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Socratic Creed vs. Plato’s Theory of Knowledge

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    The Synonymy of Truths and Ideas Allyson Hansen Introduction to Philosophy Mark Eleveld 13 March, 2013 Allyson Hansen Mark Eleveld Introduction to Philosophy 13 March, 2013 The Synonymy of Truths and Ideas A modern philosopher studies “the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality and existence” according to the Free Online Dictionary and many Americans. However, if you asked a philosopher to define the word ‘philosopher,’ he or she might say that a philosopher is a lover of wisdom. The word philosophy itself is derived from the Greek word ????????? , or philosophia using the English alphabet.

    The word philosophia translates directly to mean “love of wisdom. ” Philosophers believed and continue to believe that the whole mind must be educated in every aspect. Socrates is one of the most well-known philosophers in the history of the world. His studies were based on passion; he truly did love wisdom. However, philosophy itself existed long before Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Descartes. Philosophers who studied before Socratic philosophy came about studied arche. Arche simply means “stuff. ” The focus of their studies was metaphysics, or the study of the physical world.

    They tried to define reality by studying physical objects such as the Earth and Sun. Socrates, on the other hand, did not concern himself with metaphysics and arche; he studied ethics. Instead of studying the physical world, Socrates strived to find life’s deeper meaning. Socrates’ ideology was different than the rest of the Athenian population. Therefore, the state saw him as a threat. The Sophists, who were the first paid teachers, did not like Socrates or his inadvertent teachings; they taught relativism, or how to win an argument.

    Socrates was a war hero in at least three Athenian wars. Socrates believed in that which is which eternal and unchanging, such as truths, like love, beauty, justice, and virtue, and absolutism. Socrates that there was one hierarchy of values for all human beings, and he opposed relativism. Socrates is a very famous philosopher; however, he never actually wrote anything down or documented his studies in any way. Therefore many others wrote about him. Much of the work of which Socrates is the subject have been fragmented over time (Encyclop? dia Britannica).

    The most complete accounts of Socrates come from Aristophanes, a playwright, Xenophon, a historian, and Plato, a philosopher. Aristophanes wrote Clouds, a play in which Socrates is mocked. Aristophanes used the character of Socrates to “represent certain intellectual trends in contemporary Athens—the study of language and nature and…the amoralism and atheism that accompany these pursuits” (Encyclop? dia Britannica). Xenophon, on the other hand, was one of Socrates’ admirers. He wrote dialogues in which Socrates’ intelligence and personal beliefs were emphasized and portrayed in a positive manner.

    However, it has been suggested that the majority of Xenophon’s writing regarding Socrates was heavily influenced by Plato’s work, and is therefore not considered reliable or original and discredited to an extent (Encyclop? dia Britannica). Like Xenophon, Plato also wrote dialogues. Plato’s depiction of Socrates is most commonly accepted as being the most accurate and original description of Socrates. All (we think) we know about Socrates comes from Plato’s dialogues. Plato began studying philosophy when he followed Socrates around the Athenian agora.

    Plato was an informal student of Socrates; Socrates never taught anyone formally and was never paid by his “students. ” Plato even opened his own school, the Academy, to teach philosophy religion, and numbers, among other things. However, no one can be certain that Plato’s accounts of Socrates are truthful. “In none of Plato’s dialogues is Plato himself a conversational partner or even a witness to a conversation” (Encyclop? dia Britannica). Plato’s dialogues are a fictional retelling of potentially factual situations.

    Socrates is merely a character in Plato’s story. In this way, Socrates is comparable to Jesus, and Plato is comparable to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John wrote parables, which are not absolutely known to be factual or fictional, in which they attempt to teach Jesus’ lessons. Like Plato, none of them were actually witnesses to any of the events they wrote about. Plato writes dialogues, instead of parables, in which his character Socrates to teach Socratic philosophy, and to teach some philosophy that wasn’t truly Socratic. Plato uses the literary character of Socrates in many of his writings to present ideas that go well beyond anything that the historical Socrates said or believed. (Encyclop? dia Britannica). He uses Socrates to express his own ideas as well as those of Socrates. Plato, like any other writer, shapes his writing in such a way that his own point is portrayed. One of Plato’s dialogues, The Apology, is the story—not a direct transcript, but Plato’s rendering—of Socrates’ trial by the state, in which Socrates is the only voice.

    His accusers are Meletus, a poet, Anytus, a laborer and a politician, and Lycon, an orator. As aforementioned, Socrates is seen as a threat by the state and has a reputation in Athens as a result of his different ways of thinking and his claiming to be the wisest person in Athens. Two parts of the Socratic creed are revealed even before any accusations can be made against Socrates. The oracle in Delphi had told Socrates that he was the wisest (Redfield par. 20e), and Socrates uses this fact in an attempt to defend his reputation.

    Socrates says he only realized this was the truth when he inquired unto a wise man. Socrates states, “‘I really am wiser than this person. Probably neither of us knows anything really worth knowing, but this one thinks that he knows, although he doesn’t, whereas I, just as I don’t know, don’t think that I do. ’ So it seemed that by just this small amount I was wiser than him, in that what I did not know, I did not think I knew” (Redfield par. 21b) Socrates then continued to ask questions of those who were thought to be wise, and reached the same conclusion.

    He knew what he did not know, and this realization became the first element of the Socratic creed. Also of importance is the phrase “know thyself. ” This phrase was inscribed above the entrance to the oracle at Delphi. Socrates would have related to this inscription; he had been immersed in self-knowledge and concerned with studying human nature his entire life. Therefore, this phrase—know thyself—also became an element of the Socratic creed. After, Socrates examines his reputation, his accusers make three charges against him; all are vocalized by Meletus.

