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Lecture 9 (30th September 1948)

See Burnet, Taylor and Cornford. You couldn't have a worked out theory of knowledge in the Eleatic theory of reality because knowledge implies distinction between knower and known which Parmenides couldn't admit (though he couldn't consistently deny it). He does make the superficial distinction between the way of truth and the way of opinion, so there can be false opinion but only inconsistently can he admit this even with the purpose of refuting it. On strict Eleaticism there couldn't even be such a theory. Still you do get in this distinction of Parmenides the suggestion of a theory of knowledge and you do find the question of knowledge taken up by the 5th century philosophers such as Empedocles and Anaxagoras, though of course they take up the question in a physiological way and not so as to bring out and, if possible, solve the logical question. (Democritus also has theory of knowledge - very crude and unphilosophical.) What we can say about the Sophists (as Burnet says) is that they were influenced by the great variety of philosophical theories to adopt the view that there could be no settled truth in these matters - no independent reality that we can know but simply appearances, simply what we accept - but I think it can be said that they were influenced most of all by Eleaticism as providing a kind of criticism that could be turned against any theory. In that way Gorgias can be llinked with Parmenides and of course the [?] Euthydemus gives a further example of universal refutation that comes from Eleaticism and also the positive doctrine of Eleaticism that there is no multiplicity, no motion or change, is something that no one could possibly believe. If that is the outcome of rigorous argument the only thing to do is to abandon rigorous argument and go back to persuasion or what various people find plausible. Now of course this is the sort of position that has been met by modern realism and is already largely met by Socrates - by the contention, namely, that even to say something seems so to us is to admit the conception of being so or of truth and the particular truth that it does seem so to us and that even to say we are persuaded by an argument which is no rigorous (i.e., is plausible) is to imply the possibility of rigorous argument, it to imply the reality of implication so that the relativist or humanist position can't be maintained (see “Marxist Philosophy” ). In fact we find Socrates arguing against the doctrine of convention or nomos


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that there is a nature or physis in human affairs as much if not more than other affairs, i.e., something that is just so - though Socrates for the most part confuses the issue by taking his “nature” as something behind or beyond experience, his being as something as beyond becoming instead of something in becoming. The Sophists then are right in holding that if we are to speak of anything at all it must be something that appears to us but wrong in taking appearance or relativity to us as the character of what does appear - taking it to exist in so far as it is ours. Now coming to the dialogue in which Socratism and Sophistry are confronted on the theory of knowledge we find the position taken up that knowledge is perception or sensations - that it is aesthesis - which really means something immediate or a faculty that presents us with immediate objects, a sort of usage borne out in the Kantian expression transcendental aesthetic for those conditions of our knowledge which he thinks to be immediate or intuitional and also in the use of the term “aesthetics” for what was thought to be immediate feeling as contrasted with discursive thought. The general distinction of Logic, Ethics and Aesthetics corresponding in theories of this kind to the distinction of the faculties of reason, will and feeling - first definitely separated in the Kantian theory (Cognition, Conation, Feeling). Now Socrates identifies the doctrine (hypothesis) that knowledge is sensation with the doctrine of Protagoras that “man is the measure of all things”, that “I perceive this” is the same as “this appears to me” and that again as “this is so to me” or “this is to me” and similarly what you perceive is to you and the meaning of being and knowledge alike is being to a person or to a mind. Now it is to be noticed in connection with this identification (of being perceived with relative existence) that it depends on the insistence of Socrates in treating knowledge as meaning certainty - that he assumes that to ask what is knowledge is to ask what is there of which there can be no doubt and one answer (cf., Theaetetus) is the immediate data of experience - what is given or impressed on our minds and the realist (empiricist) criticism of this is that there is nothing immediate - nothing immediate in this sense “impressed on our minds”. The least we can know - the least we can say we perceive or sense is a proposition or complex situation and that is bound up with the formal possibility of contradiction, with the denial that anything is certain in itself. But Socrates never even considers the possibility of holding that there is no


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intelligible type of cognition and yet admitting that in sense perception we can sometimes get truth. We can know what is the case and I would argue that the break-down in the dialogue of the two theories of knowledge proposed is due just to this fact that we cannot in any such theory establish a basis of certainty - that we can't in any such way get the sort of thing that Socrates describes as knowledge - the upshot being that there is no such thing - this knowledge can be usefully understood not as being above all possibility of error - as having arrived at the safe and certain but just as not as a matter of fact being mistaken in a given instance. Now Socrates goes on to develop the position of Protagoras, maintaining that while Protagoras openly contended that “what I perceive is to me” he held a secret doctrine which he revealed only to his closest followers that nothing is, that everything becomes or moves (is in motion) and it is in terms of the theory of universal motion that an account of sensation and of the relativity of knowledge is to be given.

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