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Lecture 11 (21st October 1948)

According to Socrates we have certain simple sensations given to the soul which then makes comparisons and discriminations among them but on the view that we know nothing less than a situation these primary data would be denied and anything that could be called sensory would be judging or awareness [?] of a situation, awareness of something that already embodies the categories - at any rate embodies the form of the proposition as well as particular terms. On the theory of the pure datum on the one hand while we couldn't have a false sensation we equally couldn't have a true sensation, i.e., we wouldn't have knowledge at all, not having a complex object, and, as already said, we couldn't connect a … [?] knowledge of with an actual knowledge and mistakes about complexes. The position is the same whether the simple entities from which we are supposed to start are recognised as sensations or intelligible objects and this point is brought out in the discussion of knowledge as thought when Socrates refers to a theory which has been revealed to him in a dream, a theory of intelligible elements of known complexes - this dream theory being parallel to the secret of Protagoras with the suggestion in both cases that Plato is going beyond the doctrine that the [?] actually held - trying to see whether they can't be made consistent with a slight modification and that being found impossible in both cases the upshot of the dialogue is that we can't work out any theory of certain or infallible knowledge - that we have always to admit the formal possibility of error - the possibility of contradicting any proposition so that there is no generic distinction between the true and the false - no character whereby we recognise the true wherever we see it, but we have in each case to find out the concrete truths ourselves and at the risk of error. The position regarding simple entities (sensible or intelligible) is similar to that of Locke's simple ideas - namely that no proposition can be asserted about them except possibly that any one of them is not any other. The discussion in the later part of the Theaetetus shows the impossibility of asserting any affirmative relation between any simple and another and even to assert a negative relation is to assert a situation in which they both occur - in fact is to imply the complexity. If we look back to the Phaedo we see


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that Socrates can have affirmative predication only by admitting that forms are complex as when he says that three is odd, both 3 and odd being general terms which have various instances and as regards negative predication if we stick to simple forms and say that any one is not any other we have to drop the Socratic notion of specially opposite forms, a notion which depends on a propositoinal logic with the possibility of obversion [?]. Now, if admitting that there can be no relation between simples we recognise that all knowledge is of situations the distinction between sensibles and intelligibles loses all point.

As regards the contention that the dream theory in the theory of Socrates himself modified so as to remove certain inconsistencies Burnet and Taylor though admitting the parallel with the secret doctrine of Protagoras do not regard this as a secret doctrine of Socrates, i.e., do not regard the doctrine of intelligible elements as a logical development of the theory of forms having to be presented in a roundabout way precisely because Socrates is conducting the argument. They suggest it is the theory of some Pythagorean most probably Ecphratus of Syracuse. Now obviously the theory has a Pythagorean character - you might even say that the Socratic theory is being reformulated in Pythagorean terms just as the theory of Protagoras was reformulated in Heraclitean terms but on their own showing the Socratic doctrine was always of Pythagorean character - in fact Burnet maintains that Socrates was looked up to as a leader by the Pythagorean schools in Greece after the departure of Philolaus. If then the parallel between the secret doctrine of Protagoras and the dream of Socrates is to have any point the latter must be regarded as an attempt to restate Socraticism in a more consistent form and while the problem of the relation of elements to one another and the complexes they are said to compose is certainly one that affects Pythagoreanism it also applies to Socrates in the Phaedo who, according to Burnet, is endeavouring to overcome the separation between form and particulars by treating the particular as a meeting place of forms - as being constituted by the coming together of various forms just as in the Theaetetus a syllable is said to be constituted by the coming together of various letters. Now the difficulty of the doctrine of the Phaedo, e.g., that on this view there is still no such thing as a particular, has been criticised with reference to the Parmenides but the main point is that if individual forms are what is, then no relation whatever, e.g., coming together, can be asserted between one form and another, or that if we start from unitary beings, rational entities, things which are in themselves then we can give no account of situation. In the last part of the Theaetetus it is shown that if we take the so-called letter as ultimate or being in themselves we can give no account of so-called syllables (complexes of elements) and we have to reject the notion of


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that which is in itself and take a propositional view of things as is done to some extent later in the Sophist. The position is that intellectual knowledge, knowledge by way of thought, the knowledge that soul is supposed to have in itself must be like sense knowledge, knowledge of situations and must be equally liable to error. The suggestion is made that error arises not in pure sensation or in pure thought, but in a maladjustment of the two, so that a present situation is referred to the wrong thought, e.g., when being acquainted with both Theaetetus and Theodorus and seeing the two of them in the distance we think it is the other. But apart from other difficulties it is pointed out in the dialogue that people make mistakes when they are entirely concerned with what are called thought objects, e.g., mistakes in pure calculation (5+7=11) working with not things but numbers themselves. From the point of view of the logic of situations the position would be that we are always concerned with objective situations and 5+7=12 is a situation of the same order and one we could just as consistently … [?] about as the situation Theaetetus and Theodorus are both present or Theaetetus is in the distance.

This line of argument is closely connected with Hume's theory of belief, namely, that belief is constituted by a lively idea associated with or present impression, impression being immediate perception and ideas reproductions of such impressions (real [?] in front of us, not in front of me). The point is that we see how a belief that is entirely composed of what Hume called ideas, e.g., “Caesar crossed the Rubicon” where it is not a question of association between something given and something reproduced or recalled.

We could say in fact that there are in the Theaetetus at least indications for the refutation of all the theories of knowledge of the modern period (Descartes to Hegel), for the refutation, e.g., of a view like Locke's that there are simple ideas or impressions - atoms of cognition so to speak - out of which complexes may be constructed. The point is that if impressions mean anything an impression if a particular thing and incidentally a complex thing and as against any correspondence theory to know such an impression is not to know something else of which it is the impression. The criticism is not fully developed in Theaetetus but at least the insoluble difficulties of a correspondence theory are shown and we are driven towards the solution that all cognition if of complex situations and that a distinction between inner and outer if it has any truth at all is merely a distinction between the location of situations and not between kinds of situation or kinds of knowledge we could have of them.

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