    The first charge is that Socrates and Socrates alone is corrupting the youth (Redfield par. 24d. To this accusation, Socrates responds by accusing Meletus of being a criminal. Socrates says it is a crime to bring someone to trial over false accusations regarding a topic he is not genuinely concerned with (Redfield par. 24c). Socrates then focuses on how Meletus had stated that he was the only person corrupting the youth because he fills their heads with falsities, he teaches them that knowledge is more important than wealth or status.

    Socrates asks Meletus who betters the youth, and he claims that every Athenian aside from Socrates helps the youth. Socrates says this is impossible; he cannot be the only person corrupting the youth. Socrates uses the analogy of a horse trainer to prove Meletus wrong (Redfield par. 25a). He says that only certain people are qualified to educate the youth, like only a horse trainer is qualified to train horses, and therefore, not everyone except Socrates is able to teach the youth. The second accusation made by Meletus is that Socrates worships false Gods (Redfield par. 4b). Socrates feigns confusion as to what exactly he is being accused of and causes Meletus to alter his charge. Meletus’ next charge is that Socrates is an atheist—Socrates does not worship the same Gods of the state because he worships no Gods at all (Redfield par. 26b). Socrates says he should not be found guilty of his charges because his supposed crimes were not intentional. Ignorance is not a crime; ignorance only needs an explanation to be corrected. It would be wrong for the state to punish a person for being ignorant.

    If the court was just, Socrates would simply be informed of his ignorance and set free (Redfield par. 25d). Rather than defending himself, Socrates puts the state on trial. This is what makes Plato’s title for The Apology significant. In The Apology, Socrates never apologizes or expresses any regret for anything, but he does defend his reputation and his studies; the Greek word for defense is apologia (Encyclop? dia Britannica). Plato uses this type of wordplay to represent the opposing goals of the two parties involved in the trial in The Apology, but neither party gets the satisfaction they desire.

    The court does not get an apology from Socrates nor the promise that he will quit practicing his philosophy, and Socrates gets the option to either quit practicing his philosophy or be put to death. Socrates chooses death because of the third element of the Socratic creed: “An unexamined life is no kind of human life” (Redfield par. 37e). Socrates would rather not live at all than live a life in which he cannot continue to study the self. Another important dialogue of Plato’s is The Republic.

    Throughout The Republic Socrates inquires about justice. He asks others how they would define justice. More importantly, however, Plato has Socrates use the allegory of the cave in the beginning of book seven to help compare what it real to what is not. In the cave there are prisoners, who have been bound facing a wall for the entirety of their lives. Behind the prisoners is the entrance to a vast cave as well as a constantly burning fire. The prisoners see disfigured shadows and hear mutilated voices, and they think this is reality.

    They think the shadows they see are the true forms of the things that cast them; they think the contorted sounds they hear is the actual language of the people who are speaking. Plato bases his theory of knowledge off the principal that what one observes with the senses may not always be what is truly there. According to Plato’s theory of knowledge, ideas are real, while the physical world is unreal. The most unreal things are lies, rumors, conjectures, speculation, and opinions. Following those is the physical world. Many believe that things in the physical world are the most real because they are tangible.

    Those people believe in empiricism, or that a person does not and cannot know anything until they have experienced it, and that a person is born into the world with tabula rasa, or a blank slate. Plato would say otherwise. Plato knows that people can be lied to by their senses. For example, some people are blind. They perceive the world only in sound, but the world is not truly that way. The senses are fallible. Slightly more real than the physical world are math forms and logic sequences because they do not rely on the senses.

    Thereafter, things get increasingly real as they move away from the physical world and toward ideas. Plato believes that ideas are innate; he believes in the Perfect Realm of Forms. All souls dwell in the Perfect Realm of Forms when they are not inhabiting a living thing. Souls learn everything in this realm, and when the soul is migrated and returned to earth, a person lives their whole life trying to reclaim the knowledge that their soul knew in the Perfect Realm of Forms. The ideas people have come from this realm. Ideas are things that are eternal and unchanging, like love, beauty, justice, and virtue.

    Ideas are eternal and unchanging; truths are eternal and unchanging. Love, virtue, beauty, and justice are both Socratic truths and Plato’s ideas. According to the ideas of Socrates and Plato, the words “truth” and “idea” are synonymous. Pre-Socratic Philosophers believed in metaphysics, but Socrates believed in exploration of the self and Plato says “reality” and the physical world are actually the least real. Socrates also states in The Apology that he thinks ideals are more important than life (Redfield par. 28b); Plato would agree. The Socratic creed can also support Plato’s theory.

    Socrates knows what he does not know; while most people think they know things based on knowledge attained from the physical world, Socrates does not believe truths are found in the physical world. Therefore he is able to know what he does not know as a result of the reality of ideas. On the other hand, Socrates’ and Plato’s definitions of lies and things that are least real are also synonymous. Socrates considers lies to be things that are not eternal, such as things taught in rhetoric, while Plato considers things such as lies to be the least real.

    However, it makes sense that the Socratic Creed would be comparable to Plato’s theory of knowledge because Socrates is Plato’s character, the Apology is a rendering, not a real dialogue, and Plato was taught informally by Socrates so he should share some of the same beliefs. Sources “Socrates. ” Encyclop? dia Britannica. Encyclop? dia Britannica Online Academic Edition. Encyclop? dia Britannica Inc. , 2013. Web. 28 Feb. 2013 Reeve, C. D. C. Republic. Indianapolis: Hackett, 2004. Print Redfield, James. Apology of Socrates

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