The theory of knowledge (Epistemology) is the philosophical study of the nature, scope and limitation of what constitutes knowledge, its acquisition and analysis. The fundamental issue that remains unsolved in epistemology is the definition of knowledge. Philosophers are divided on this issue with some analyzing it as justified true beliefs while others differ and say that justified true belief does not constitute knowledge. The objective of this paper is to compare and contrast Plato and Aristotles theories of knowledge.
Platos theory of knowledge
Before Plato, there were some other philosophers that had made some remarks about the theory of knowledge especially Socrates. However, Plato has been credited with the origin of the theory of knowledge as it was found in his conversations. His theory of knowledge closely intertwined with his theory of forms (ideas), envisaged that there were two essential characteristics of knowledge.
Knowledge must be certain and infallible.
Knowledge must have as its object that which is genuinely real as contrasted with that which is an appearance only, that which is fully real must be fixed, permanent and unchanging- in the realm of being as opposed to that which is in the realm of becoming(physical)
Consequently, he completely rejects imperialism on the account that knowledge does not arise from sensory experience. In his arguably best publication, Thaeatetus, Plato explores the question, what is Knowledge much more ardently than in any of his other works. In this dialogue involving Socrates and the young man named after the text, the dialogue turns aporetic because it ends at an impasse. What the dialogue inferred in the beginning is that knowledge is perception. This is evidently not true because it would be impossible to attribute knowledge to perception without a semantic structure and hence it would be impossible to state it. Perception only describes one quality of a given type of knowledge that is available only to the vision. Based on the tripartite theory of knowledge, which analyses knowledge as a justified true belief, Thaeatetus believes that knowledge structured semantically from sensory impressions, is possible. Plato rejects this notion arguing that there is no way to explain how sensations concatenated, is organizable into a semantics structure. In response to the definition of knowledge as true judgment with an account, he uses the Dream Theory to explain how semantic structures can arise from perceptions, just as the mind creates logical constructs, which have meaning in a dream (Chappell, 2005).
Because this view fails to give an account of how the logical construction takes place in the first place, Socrates objects. In essence, the failure to differentiate between what is knowledge and from true belief about knowledge only adds to identify a diagnostic quality of knowledge. Because there is s problem of how to identify knowledge, then it also follows that there will be a problem in how to identify the diagnostic quality of knowledge. This regression makes Thaeatetus conclude that we cannot define knowledge. A very interesting point emerges in Platos remarks at the end of the dialogue, bringing into focus the concept of understanding and the role of wisdom in enabling us to even start considering that perhaps we only begin having true belief and about what knowledge is when we actually understand anything (Chappell, 2005).
The allegory of the cave
In the allegory of the cave, Plato compares people untrained in the Theory of Forms to prisoners in a cave, chained to the wall with no possibility of turning their heads. With fire burning behind them, they can only see the wall of the cave and the shadows of the puppets placed between them and the fire (Platos Cave, n.d). The prisoners are unable to fathom that the shadows they see and the echoes they hear are a reflection of real objects, behind them. The Allegory of the cave summarizes most of Platos views and philosophical thoughts. His central tenet, the belief that the world available to our senses is only a reflection (a poor imitation) of the real world, of which the real one can only be intellectually grasped, is synonymous to his theory of forms, which exalted the world of ideas (form) above the world of senses (matter).
It is therefore easy to mistake appearance for reality, based on what the prisoners in the cave experience they easily refer to the shadows using the names of the real objects that the shadows reflect. In this way, Plato tries to show that our knowledge is only a reflection of the real ideas in our minds. He maintained that what is seen on the earth is an imitation of the real thing. The prisoners, by looking at the shadows may learn what a book is but this does not enable them to claim that it refers to an object, which they have seen. Likewise, we need the physical objects in order to enable us acquire concepts. However, it would be a mistake to imagine the concepts same as the things we see (Platos Cave, n.d).
Plato concludes that men Begin to understand reality by being out in the full glare of the Sun (out of the cave). He gives an illustration of a more true reality of the road and the images of people passing along it. These he explains are perceptions that present the immediately apparent reality of shadows upon the wall and the conceptual recognition that the images being carried are not as real as the variously motivated people carrying them.
Aristotle theory of knowledge was based on his strong belief in Logic. He developed the principles of reasoning. He argued that the possibility of error forces the mind to determine the truth validity of a given statement. This meant the intellect must have adequate reasons, which can ensure the proposed judgment conforms to reality. He believed that such reasons, were the foundation of perfect knowledge, perfect knowledge being knowledge through causes.
Aristotle devised a method of leading the mind to correct reasoning (syllogism) which is a structure of two statements (premises) which follow from each other and a conclusion necessarily drawn from the two above. He developed the first principle of reasoning which was the principle of no-contradiction where he stated that something could not be and be at the same time in the same manner (Adventures in Philosophy, n.d).
Aristotle differed with Plato in his theory of Knowledge. He believed that experience showed that individual substances exist and a predicated of the substance and that an individual is not produced by some idea or model, as opposed to what Plato thought, but by fellow individuals of the same species.
His theory of knowledge was based on empirical evidence as opposed to Plato who was an idealist. Aristotle believed that first there had to be an individual who through germ or seed was able to reproduce another one hence, the seed in the individual would be in potency form because of its capacity to become an individual in future.
To make this possible matter (substratum) where this seed with potency could develop under the right conditions was needed. It was supposed to remain unchangeable but perform its function. Aristotle believed that only individuals could be referred to as beings in the full sense of the word. Every individual was a compound of matter and form.
Matter was the indeterminate element, which was unchanging, and Form (potency) was the force and power shaping and developing the individual. This he called active potency. Every form, because it possessed some actual determination of matter, was also called act. Therefore the Human being development analysis was designated as comprising matter (substratum), form (determining element), potency (both active and passive), and act.
By giving an example of an artist, Aristotle explains how ideas in the mind of an artist become a work of art in the physical world- his classical example, the piece of marble, which becomes a sculpture through the work of the artist. The marble though it has shape and form (in passive potency), loses it to become a sculpture which was only an idea in the mind of the artist. Aristotle thus identifies the four important causes, the efficient cause- the work of artist. The material cause- the organic matter (marble), the formal cause when the two meet and the final cause which is the finished product-perfection.
From the combination of the above four, he summarizes the idea of Form in the development of the individual. Making form the ... propelling, organizing and final principle of becoming.
The individual therefore has both matter and form, even though God, the immovable mover was only form.