in Virtue and Happiness

Published in print August 2012 | ISBN: 9780199646043
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191743368 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy


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In Book V of Plato’s Republic, Plato has Socrates distinguish between three distinct cognitive powers (dunameis): knowledge (epistēmē), opinion (doxa), and ignorance (agnosia). Powers, Socrates goes on to explain, are distinguished in virtue of what they are related to and what they accomplish (eph hōi te esti kai hō apergazetai --477d1). In this section of the dialogue, the second of these two differentiae is not invoked again; instead, all of the distinctions Socrates makes here are made in terms of the different objects to which the powers are related. Knowledge, we are told, is related to what is (to on); ignorance is related to what is not (to mē on); opinion is related to what both is and is not.Scholars have attended almost entirely to the distinction between knowledge and opinion, and for good reason: It is clear that this distinction is the primary one that Plato wishes to explicate here, as it is in terms of this distinction that the important difference between the philosopher rulers and ordinary rulers will be drawn. The distinctions between knowledge and ignorance and opinion and ignorance are only very briefly mentioned, and ignorance itself remains almost wholly unexplained. This chapter discusses the role of ignorance in Plato’s epistemology. This chapter's analysis is novel in four ways: First, other scholars have attended almost exclusively to the roles assigned to knowledge and opinion in this passage, and have neglected to explain whether — and if so, how — their analyses could explicate what Plato has Socrates say about ignorance. Secondly, the chapter argues that we should not understand the ‘related to’ part of Plato’s analysis as an intensional one: cognitive powers are not ‘of’ or ‘about’ the objects to which they are related, as scholars have generally supposed. The relationship of the powers to objects, rather, is a nomological one. Thirdly, I argue that what is produced by the cognitive powers are what we would call conceptualizations (or conceptions) of the entities to which they are said to be related (epi). Finally, the chapter argues that the case of ignorance makes clear that the ‘is’ in Plato’s analysis of the relata of each cognitive power must be understood neither veridically (where ‘is’ means ‘is true’), nor existentially (where ‘is’ means ‘exists’), but predicatively (where ‘is’ means ‘is F,’ where F is the name of a Platonic Form).

Keywords: knowledge; belief; opinion; ignorance; power; cognition; forms; being

Chapter.  10845 words. 

Subjects: Ancient Philosophy

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