The Philosophy of Plato: Theory of Knowledge

Theory of Knowedge

Classic Philosophers: The Great Thinkers of the Western World


by Jonathan Dolhenty, Ph.D.

III. The Philosophy of Plato: Theory of Knowledge

Plato distinguishes four degrees of knowledge:

  1. Apprehension of pure sense images, such as dreams and imaginations;
  2. Perceptive knowledge of sensible objects, the purpose of which is to form a particular judgment, such as “This rose is red;…this light is beautiful”;
  3. Mathematical knowledge — for instance, the apprehension of the particular shape of the perceived rose (Plato observes that mathematical apprehension can be held also independently of any object — circularity can be apprehended in itself, independently of a circular object);
  4. Philosophical knowledge, which consists in the apprehension of the Ideas, as absolute, unconditioned and eternal realities.

The first two degrees constitute what Plato calls opinion, because the things appear in this manner, but they could appear also in a different manner. The last two degrees constitute true understanding, because their object is the reality which is, and which cannot be otherwise. (See “The Myth of the Cave” in Plato’s Republic, VII, 1-3.)

The four degrees of knowledge may be reduced to two fundamental classes:

  1. Sense knowledge, which includes apprehension of sensorial images, and perception of sensible objects;
  2. Intellective knowledge, which includes mathematical notions and knowledge of ideas.

For Plato, the inferior degrees constitute knowledge in so far as they express the necessity of something which transcends them; they are steps through which the soul ascends to the world of Ideas. The soul, which understands that its happiness consists in the world of Ideas, never is satisfied with the knowledge of the inferior degrees. Thus it appeals from the inferior to the superior degrees, till the knowledge of Ideas is reached. This continuous dissatisfaction of the soul is what Plato calls Love or Eros, the god of love. (See “The Myth of Eros” in the Symposium.)

The late Dr. Jonathan Dolhenty was the Founder and President of The Center for Applied Philosophy and the Radical Academy, and is Honorary Philosophy Editor at The Moral Liberal. The Moral Liberal has adopted these projects beginning with a republishing and preserving of all of Dr. Dolhenty’s work. “Classic Philosophers: The Great Thinkers of the Western World” was designed and organized by Jonathan Dolhenty, Ph.D. [Emphasis in the original] Copyright ©1992 -2011 The Radical Academy. Copyright renewed in © 2011 -2013 The Radical Academy (a project of The Moral Liberal).

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