Is Plato Elitist?

This essay problem is based on Does the Center Hold, pages 40-42, 41-43 and 44-46, 44-50, or 45-50. (Page numbers in dark red refer to the 6th edition, dark blue numbers refer to the 5th edition, greenish page numbers refer to the 4th edition, and page numbers in light blue refer to the 3rd edition. )

Palmer's relevant text is reproduced as: Page 40 . Page 41 . Page 42 . Page 43 . Page 44 . Page 45 .
Page 46 . Page 47 . Page 48 . Page 49  . Page 50 . Page 51 .

In particular, I want you to read the material from the picture of the aged cat up to the word "Concepts."

Once you've read that, you should have a good idea of why and how Palmer accuses Plato of elitism. My question for you is, do you think Palmer's right about this? I don't think so, and if you read the following, you will know why I don't.

First, I think it's important for you to know the difference between general knowledge, (also called " knowing about") and specific knowledge (also called "knowing that").

General knowledge, or knowing about, is knowing the characteristics associated with a particular object or kind of object. Knowing about horses thus consists of knowing things like what horses look like, how they behave, all the different gaits they can use, what kinds of personalities they can have, what diseases they are prone to, and so on.

Specific knowlwdge, or knowing that, is knowing what kind of object a particular object is. Knowing that Mr. Ed is a horse consists only of being aware of Mr. Ed as an individual, and having a fully justified belief that Mr. Ed is a horse.

Imagine that Desmond is a superbly qualified horse expert, and that, completely unknown to Desmond, Mr. Ed is in the next room. Suddenly, Mr. Ed starts clumping about and knocking things over. Desmond would then have a lot of descriptive knowledge about horses, but he would not have the specific knowledge that the thing in the next room making all the racket is a horse. If someone told him "Oh, that's Mr. Ed in there," he still wouldn't know that Mr. Ed is a horse, even though he knows an enormous amount about horses.

Suppose Frannie only knows enough about horses to recognize one when she sees one. She can only just tell the difference between horses, donkeys, jennies and mules. She sees Mr. Ed coming out of the room and, quite rightly, exclaims, "oh, that's a horse!" In this case, Frannie has the specific knowledge that Mr. Ed is a horse while having almost no general knowledge about horses.

Now, back to the reading.
Why does Palmer say that the farmer doesn't know that it's a horse?
Is the farmer supposed to lack general or specific knowledge of the horse?

What do falling pens, meteors and knocked out boxers have in common? What kind of knowledge is this?
What do beauty, truth and general niceness have in common? What kind of knowledge is this?
How is relativity in aesthetic taste supposed to refute Plato? How would Plato reply to this argument?

I want you to do three things here.
First, I want you clarify the relevant parts of Plato's epistemology, before thinking too much about the criticism.
Second, I want you to get the criticism as clear as you can in your own mind.
Third, I want you to think about whether or not the criticism succeeds in showing a real flaw in Plato's epistemology.

Knowledge
What are the three elements of Plato's definition of knowledge?
What is "justification" in terms of belief?
How would you justify a belief that a certain object was a horse, rather than, say, a banana, or a pirate ship?
On your understanding of Plato's theory, does it imply that anything other than this kind of justification is needed to know that a horse is a horse?
If it does imply that something else is needed, what is that thing? (Remember, I want your opinion, not Donald Palmer's!)

The supposed Problem of Elitism in Plato's Theory of Knowledge

Why do I say this is a "supposed" problem? I say it this way because I do not believe that Plato's theory has the kind of problem that Palmer describes in this reading. Donald Palmer says that Plato's theory makes it impossible for a farmer to know that some particular animal is a horse, and so on. Martin Young believes that Plato's theory does not work this way.

I think that the only kind of "elitism" in Plato's theory is that he thinks that knowledge of scientific concepts, and especially knowledge of the forms is much more important and admirable than knowledge of mere sensible objects. Sort of like "he thinks he knows stuff because he knows about horses and mules, but he doesn't know much because he knows nothing about quantum mechanics or the form of beauty." This form of elitism accepts that farmers know that horses are horses. It just thinks that knowing about horses is unworthy of such an important-sounding word as - da dum - "KNOWLEDGE!" (It's like saying that a man who can only crush a beer can against his forehead isn't a real man. A real man can crush a beer keg against his forehead.)

Before we go on, I want to explain a very important philosophical principle. "Charity" is the rule that we always interpret people to be saying the most intelligent thing they could reasonably be taken to be saying. Or, in other words, we never make people out to be any stupider than we have to. This means that if we can reasonably interpret Plato to be saying something sensible, we should do so instead of interpreting him as saying something stupid.

I want you to do as much as you can here towards achieving the following goals:

1. Understand the argument for Palmer's idea of the "problem of elitism."

2. Understand why Palmer's idea of the "problem of elitism" is wrong.

3. Begin to understand what is really wrong with Plato's theory of knowledge.

The claim is that Plato's epistemology implies that a farmer does not know a horse is a horse.
What does Palmer say that someone has to do in order to know that a horse is a horse?
What does Palmer say that the farmer cannot do?
According to Palmer, who can "give the logos" for a horse, and who can't?
How is this supposed to refute Plato?

Elitism
Do you need to know how many cromosomes an animal has in order to justify a claim that that animal is a horse?
(If you think you do, What does the evidence really logically imply the cowboys ride in western movies? If you think they're riding horses, how do you justify that belief?)
Did Plato's theory say that the person best able to justify a particular kind of knowledge claim can't ever know that kind of knowledge?
Does Plato's theory really imply that farmers can't know horses are horses?

The elitism criticism begins in the following text.



