Skip navigation
Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item:
Title: Opinion, Knowledge, and Understanding in Plato's Meno and Republic
Authors: Schwab, Whitney
Advisors: Morison, Benjamin CA
Lorenz, Hendrik
Contributors: Philosophy Department
Keywords: Ancient Epistemology
Subjects: Philosophy
Issue Date: 2013
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: In this dissertation I examine the conceptions of opinion (<italic>doxa</italic>}), knowledge (<italic>gnosis</italic>), and understanding (<italic>episteme</italic>) that are presented by the character Socrates in Plato's <italic>Meno</italic> and <italic>Republic</italic>. A central claim I make, and one that sets my interpretation apart from virtually all others on offer, is that there is, in fact, a distinction between knowledge and understanding to be found in those dialogues. I argue that Socrates conceives of knowledge <italic>as such</italic> as the optimal epistemic state a person can be in with respect to any given subject matter, where that can be a particular state of affairs (e.g. Achilles' being brave), a general phenomenon (e.g. global warming), or an entire domain (e.g. geometry). Socrates thinks that such knowledge comes in two types: first, there is understanding, which is the knowledge that can be had specifically of abstract theoretical matters (e.g. mathematics and the realm of Forms), and only of them; then there is knowledge of the perceptible world, which comes, for Socrates, in the form of the expert opinions of philosophers, based on Forms, about how things stand in that world. I argue that once we recognize that Socrates makes this distinction, we can better appreciate the overall merits of his philosophical view and defend it from some long-standing objections. Chapter 1 is an introduction. In Chapter 2 I reconstruct the conception of <italic>episteme</italic> presented in the <italic>Meno</italic>. I argue that <italic>episteme</italic>, as Socrates conceives of it, more closely approximates understanding than knowledge. In Chapter 3 I argue against attributing three views to Socrates in the <italic>Meno</italic> that are often attributed to him in the literature and that threaten the consistency between the <italic>Meno</italic> and <italic>Republic</italic>. In Chapter 4 I argue for two constraints on any satisfactory interpretation of the <italic>Republic</italic>'s epistemology: first, that philosophers must come out as epistemic authorities, relative to non-philosophers, concerning matters in the perceptible world; second, that Socrates rules out understanding of perceptible objects. In Chapter 5 I examine the famous argument at the end of <italic>Republic</italic> 5 that is at the center of the controversies surrounding the <italic>Republic</italic>'s epistemology. I argue that close reading of that argument shows that Socrates distinguishes knowledge from understanding and that, while he does not take a stand there on the question whether there can be understanding of the perceptible world, he gives us the resources to see why he ultimately concludes that there cannot. In Chapter 6 I present my overall interpretation of Socrates' epistemology, arguing that it provides a philosophically interesting and, in many ways, attractive picture.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Philosophy

Files in This Item:
File Description SizeFormat 
Schwab_princeton_0181D_10680.pdf780.94 kBAdobe PDFView/Download

Items in Dataspace are protected by copyright, with all rights reserved, unless otherwise indicated.