave, Plato
describes a vision of shackled prisoners seated in a dark cave facing the wall.
Chained also by their necks, the prisoners can only look forward and see only
shadows, These shadows are produced by men, with shapes of objects or men,
walking in front of a fire behind the prisoners. Plato states that for the
prisoners, reality is only the mere shadows thrown onto the wall. Another vision
is releasing a prisoner from his chains, how his movements are difficult, his
eye adjustment painful and suggestions of the effects of returning to the cave.
The Cave suggests to us that Plato saw most of humanity living in "the
cave", in the dark, and that the vision of knowledge and the
"conversion" to that knowledge was salvation from darkness. He put it
this way, "the conversion of the soul is not to put the power of sight in
the soul’s eye, which already has it, but to insure that, insisted of looking in
the wrong direction it is turned the way it ought to be." Plato’s two
worlds: the dark, the cave, and the bright were his way of rejecting the
Sophists, who found "true knowledge" impossible because of constant
change. Plato believed there was a " true Idea of Justice". The Cave
showed us this quite dramatically. The Divided Line visualizes the levels of
knowledge in a more systematic way. Plato states there are four stages of
knowledge development: Imagining, Belief, Thinking, and Perfect Intelligence.
Imagining is at the lowest level of this developmental ladder. Imagining, here
in Plato’s world, is not taken at its conventional level but of appearances seen
as "true reality". Plato considered shadows, art and poetry,
especially rhetoric, deceptive illusions, what you see is not necessarily what
you get. With poetry and rhetoric you may be able to read the words but you may
not understand the "real" meaning. For example, take, again, the
shadow. If you know a shadow is something "real" then you are beyond
the state of imagination which implies that a person is "unaware of
observation and amounts to illusion and ignorance". Belief is the next
stage of developing knowledge. Plato goes with the idea that seeing really is
not always believing we have a strong conviction for what we see but not with
absolute certainty. This stage is more advanced than imagining because it’s
based more firmly on reality. But just because we can actually see the object
and not just it’s shadow doesn’t mean we know all there is to know about the
object. In the next stage, Thinking, we leave the "visible world" and
move into the "intelligible world" which, Plato claims, is seen mostly
in scientists. It stands for the power of the mind to take properties from a
visible object and applying them. Thinking is the "visible" object but
also the hypotheses, "A truth which is taken as self-evident but which
depends upon some higher truth". Plato wants us to see all things as they
really are so we can see that all is inter-connected. But thinking still doesn’t
give us all the information we crave and we still ask "why?" For Plato
the last stage of developing knowledge, Perfect Intelligence, represents
"the mind as it completely releases from sensible objects" and is
directly related to his doctrine of Forms. In this stage, hypotheses is no
longer present because of its limitations. Plato summarized the Divided Line
with "now you may take, a corresponding to the four sections, these four
states of mind, intelligence for the highest, thinking for the second, belief
for the third and for the last imagining. These you may arrange in terms as the
terms in a proportion, assigning to each a degree of clearness and certainty
corresponding to the measure in which their object pose a reality". When
discussing the Divided Line, The Forms are the highest levels of
"reality". Plato concludes here that the "real world" is not
what we see but what we understand or feel in a "intelligible world"
because it is made up of eternal Forms. The Forms take on the explanation of
existence. They are "changeless, eternal, and nonmaterial essences or
patterns of which the actual visible objects we see are only poor copies".
Plato uses a person discovering the quality of beauty to explain this, "he
will abate his violent love of the one, which he will?deem a small thing and
will become a lover of all beautiful forms; in the next stage he will consider
that there beauty of the mind is more honorable that there beauty of outward
form. Drawing towards and contemplating the vast see of beauty, he will create
many fair and noble thoughts and notions in boundless love of wisdom; until on
that shore he grows and waxes strong, and at last the vision is revealed to him
of a single science, which is the science of beauty everywhere". There are
many Forms but not everything has a Form, if this were so then there would be a
parallel world. Forms are not something we can touch but something we hold in
our minds, Plato described them as "real existence, colorless, formless,
and intangible, visible only to the intelligence". Forms do not exist per
se; they just are but can’t be touched. Plato said, "the Forms are the
cause of the essence of all other things, and the One is the cause of the
Forms". Therefor they cannot simply exist. Plato said Forms are related to
things in three ways: cause, participation and imitation. But in relation to
Forms and it-self Plato stated, "we can have discourse only through the
weaving together of Forms". Plato doesn’t mean to say that all Forms are
related to each other only that significant things use some Forms and that just
knowing that includes understanding the relationship between Forms. Plato says
there are three ways to discover Forms: recollection, dialectic and desire.
Recollection is when our souls remember the Forms from prior existence.
Dialectic is when people discuss and explore the Forms together. And third is
the desire for knowledge. Plato’s Theory of Knowledge leads us down many roads
but we see the same theme through out: light to dark; ignorant to educated;
reality to really real. In The Cave we move from the dark of the cave to the
light of outdoors, we even see a glimps of how knowledge can effect us. The
Divine Line took us from the ignorance of Imagining to the educated Perfect
Intelligence. The Forms showed us that even though we can see something does not
mean we can see all of it and just because we cannot see something does not mean
it does not exist. All three link knowledge as the key to all, if you have
knowledge there is nothing you cannot have.
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