Wednesday, February 10, 2016

attempt to describe what happened

cover of small painted book

painted pocket book
What exactly happened? How do you know what happened? What is the basis of knowledge? What is knowledge? Ok, Lohbado was reading Plato's Théetète (in English Theaetetus). The English translation was not available at the Montreal library. Lohbado was happy to read it in French. The discussion is another example of Socrates poking holes in assumptions about reality. In this case, it begins with the assumption that reality is what you perceive. However, senses can be deceiving. When you take a stick and poke it in clear water, it appears bent. Based on sight, it's a bent stick. But one knows the stick is straight. It's an optical illusion. You can't always trust the senses. Plus, the way something appears to one person might appear differently to another person. If knowledge is nothing more than appearances, then how the world appears to a cow would be just as valid as how the world appears to a scientist.

Next question: how do sense moments translate into knowledge? A sense organ communicates with an object of sense. One has five senses. How does information from the various senses translate into a representation, picture, symbol or idea? This translation doesn't happen at the level of the senses, it happens at a higher level of mental processing. How this occurs is not described in the dialogue. A subjective judgement occurs. The opinion could be confused. One might see a man at a distance and think it's Joe, when in fact it's Jack. One made an error in judgement. The senses weren't adequate in leading to proper knowledge. The discussion becomes complex. Reason is introduced as being a necessary part of the process. Knowledge could involve perception, judgement and a reasonable description or account of what may or may not be happening.

This is also questionable. How does reason create an adequate description using letters, syllables and names or nouns? In order to make a proper judgement and to describe something, one would have to have already made a judgement... which is a problem of infinite regress. To know X you already have to know X and you have to know that you know X and you have to know that you know that you know X.

The book ends with Socrates concluding that the three theories proposed to explain knowledge are inadequate. He concludes stating it's a valuable thing to be clear about what you don't know. The proposed definitions of knowledge involved paradox and were inadequate.

If one has read other Plato dialogues, there's a sense that this dialogue was opening the discussion to a deeper consideration of the matter of how one describes, thinks about or forms ideas about reality. There's a level of physical reality, the world of appearances. However, rational beings structure their lives according to reason, ideas or mental events which are invisible. The intelligible world structures the world of appearances.... nobody has had the last word on how this occurs. It has resulted in a couple thousand years of stimulating discussion and plenty of theories of knowledge.

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