The Sun of Knowledge:
Platonic Epistemology as Discussed in The Republic
The history of philosophy can be viewed as the result of the work of an obscure Athenian whose voluminous works, penetrating questions, novel ideas, and didactic teachings have shaped the flow of nearly all philosophic thought. It has been said that the influence of the ancient Greek philosopher named Plato has laid the foundation for Western culture. Plato was born to an aristocratic family in Athens in 428/427 B.C. As a young man, Plato studied poetry, but later under the tutelage of the famed Socrates, turned to philosophy, who introduced him to the ethical importance of the pursuit of wisdom. Plato was also influenced by the writings of pre-Socratic thinkers Pythagoras and Parmenides in the areas of mathematics, metaphysics, and epistemology. Plato was a prolific writer whose works can be divided into three periods: early dialogues (399-387 B.C); middle dialogues (387-361 B.C.); late dialogues (361-348 B.C.). It is during the middle period that Plato returned to Athens from traveling in Sicily and Italy and founded the renowned Academy in 387 B.C.. The founding of the Academy is said by some to be one of the most important events in Western European history; it is in the Academy where Plato excelled in his dialectic teaching and taught his notable student Aristotle. This middle period is also thought to mark the time frame during which Plato wrote his most important work, the Republic.
The name Republic originates from the Latin version of Plato’s writing entitled Res publica, but the original title comes from the Greek phrase peri< dikai>ou, which is translated, “On the Just Man.” The Republic opens with a discussion between Socrates and his old friend Cephalus concerning the nature of justice. Throughout the work, the issue of justice is analyzed from different perspectives and various characters, each revolving around the central figure Socrates, as it relates to the state and man. As the discussion shifts from the just state to the just man, Plato, through the voice of his teacher, enters into the realm of epistemology and metaphysics. It is here where Plato discusses his idea of the good as the cause of knowledge. He is the first to form a systematic method of knowledge, and his ideas anticipated the future of epistemological development. Plato introduces his epistemological concepts in Book VI through his example of the sun.
It is the purpose of this essay to give an analysis of Plato’s theory of the cause of knowledge in the idea of the good through his illustration of the sun and determine how his theory relates to his question of justice.
Plato in the Republic assumes the reader has an understanding of his doctrine of the forms, thus an introduction to his doctrine is imperative before a discussion of his...