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This is a 34-minute preview of a 2 hr, 18-minute episode.
On the Theaetetus and the Meno, two dialogues about knowledge.
We're returning to Plato for a somewhat more thorough treatment than we gave him in Episode 1. This should be considered part two (Hume being #1) of three discussions intended to convey the main conflict in the history of epistemology between the empiricists (like Hume) and the rationalists (like Plato).
We slog through most of the Theaetetus, where Plato considers and rejects a series of mostly very lame conceptions of knowledge and replaces them at the end with... NOTHING. Seth is crushed. In the Meno, knowledge is "remembrance" (maybe), like anything worth knowing can't be learned but only elicited out of the depths of your unconscious.
Read along: The Theaetetus and The Meno, or if you don't like the funky background on those pages, look them up via Project Gutenberg. You could also purchase
Seth did this diagram to express his love of the Meno.
End song: “Obvious Boy” by Mark Lint and the Fake from the album So Whaddaya Think? (2000). Listen to the whole album online.
Erik Douglas says
Hi Guys–just listened to another (brilliant) episode of yours. I want to challenge each of you to some questions and I have pitch for you all that I probably will leave for another correspondence (useful foreknowledge?) but maybe I can sneak in a few comments for now. Some of them relevant to your upcoming Kant discussion. Anyhow,
Seth: Thinking on to your take on the idealism/realism debate, here is a spin that would seem to give it more value. I would like to hear your response/thoughts on it. I feel some sympathy with you in the first place: there are a lot of debates of the form “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin” and so we maybe place greater value on some philosophical issues over others, perhaps based on the criteria of utility, practicality, aesthetics, integrity, whatever. Aside from the individual qualities of an issue that might attract some of us and not others, like jazz, it seems we usually answer the issue/value question by showing relevance and connection to other issues. In this case, underlying the realism/idealism issue, I would really like to know how much and how you are, and are not, like me. I am not going to pretend to *know* myself particularly well, but my intimacy compensates me for some of my ignorance. I don’t have that luxury with you. Does not this issue aim to address this dilemma of dilemmas? Is not the fundamental question of the nature of first, second and third persons, self and other, of the greatest philosophical significance?
Mark: One of your last comments on the value of philosophy concerned ethics and the assertion that it has little practical value to you, that in a way you are fixed, that it wouldn’t make a difference “anymore” — and I do not know you so well, but you show a lot of the hallmarks of integrity. If you one day found in your philosophical explorations and investigations that, in truth, planting coconut trees in your backyard was the most virtuous act available to you, would you not proceed to do just that? Because you strike me as a sort of person who would not only begin planting coconut trees in your backyard, but in mine too! And in this sense, is not your philosophical activity also a sincere attempt to show a little skepticism towards your worldview, double/triple/quintiple checking yourself? In other words, how *really sure* are you of the truths you claim knowledge and live by?
In a way, this is a lead in to a pitch I want to make for the show. Basically, I would be really interested to know in some detail what each of you believes, what your philosophies really are, how you as human beings have related and continue to relate to the philosophical praxis. The fact that none of you are professional philosophers (but do have reasonably developed historical, intellectual and academic horizons) makes it more interesting. And because you are all so modest and would never conceive to undertake such a self aggrandizing topic as “Mark” or “Seth” or “Wes”, I am proposing it. And I would be happy to join you all again and exercise my best midwifery skills a la Socrates. Food for thought?
