We should consider ourselves fortunate because – the truth is – we are spoilt for choice: information is ‘out there’ and, actually, an Internet connection gives unlimited access to it. The unfortunate occurrence is that Time is far from being on our side: it is practically impossible to get to know even a tiny fraction of what has been found in a domain. But this is not a real problem: Modern Man has in many ways got used to his limitations, which – of course – doesn’t mean he should enter a state of akinetic mutism (see the post ‘To Choose or not to Choose to do Something’) because of that: when there’s a will, there’s a way!
|Plato's legacy: Socrates, Plato and Aristotle|
You will feel him close at any one time, but never as close as in these two posts: by courtesy of Professor Peter Adamson, you now have the unique opportunity to listen to the audio and read the script. When I expressed my hopes that at least one of 120 students will find answers to enquiries in his podcast series, he sent me the script below, with the following dedication: “Good luck on inspiring the other 119 to become more profound!”
And now I'll leave you in good company:
“I Know, Because the Caged Bird Sings: Plato’s Theaetetus.” - Part One.
Script for podcast (aired Feb 28 2011) by Peter Adamson
‘“Those of you who spend time with children will know that, between the adults and the children of this world, a war is raging. Skirmishes in this war are fought across the land, every morning, and both sides use all the weapons at their disposal - tantrums, the silent treatment, withheld treats, even, in extreme cases, the naughty step. I am speaking, of course, about the question of how warmly to dress. The children’s perspective on this issue is well-entrenched: it is not nearly as cold outside as you parents would claim, and we aren’t going to wear that winter coat, though we may be willing to consider a light sweater. The parents’ point of view is equally firm: you’ll catch your death of cold. Now, I guess that most of the people listening to this podcast are above the age of 12, and so naturally favor the adult perspective. There is, we quite naturally think, a fact of the matter about how cold it is outside: just look at the thermometer. Yet the children can turn to us and say, “but I don’t feel cold. So for me, it isn’t cold.” And they’ve got a point, albeit a point which is undermined slightly when they start shivering even as they’re insisting on how warm it is. The point is that it is for each person to say how cold the air feels to them. You might even say that, whatever the temperature may be, the air’s being cold is nothing more than the air’s seeming cold to each of us.
|René Magritte, Les Reflets du Temps|
“Theaetetus’ first attempt is to say that knowledge is perception. The word for perception here is aisthesis, which incidentally is where we get the word “aesthetics.” It can mean sense perception - that is, vision, hearing, smell, and so on - or more broadly any kind of perception, including the perception of things with the mind. Especially if we take it in this broader sense, Theaetetus’ definition looks plausible: we know something when we perceive it. Or perhaps one might say, we know when we grasp that something is the case. But Socrates shows that Theaetetus’ definition could be taken in a more unsettling way: if knowledge is perception, then whatever seems to me to be the case must actually be the case for me. Here he gives the same example I used a moment ago: the wind seems warm to me and cold to you, so I perceive the wind as warm and you perceive it as cold. If perception is knowledge, then that means that I know the wind is warm and you know it is cold. How could this be? Well, only if truth is relative: it’s true for me that the wind is warm and true for you that it is cold, but there is no such thing as the wind’s being truly warm or cold in itself, relative to no perceiver. After all, knowledge is nothing but perception.
“But wait, there’s more: Socrates adds that Theatetus and Protagoras have another heavy-hitter on their side, namely the Pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus. You might remember that when I talked about Heraclitus, I said that Plato portrays his illustrious predecessor as believing in a doctrine of total flux. That is, everything is constantly changing in every respect, and there is no stability in us or the world around us. The Theaetetus isn’t the only dialogue where Plato ascribes this view to Heraclitus, though it is the most famous example. But why does the flux doctrine go along with relativism about truth? This is a slightly complicated question, but the basic answer is that if Protagorean relativism is true, then the things in the world around us will have no stable natures from moment to moment. They will only be whatever they seem to be to various perceivers, and this is changing all the time, according to Heraclitus as he’s presented here. So on this view, it would turn out that nothing is cold, and nothing is warm; rather everything is always changing in every way. Actually it might be even worse than this: if we say that what is changing from warm to cold or vice-versa is both warm and cold, then the air will always be both warm and cold. It was with this in mind that Aristotle later accused Heraclitus of denying the principle of non-contradiction.
“These radical consequences of the flux doctrine give us plenty of reason for rejecting it. And, if buying into the relativist theory of truth means buying into the flux theory, then maybe we’ll give up on relativism as well. But Protagoras will try to persuade us that the relativist theory isn’t as implausible as it seems. If you’re interested in which things are good, then obviously what you’re interested in is which things are good for you. What would it even mean for something to be good, but not for you, or for anyone in particular? This, perhaps, connects the theory Plato is considering to the real historical Protagoras. He claimed to teach virtue, and may have supposed this was possible because the good is the advantageous, and that he could teach you how to get things you would consider to be advantageous, like political power. Whether Protagoras really held the radical epistemological theory that Plato ascribes to him here in the Theaetetus is of course another matter. But let’s leave that aside, and also leave aside the problems about flux, and just consider the problem of how to refute someone who adopts the relativist position on truth.”’
|BBC World: Aurora Borealis over Dunvegan, Isle of Skye (Scotland)|