the only easy day was yesterday

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Plato's Opinion

This is a few toughts that came to me while reading the section of Bertrand Russell's History of Western Philosophy on Plato's Theory of Ideas. I wrote all of this for an entry in a class blog sort of thing. We have recently been discussion the nature of truth and truth of statements along with relativism. A big point made last class was that every statement, opinions included, is either true or false but never both.

In this section Russell explains and expands somewhat on many of the ideas put fourth in The Republic, one of which particularly caught my attention given our last class discussion. He explains in this section Plato's view on opinions:

"Plato, however, thinks that what can at any time be a matter of opinion can never be a matter of knowledge. Knowledge is certain and infallible; opinion is not merely fallible, but it is necessarily mistaken, since it assumes the reality of what is only appearance."

I sometimes find it hard to separate what others understand and what I think I understand, so if I'm unclear here let me know.

I saw this as particularly relevant to our class because it deals with absolute truth outside of the human mind, as we just had a conversation about. An important thing to recognize here I think is that Plato's truth and reality lie in his famous world of forms in which there is a God and perfection of mind and knowledge, and that today there is widely accepted belief as such that we can all work off as a base of argument. In essence, his theory holds true whether one believes in god or not and this is why: there is inevitably a reality present in the universe, and whether or not a statement holds true to that actual reality outside of ourselves is the deciding factor - which we may never be able to see - of whether a statement is true or false. Now I haven't yet read any of Hume in order to set things strait in my mind as to the nature of there being a good or morality built into the working of the universe somehow, but I am still able to make this statement; if there is a truth and morality built into the universe, then such statements as 'rape is wrong' can be judged on such bases and be proved true or false, but if there is none, then it can only be said to be false; either way it is either true or false.

What Plato suggests here, to make this relevant, is that all opinion is necessarily false because it is not based on truth (if it was based on truth it would be knowledge). Today given the existence of the studies of metaphysics and epistemology we are very aware that we have no idea as to the actual nature of 'reality' or 'truth', so it follows that everything must be regarded as opinion, whether it is rooted in reality or not because we cannot know if it really is. This idea of Plato's seems to be the singular basis of the assertion that every statement is either true or false, but never both at the same time, and if nothing else I hope will help people by giving them background on the subject or maybe clearing it up a little, if not it's good brain food, I tangled with it for a while; it always feels good to come away form a reasonable piece of thought feeling like you've gotten somewhere; even if getting somewhere is understanding an idea that was present 2300 years ago.

Just another piece of food for thought - I know this is getting long, but hopefully you're enjoying the thinking - it also came up a point that Plato made about the idea of a bed being extant only in the world of forms and that all beds merely take part in that idea that God created, and he only created one 'ideal' bed (to make this relevant; think about chairs in this sense; a chair becomes anything that takes part in the ultimate idea of a chair that God created. The only thing that is fully 'A Chair' is the idea in heaven). Russell continues on to mention Plato's view of geometry and how it cannot be proven because of human inability to draw a perfectly straight line, but in heaven it could be because there is straight line there. Russell becomes too quick to criticize here because he equates there being only one bed to there being only one line, and with one line it is impossible to make a three sided object such as a triangle, that would require three lines. I think he did not consider that it follow from that line of thought that a bed could not exist in heaven because it could was made up of multiple trees and feathers and springs (or whatever it was that made up an ancient bed) which are all already busy with being the perfect idea of their own thing (Trees, geese...springs...). Plato I think proposes that the perfect Ideas gained by philosophy, reason, and dialectic are such ideas as can be found in the heavens, a bed was just a simple physical idea; beauty, as I think he uses at a different time, is a much better example. Temporal things can partake in beauty and there can still be beauty fully realized in the heavens, but there's no real reason why a bed...or a triangle, would be in heaven. Heaven is supposedly a place where these things are in their purest forms; math and geometry are tools for observing and inquiring as to the nature of reality, once that state or place or truth is reached we can experience as it is, math and related studies would become useless. This is in a Platonic mindset, I myself don't quite agree, but that's irrelevant.


Anonymous said...

“Today given the existence of the studies of metaphysics and epistemology we are very aware that we have no idea as to the actual nature of 'reality' or 'truth', so it follows that everything must be regarded as opinion, whether it is rooted in reality or not because we cannot know if it really is.”

While you were having your conversation about truth and relative truth, I am sure someone brought up the Relative truth paradox: All truth is relative, except for the the Truth that everything is relative. This paradox seems to repeat in with the opinions dilemma “everything must be regarded as opinion”. This statement is an assertion of an absolute truth : everything is opinion. It’s a strange paradox since it is at the same time claiming that everything is opinion. Can this be stated when everything that leaves human mouths is opinion? And what exactly does this paradox mean? It’s like that deflating statement: Everything I say is a lie. Can absolute and relative truth exist at the same time? I am a strong believer in foundations. These foundations should probably be absolute. Aside from Descartes, and the somewhat universal philosophical odyssey to find “solid ground” from which to reason, I am reminded of human biology and the expression of genes. The foundation in the situation would be that a human exists with genes that could be expressed. There is an absolute with a lot of potential. But the course of h uman development is than relative to environment. Just for kicks- an example… I can’t think of the name of the disease, but the human will only develop it if they are exposed to (eat) foods with PKP(?) in it. If these people do not eat this, they will not develop the disease.
(there are probably things of more interest- maybe something about the blue people from kentuky? Check them out theyre actually blue.)

Jasper Yate said...

yes, you're very clever, you figured out the little paradoxes...

I'm not gonna reread what i wrote and im sure i wasnt overly clear because i dont really do that, but the essence of what i said was that platos theory of opinion seems to me to be the sole reason for an accepted view among philosophers that ther is a truth, in some regards, to everything; or in other words, every statement is either true or false, but never both. In other words there is concrete truth to everything, we just don't necessarily know what it is or where or how to look for it. I don't think that relative truth can exist at all; if somethings roots lie in truth or reality, then it is truth, whether it is being percieved relatively or not, and if it's roots are not, then it is a falsity.

mad cow?