As an aside, digression and lead in to my question for Wes, I recall reading Two Dogmas of Empiricism (Quine) at UT and it having a really profound impact on me. The day I read it, I was confused, but that night it somehow all came together as a dream, and it was frankly a bit of an epiphany. Not that Quine was right about so very much (I always preferred Carnap in any case), but this holistic notion that we or our beliefs (ergo knowledge) is like a web with empirical extremities. The issues he addresses in any case seem to me an important aspect of the issues you have been all playing recently, and thinking to your characterization about the rationalist/empiricist divide, I am inclined to go one further than Quine here and not just doubt the analytic/synthetic distinction, but the a priori/a posteriori distinction as well. And some of my own reason for this is my skepticism about the notion of priority altogether, since we are usually invoking a metaphor of time in our formulations of methods (cause, reason, logic, etc.). Okay, without getting ahead of myself and adding any more of my two cents in all this, let me bring it back to what seems to me one of the most important questions addressed and failed by Kant…
Wes: Understanding you are a bit of a “Kant fanboy” — and I am in agreement that you can hardly find a more worthy historical philosopher after the Plato/Aristotle dynamic duo — in fact, from my studies, it is only with Kant (and Leibniz) that western philosophy really takes steps beyond those taken elsewhere in the world (Plato too… the Chinese had most of that) — anyhow, with Kant’s invocation of the “intuitions” (which seem to me to go to the heart of much of the issues surround knowledge per this podcast), his development of the temporal intuition is the place where my attention was most drawn (also for its apparent inconsistencies). I don’t mean to go on at length here, but I happily discovered other thinkers who saw really “two temporal intuitions” in operation, the one related more directly to the phenomenal world, the other bearing more directly on the noumenal, but largely not explicated in detail. So… my question is what you have to say about all that? I am not sure if you are familiar with the details of the issues I am referring to, but if you are, I would very much like to hear your insights into this. I guess since they are in a way an order more subtle than many of the other issues he tackles, it probably isn’t really touched in the Prolegomena, but I always preferred the Critique… so, what do you do?
Yea, that’s my question for you: What is the nature of time according to Kant? (asked with a grin)
Great stuff all of you!
I just wanted to respond quickly to the last part of your post:
One of my friends, Dr. Ed Slowik, specializes in the physics/metaphysics of space/time during “early modern” period. During my interactions with him about the subject, which included various conversations over strong beer and ‘sitting in’ on his philosophy of space/time course, he always seemed to place Kant’s views on space above his views on time. I would go as far to claim–maybe controversially–that Kant’s views on time really aren’t that important within the larger scheme of the ‘system’. In fact, they seem to directly follow from the position he takes in the substantialist/relationalist debate concerning space (best showcased by the Leibniz/Clarke correspondence). It may be that Kant doesn’t spell this out because he takes it for granted that these two issues are indistinguishable from one another.
I’m not sure what to make of it personally, but I’m not completely interested in the issues either ha! Here is an article as well:
Hope that helps?
Oh! as well, if it tells you anything…the principle collection available on the philosophy of time (the Hackett collection edited by Westphal) DOESNT include a reading by Kant, though the principle collection available on the philosophy of space (Space from Zeno to Einstein) DOES.
This may not matter of course *shrugs shoulders*
Wes Alwan says
Erik — I was thinking of linking that stanford kant-spacetime article mentioned by Getty; probably more informative than anything I can say. Although I’m not sure that time isn’t important, insofar as accounting for how sensations are gathered up and held together over time to constitute objects (the “reproductive” imagination) is a critical problem. And note that a critical difference between space and time is applicable to both inner and outer (sequences of emotions and thoughts as well as experiences of external objects), while space only is applicable to what is outer. Perhaps I’ll have more to say after I get through the Prolegomena and jog my memory!
Seth Paskin says
Thanks for the passionate and detailed comment. I had to clarify my comments about the idealism/realism debate to Wes & Mark as well, although it’s not clear to me that I did so successfully. Additionally, I am notoriously cranky and tired by the end of one of our 3 hour recording sessions.
Here’s the deal: I sympathize with the idealist point of view. But their arguments and my experience of reality don’t support a view where either a) everything is a construct of my consciousness or b) the reality and existence of others is guaranteed only by God. Taking a phenomenological approach, I have to take the world and others as ‘given’ and then examine how they are so given. Why? Because it is completely unreasonable and counterproductive to do otherwise.
