Plato: Introduction & Theory of Knowledge-Classical Western Philosophy for Competitive Exams (2021)

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Plato- Introduction & Theory of Knowledge

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  • Plato was an ancient Greek philosopher who was the pupil of Socrates and the teacher of Aristotle.
  • He is considered as a towering figure in the history of Greek and Western philosophy.
  • He founded the Platonist school of thought and the Academy (at Athens) which is known to be the first institution of higher learning in the Western world.
  • Aristotle studied at his Academy for about twenty two years before he founded his own school, Lyceum.

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  • Plato is regarded to be the innovator of the dialectic form of philosophy.
  • He wrote a number of literary works. A total number of thirty-five dialogues have been ascribed to Plato. His literary works are called, “Dialogues.”
  • Some of his famous dialogues are; Meno, Crito, Republic, Phaedo, Phaedrus, Symposium, Sophists, Theaetetus, Timaeus, etc.
  • His dialogues are classified into three stages.
  • The three stages are;
    • Early Dialogues: Apology, Gorgias, Crito, Protagoras, etc. They deal with his positive epistemological teachings. They also give an elaborate account of the historical teachings of Socrates, his master.
    • Middle Dialogues: Parmenides, Phaedo, Phaedrus, Republic, Symposium, Theaetetus, etc. They also deal with his positive epistemological teachings, for example, the theory of Forms, the nature of Knowledge, Justice, etc.
    • Late Dialogues: Sophists, Timaeus, Laws, etc. These are regarded to be difficult or challenging pieces of work of philosophy.

Theory of Knowledge

  • Plato՚s epistemology cannot be derived from his one single work because his epistemology deals with two subgroups.
  • The two sub-groups are 1. Positive epistemology and 2. Negative epistemology.
  • Under positive epistemology, Plato deals with the theories and ideas regarding the nature of knowledge, nature of truth and reality, nature of justice, nature of good, the validity of knowledge and truth, etc.
  • One of his dialogue which deals with positive epistemology is the Republic.
  • On the other hand, under negative epistemology, Plato deals with the theories and ideas regarding the nature of false knowledge, the nature of un-truth, the nature of error, etc.
  • One of his dialogue which deals with negative epistemology is, Theaetetus.
  • Hence, in-order to understand the theory of knowledge or epistemology of Plato it is very important to understand and take into consideration all his dialogues.

Types of Knowledge

  • Plato has discussed four types of Knowledge. They are;
    • Conjectural Knowledge:
      • It is the lowest type of Knowledge
      • It is not regarded as Knowledge, rather is only has an appearance of Knowledge.
      • It includes illusions, hallucinations, dreams, errors, etc.
      • For example, the illusions of silver in shell, snake in rope, the son of a barren woman, etc.
      • This type of knowledge is hence, always erroneous in nature.
  • Note: A comparison can be drawn between Plato՚s conjectural knowledge and Pratibhasika knowledge of Advaita Vedanta school of Shankara. Pratibhasika knowledge is known as apparent knowledge or knowledge based on imagination. Some of the examples of the ephemeral knowledge are those experiences in which the mind alone constructs its own reality, like, one՚s dreams and the perception of a rope as a snake, etc. This is regarded to be the lowest grade of knowledge according to Shankara.
    • Practical Knowledge:
      • It means knowledge which is gained through the sense-organs.
      • It deals with five sense organs and includes knowledge from visual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory and tactual organs.
      • As a result, it deals with the knowledge of colour, sound, smells, taste and skin sensations. So, it gives us knowledge of the particulars.
      • In other words, our knowledge of the things of the material world constitutes to Practical knowledge.
      • Although this knowledge via sense organs seems complete but in reality, it is incomplete knowledge.
  • Note: A comparison can be drawn between Plato՚s practical knowledge and Vyavharika knowledge of Advaita Vedanta school of Shankara. Vyavharika knowledge like practical knowledge (of Plato) deals with existence and truth of the material world which is pragmatic in nature. It is ever changing and empirically true at a given point of time only. So, it is not completely true in nature. It is the knowledge of our phenomenal world- the world of experience that we go through in our every-day life when we are awake. Hence, it is incomplete knowledge.
    • Hypothetical Knowledge:
      • This is not final but only hypothetical knowledge.
      • It includes the knowledge of numbers and forms and is used in subjects such as mathematics, logic, etc.
      • It is called hypothetical because we arrive at the truths or conclusions only via the process of logical deductions and inductive generalisations. And, those truths or conclusions are primarily dependent on our sensory knowledge which is dependent on our sense-organs.
      • According to Plato, hypothetical knowledge is the mediator between the practical and the fourth kind of knowledge, the rational knowledge.
    • Rational Knowledge:
      • Rational knowledge is the highest form of knowledge.
      • The rational knowledge gives us the knowledge of the forms, concepts, ideas, etc.
      • It is achieved via the dialectical process (as advocated by Socrates) unhindered by the sense-organs or sensory experience.
      • As a result, it gives us the knowledge of the universals, and not particulars. For example, the concept of cow-ness is only possible via the means of rational knowledge.

The Nature of Knowledge

  • Knowledge is not perception.
  • Knowledge is attained through concepts.
  • It is objective in nature or it does not change with personal experiences of the individuals.
  • It is permanent because it is based not on sense-experience but reason.
  • Hence, according to Plato, knowledge deals with concepts, reason or rational thinking.
  • It always deals with the knowledge of the universals and never the particulars (refer to the fourth type of knowledge, rational knowledge) .
  • knowledge is not based on opinions, neither right opinions, nor wrong opinions.
  • According to him, for example, if a person declares that there will be rain tomorrow.
  • This statement cannot be regarded as knowledge because it is simply a work of blind-guess.
  • On the other hand, if it indeed rains the next day, then also, it cannot be regarded as knowledge because it could simply be an instance of accident which came to be true.
  • So, knowledge is not based on instincts or opinions or imagination.
  • Knowledge is only based on reason; it deals with rational comprehension.


1. Phaedo, Republic, Theaetetus, etc. are ________

A. Early dialogues

B. Middle dialogues

C. late dialogues

D. None of these

Answer: B

2. ________ according to Plato is the lowest kind of knowledge

A. Hypothetical Knowledge

B. Conjectural Knowledge

C. Practical Knowledge

D. All of these

Answer: B

3. Practical Knowledge is similar to Shankara՚s concept of

A. Vyavharika knowledge

B. Pratibhasika knowledge

C. Paramarthika knowledge

D. None of these

Answer: A

4. ________ dialogue of Plato, deals with negative epistemology

A. Theaetetus

B. Republic

C. Meno

D. Both A and B

Answer: A

Explanation: Plato deals with the theories and ideas regarding the nature of false knowledge, the nature of un-truth, the nature of error, etc. One of his dialogue which deals with negative epistemology is, Theaetetus.

5. Select the correct code in relation with Plato՚s nature of Knowledge

  1. Knowledge is not perception.
  2. Knowledge is not based on intuition, beliefs, etc.
  3. Knowledge deals with rational comprehension
  4. Knowledge is based on right opinions and not wrong opinions
  5. Knowledge deals with universals and not particulars.
  6. Knowledge is attained through concepts


A. All of them

B. 1 - 2-3 - 5-6

C. 1 - 2-4 - 5-6

D. 1 - 2-3 - 5-6

Answer: B






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