Plato’s Understanding of Knowledge, Philosophy of KnowledgeJune 27, 2021
“What is information?” The question has an important effect in all the schools that Socrates is affiliated with.
Plato also takes the subject of knowledge especially in his dialogue called Theaitetos. The dialogue first begins by examining Aristippos’ sensualist understanding of knowledge. According to Aristippus, sensations constitute our knowledge. So the information; seeing, hearing, smelling. On the other hand, Plato says, if this view were true, that is, if knowledge was nothing more than what perceptions report, then Protagoras, who said “man is the measure of all things”, would be right.
In this case, there could be no objective knowledge, because our perceptions are relative; therefore we would have had unreliable information that the same water was hot in one hand and cold in the other, and that the same wine was sour for one and sweet for the other. For this reason, we could not make a definite judgment based on the information created by perceptions.
In such information, we could not go beyond saying “it seems to me”. Because what looks like that to me may look different to someone else. In addition, according to Plato, not only Protagoras but also Heraclitus will be right in this sensualist interpretation of knowledge. Because, according to Heraclitus, the universe is constantly changing, there is nothing fixed in the universe. Our perceptions have to inform us of a universe that is constantly moving, in which nothing is ordered and continuous, everything disappears and exists. In that case, I cannot make a definite judgment about something that I have acquired through my senses, as “this is this”. However, I can say “this thing is for me and this is how it is right now”. Because this thing can be different for someone else at the same time.
If our knowledge really depended solely on our perceptions, then there would be no objective and continuous knowledge. But according to Plato, real knowledge is only objective knowledge and there is such knowledge. It is sufficient to pay attention only to mathematical objects in order to understand that there is not only relative, subjective and constantly changing information, but also objective information. For example, let’s take the mathematical facts such as “2×2=4” or “the sum of the interior angles of a triangle is equal to two right angles”: These are some information that are valid in general, do not change according to the person and time, and are true for everyone and every moment. These facts are not information about objects that existed and then disappeared.
Objects that are the subject of mathematics are eternal and non-finite objects abstracted from space and time. For example, the numbers 2 and 4 are not objects that exist in any place and time and then disappear, but are eternal and non-finite, and are in a non-eternal and non-finite relationship with each other. But, for example, a triangle that I drew on the sand with a stick are, of course, objects that have existed and will disappear. Likewise, the circle I drew on a piece of paper is like this. However, it is not individual things of this kind that the mathematician studies. He usually speaks of triangle and circle. A circle I am drawing now is not a complete and real circle, but a circle that approximates the real circle to some extent. For this, an assumption put forward by the mathematician can only be approximately valid for this circle of mine. Or, in Plato’s words: The shape we draw is a circle only to the extent that the mathematician agrees with the “idea of circle”.
For this reason, let us listen once more to the other two students of Socrates, Aristippus and Antisthenes: According to Aristippus, knowledge is nothing but perceptions gained through sensations. Likewise, for Antisthenes, we act from perceptions in our knowledge of objects. However, according to him, knowledge is separating objects into their elements, and when an object is separated into its last element, we can no longer talk about information, and we cannot go beyond that. However, according to Plato, real knowledge begins exactly where Antisthenes says it cannot go further in knowledge. An object. Two questions to ask to know “what is this?” is the question. To give an answer to this question means to include this object in a concept. For example, this is a human, like this is a horse. Knowledge, then, is making judgments about the objects in front of us. A certain object in judgment. We put it in a general concept.
According to Plato, knowledge, first of all, means forming general (universal) concepts. Our perceptions show us only individual objects, but with the help of thought versus perception, these individual objects are gathered into a general concept. For example, when we say this is hot, this is cold, this is human, we include the objects that we encounter in these judgments in certain concepts. When we say “this is human”, we put “this” in the concept of “human”. No knowledge is formed without considering such general concepts, every knowledge necessarily means thinking about general concepts. Man has the ability to think more than an animal, the ability to create new concepts. As a result, the first step in knowledge is to form the general concepts. The second step in knowledge is to determine the relationships between the general concepts. It can be (2) a piece of wood (4) a piece of wood, but by combining them we can also make (1) a piece of wood.