What interests me is the investigation of that experience given the world and others, not the epistemic circle jerk of trying to verify THAT there is an independent world or worse, what those ‘things’ in the independent world are. Ding-an-sich? Fine. Monad? Sure. Ideal Forms? Ehhh…
The episode on Heisenberg provided me with a much more interesting and productive discussion of the nature of ‘reality’ than a bagful of speculative philosophers. When I mentioned that I’m interested in inquiry insofar as it supports how I should act and interact with others, I meant that what we talk about when talking about Philosophy (with a capital “P”) should have some bearing on what is meaningful in our lives. At the macro level of my experience in the world, ‘things in themselves’ aren’t on that list.
THIS DOES NOT MEAN that such discussions aren’t fruitful or entertaining, but I’m more interested in how consciousness is implicated in the activity than in the epistemological enterprise. Thus I like Hume, Heidegger and Wittgenstein – I never would have been motivated to undertake Kant’s enterprise (maybe I’ll see differently after Sunday). But to show some bias – I’m interested in ‘ought’ and you can’t derive ought from is.
Thanks all for responses! I am in travel mode so a bit intermittent, but just quickly (Ihope!)…
On Kant to Getty and Wes – I like the paper, but yes it is a bit space-heavy (which is the usual problem I have found with the subject matter, everyone assuming space gets you time). Don’t want to fill up too much space (or time). I think Wes in #4 is homing in on the issues I was referring to – yes, the process of making “judgments” is itself “temporal”, and this then begs the role of the temporal intuition in making a priori and analytical claims, and in particular what I think Kant called “notions” (is that the right term?) – well basically those “judgements” whose objects are only the categories (or some such) themselves, and did not specifically invoke the intuitions as part of a synthetic judgment – so, putatively purely rational intellectual claims like the categorical imperative, but also the whole schema and the argument structure and supositions about the role of the intuitions and such in the first place. Anyhow, one of the ways around/through/at this whole problem I recall was to split the temporal intution into two (of course, Kant didn’t do this explicitly) but the argument I was referring to was that that is what he was doing implicitly (and of course the fellow who did this in his PhD thesis I think it was then studied Kant’s use of the temporal intuition in different contexts and demonstrated thereby that he was really talking about an apples-time in one case and an oranges-time in another. Okay… all gets deep fast I recall. I also seem to recall the Proleg. actually does a crappy job on this stuff, I think because Kant didnt think his audience would be up for it, but I will be very happy to hear if you find anything there!
Seth – thanks for the reply! Yes, I am in quite a bit of harmony with your take. Just one thing. The problem is not one of solipsism – I have empirical evidence there it is false (because I once met someone smarter than me, and so I know there is at least ONE OTHER out there…). The problem is the next steps – How do *I* know that *You* and *Wes* are different/same kind individuals, and how to understand YOUR natureS. For you, how am I and Wes different and the same? And then by extension bringing that back to yourself as you know yourself. I see I didn’t do a good job of being clear on this slightly different issue set. Does this put a different spin on it for you at all? IE, can you see how such debates as realism/idealism, etc., might then bear on the physics of individuality(ies)?
Best to you all – be back in a week or sooner
Christine Beach says
[…] Re: Plato on True Belief and Knowledge Something that might contribute to this discussion: There’s a new episode of the Partially Examined Life podcast that covers chiefly the Theaetetus but also the Meno on knowledge. Check it out: Episode 18: Plato: What Is Knowledge? | The Partially Examined Life | A Philosophy Podcast […]
ERIC TENGBERG says
To speak to Mark’s closing comments, I had the realization while having a pow-wow with a friend that “it’s either God or reptilians”(you know, like David Icke and his ilk insist rule the world). But when people talk about God and angels and whatnot, for some reason aliens and UFOs can’t be considered because those things aren’t “real”…and vice versa. And how during the God discussions there’s a limit to how “out there” you can get before you’re dismissed by the “believer”. I don’t know where I’m really going with this, but yeah, it’s a big universe and it’s not only not really plausible that there’s just god and a bunch of angels and us and that’s it, but man, what a bore it’d be.
Anyway, that’s my quick bit. Another cool song to close it out.
Mark Linsenmayer says