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Lecture 12 (28th October 1948)

The hypothesis that knowledge is thought doesn't meet the difficulties because in the case of what are considered to be specially thought objects there is no possibility of error any more than with pure data so that we still have not a theory covering the facts of cognition. But when the suggestion is made that error may occur in a false relation between a thought-object and sense-object this means that the hypothesis that knowledge is thought is already abandoned and no account whatever has been given of the kind of cognition that is not certain. And when further it is admitted that we can be in error even in the case of what are called objects of thought (e.g., 5+7=11) we can no longer speak of error as concerned with the relation between a thought and a sense object. We have also seen that even the latter type of error - reference of a sensation to a wrong memory image - is not really explained by the correspondence theory apart from the fact that memory images are different from the “common predicates” which were first formulated as objects of thought and further objections to a correspondence theory appear, e.g., the “wrong reference” is due to the fact that image was not sharply impressed to begin with or has been worn away in the course of time; then the present representation would be a quite correct one - we should be correct in saying that the present sensation resembles the image as it is now and error would arise only in terms of the things perceived at one time and another - only if we said this thing which I now see is the same as the thing which I saw then, i.e., judgment would be concerned with situations and the mistaking of situations wouldn't be accounted for by any doctrine of images - of things intervening between us and external realities. If, in fact, there are internal objects then knowledge of a relation between an external object and an internal object is on exactly the same footing as knowledge of a relation between two external objects or two internal objects - that is, it is knowledge of a situation.

Now before coming on the theory of elements of thought Socrates suggests that error in pure thinking (5+7=11) may be explained by distinguishing between having knowledge and possessing knowledge, e.g., we may possess a coat without having it on and here we have the dovecote simile - the suggestion of various pieces of knowledge flying about in our minds and of our trying to catch them and catching the wrong one; but then when we do catch one we should know what it is and if we were said to have pieces [?] of error in the mind as well we should still know one of them when we got it and the fact that it was different from another one wouldn't matter. What all this leads to is the rejection of the view that knowledge is in separate pieces - of the very sort of view that Socrates proceeds to bring up, as contrasted with the view that any knowledge


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is of situations and that any constituent of situations is itself a situation - is not an ultimate element. Theaetetus, then, admitting that we can't identify knowledge with true judgment suggests Knowledge is True Judgment with a reason (doxos), account, or explanation of it and this leads on to the dream theory of Socrates that there are elements which are the basis of all knowledge - which are the objects of simple apprehension and have to be put together to form a judgment so that there elements are the reasons or ground of the judgment and putting them together is discourse or judgment itself - just as we are able to discourse in the sense of speaking by putting letters together to form syllables. Now this hypothesis of letters and syllables is cogently criticised in the dialogue - the criticism as summed up by Burnet being that either the syllables are only the sum of the letters so they won't be anymore unknowable than the letters are or else it itself is an indivisible unity in which case it would be the object of simple apprehension and we would be no further forward.

Now one way in which this latest hypothesis is formulated is that to know anything is to know it with its differentia which is just one way of expressing the position involved in the Socratic distinction between Knowledge and Opinion - that we have to show not only that something is so but why it is so and it is thus the Socratic position that is here being criticised by Socrates. It would be straining verisimilitude to make Socrates say it was his position but it is precisely against a doctrine of the kind he held that the criticism applies namely that knowledge of the ground or reason requires the same sort of explanation as the theory it was supposed to explain. To say that we have discovered grounds or a cause of something is not to say that it is any more certain than the objects of opinion - if to be an object of knowledge is to be deduced from premises that means that these premises will need to have grounds assigned to them ad infinitum - i.e., it would appear that they are objects of opinion and thus knowledge is grounded in opinion - a thing is shown to be certain by its dependence on the uncertain. Now one way to take to avoid this difficulty is to argue that there are self-grounded propositions on which all demonstration depends which will mean that it is these self-evident entities that are the objects of knowledge but this brings us back to the same sort of difficulty as in the doctrine of elements: firstly, how we can describe the self-evident at all and secondly how we can derive anything from it, how if fact we can derive complexity from simplicity. It would in fact be impossible to derive anything but the self-evident from the self-evident - a poitn which involves


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a rejection of Taylor's distinction between historical and demonstrative science - a rejection in fact of demonstative science and with it of self-evident propositions themselves. The whole doctrine of Rational Science involves the attempt to find some non-propositional knowledge on which propositional knowledge can be based - to find as in the theory of Leibniz some essence or notion from which various characters can be unfolded but the very recognition of their being wrapped up in this essence is a recognition of a situation, not of simplicity and so here, in reference to a thing's differentia (essence) if this is treated as something simple it doesn't help us to see how the subject has the predicates empirically assigned to it and if it is treated as something complex then we are starting from something just as empirical any anything it explains - namely that a number of characters do hang together. Starting then with the non-propositional we could not proceed to any proposition - starting from the propositional we have something on the same logical footing as any proposition we could arrive at - open to the same doubt and criticism so that there is no question of distinguishing Rational or Essential or Primitive truths from derivative. We noted the absurdity of holding that an opinion becomes knowledge by being inferred by opinions, in other words taking conclusions as of higher order than premises but it is equally absurd to take premises above conclusions - to think that a conclusion is more subject to doubt than what it has been inferred from for if the premises are objective facts and the inference formally correct then we are just as sure of the conclusions as of the premises.

Finally in regard to any position like that of Socrates (or Taylor) in reference to any recognition of demonstrative science the attempt finally is to derive propositions from the non-propositional - from pure forms or concepts and this can't be done - the Form of the Good can't establish the goodness of anything in particular - the theory of Forms cannot show even that there are particulars - let alone argue that a particular is of this or that kind.

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