Reading Questions
What determines whether or not you are in a state of "belief?"
If the object of your awareness is a sensible object, what state are you in?
If the object of your awareness is a form, and not a sensible object, does that necessarily mean you're in a state of belief?
What justification, if any, does the farmer give here for saying that the "creature" is a horse?
What does Palmer say the "creature" is?

Thinky Questions
Answer the following questions based on Palmer's version of Plato.
If the object of your awareness is an image (like Bearataur or Prince Chaz Aquasparkle), are you in a state of imaging, belief, understanding or pure reasoning?
If the object of your awareness is a sensible object (like a platypus or a tilted building), are you in a state of imaging, belief, understanding or pure reasoning?
If the object of your awareness is scientific concept (like fusion), are you in a state of imaging, belief, understanding or pure reasoning?
If the object of your awareness is a form (like beauty), are you in a state of imaging, belief, understanding or pure reasoning?
Does being in a state of "belief" or not depend on how you're thinking or on what kind of thing you're thinking about?
Does Palmer's word "belief" mean the same thing as what ordinary people mean by the word "belief" when they use it outside the classroom?
Does Palmer's mean the same thing by "belief" here as he meant by it when he describe knowledge as justified true "belief?"
Isn't it a bit weird to say that the state you're in depends on the category of the idea you're thinking about?

Also, is it really true that the farmer hasn't "given the logos?" Didn't he say "take a look?" What would that mean if the animal didn't look like a horse? So, it looks like Palmer assumes three things: 1. The animal in the field is a horse. 2. The farmer believes it's a horse. And, 3. The animal looks like a horse.

In other words:
The farmer believes it's a horse.
The farmer has justification for believing it's a horse.
It is true that it is a horse.

Next piece of reading:




Please note that while Palmer asks the question "so why does Plato say that the farmer doesn't know that it's a horse," Palmer has not given any evidence that Plato ever explictly says this. Rather, Palmer thinks that Plato's theory implies this. It's important to remember that here we are dealing with Palmer's theory about Plato's theory. It may be the case that Plato's theory has this implication. It is not the case that Plato says that a farmer does not know that particular animals are horses.

So, in this reading, what is the tall guy's justification for saying that the object in the background is a horse?
Could "it looks exactly like a horse" be part of that justification?
Does the chicken have any reason for saying it's a zebra and not a horse?
(Stupid chicken.)

Now, suppose the creature looks like this:
horse
Now, if the farmer points at this and says "take a look," would we really be sure that the farmer isn't giving a justification for his belief?

Thinky Questions
How much of the guy's "giving the logos" is stuff both he and the farmer can see with their own eyes?
How much of the guy's "giving the logos" is stuff neither he nor the farmer can see no matter how hard they look?

Last bit of "elitism" reading.


According to Palmer, what can "this man" do that the farmer can't?
According to Palmer, what problem arises from this difference?
According to Palmer, how does Plato's theory create this problem?

Thinky Questions
How would people find out if a particular animal was domesticable?
How would people find out if a particular animal was a quadruped?
How would people find out if a particular animal had closed hooves?
How would people find out if a particular animal had 32 chromosome pairs?
What does Palmer seem to mean by "conceptual level" here?
What is so "conceptual" about thinking about whether a particular animal is domesticable?
What is so "conceptual" about thinking about whether a particular animal is a quadruped?
What is so "conceptual" about thinking about whether a particular animal has closed hooves?
What is so "conceptual" about thinking about whether a particular animal has 32 chromosome pairs?
Is looking through a microscope at chromosome pairs really more conceptual than looking at how many legs something has?
Is looking through a microscope at chromosome pairs really as conceptual as thinking about the nature of beauty?
Does the guy in the cartoon really see things at a conceptual level?
Isn't he just rattling off a bunch of claims about sensible objects?

Can the tall guy tell that the animal has 32 chromosomes?
If you eliminate everything that the tall guy cannot actually know from where he's standing, what is he left with?
Is the tall guy left with anything different from what the farmer can also do?

Palmer says that Plato says knowledge needs "giving the logos" which is different from justification.
Young says that Plato says knowledge only needs justification, and Palmer's "giving the logos" isn't really different from that.
Has Palmer given an example of "giving the logos," that is part of knowing that some particular animal is a horse, and which actually different from giving a justification for believing that that particular animal is a horse?

Remember the rule for deciding whether or not someone is in a state of "belief" according to the similie of the line?
If the object of your awareness is a sensible object, what state are you in?
If the object of your awareness is a sensible object, can that ever put you in a state other than belief?
According to the similie of the line, can you be in a state of "knowledge" if the object of your awareness isn't a concept or a form?
Is the tall guy in the cartoon who "gives the logos" contemplating a concept or a form?
What kind of thing is the tall guy contemplating?
Based on the similie of the line, is the tall guy in the cartoon who "gives the logos" in a state of "knowledge" or "belief?"
According to the similie of the line, which defines all contemplation of sensible objects as mere "belief," can anyone who only ever contemplates sensible objects ever be in a state of knowledge?


The Big Question
Based on your answers to the thinky questions given above, which is the most reasonable analysis of the implications of Plato's Similie of the Line?

1. Plato's theory is elitist because it implies that only a select few people can know that a certain object is a horse because only a select few people have the conceptual knowledge that horses are domesticable and, if you look through a microscope at a cellular nucleus taken from a horse, you will count 32 pairs of chromosomes.

or

2. Plato's theory is not elitist because there's no evidence to support the claim that he was elitist, and no real evidence to support Palmer's interpretation of Plato's theory.

In your opinion, what does the evidence really logically imply?

Copyright 2013 by Martin C. Young

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