Plato General Philosophy on Knowledge and Reality

Plato General Philosophy on Knowledge and Reality:

Plato General Philosophy on Knowledge:

Plato holds that true knowledge is innate. He believes that knowledge does not come to the soul at or after birth. In fact, it is a part of the soul itself, and it is always with the soul. This conception has led Plato to conclude that soul existed before the body and during the pre-natal existence it learned all that with which it is familiar in this world.

Kinds and Sources of Knowledge:
  • Knowledge gained through senses- According to Plato, the first kind of knowledge is that which is acquired through senses such as cold, smooth, sour, colour etc. This type of knowledge is not permanent or eternal. It is unreal.
  • Knowledge gained through opinion- The second kind of knowledge is that of opinion regarding things. The knowledge gathered from opinions may be useful in certain situations, but this knowledge is not real and true. It is not innate. In the words of Socrates, the knowledge gained by ‘opinion’ is ‘half thought’.
  • Knowledge which is innate- The third kind of knowledge according to Plato, is innate or inborn. It is in the mind or reason. All mathematical truths, general concepts, absolute and abstract ideas fall within this category. This type of knowledge alone is true, permanent, eternal, real and reliable. Absolute ideas of truth, beauty and goodness are the products of this very sort of knowledge. They are innate and the possession of the mind itself. They are independent of experience. Such knowledge does not change with different sense impression or with the opinion of different individuals but remains universal and unchangeable.
Plato General Philosophy on Reality:

Like the greatest idealist, Plato believes in the realities that persist and the beauties that never fade. In the field of reality, he observed, that man lives in two worlds-

The world of ideas- According to Plato, the world of ideas is the real world. It is eternal, spaceless, unbounded and unchangeable. It is the world of mind, a world of abstract thought. Since that is true, genuine, and real, it is away from the worldly objects. The absolute ideas are entities in themselves and they form an organic whole a “World of Ideas”. Ideas are interrelated in a divine order or perfect mind. They are eternal Divine thoughts. They are God’s. They are related to each other in a heavenly order. They are heavenly because worldly objects are created and modelled according to them. They are complete, perfect and real in themselves. They are apart from material things. Such is the nature of Platonic idealism. It regards that true reality is thought, and therefore, it is spiritual.

The world of senses and objects- Against the ideal world, there is the world of senses and objects. It is the material world. It has nothing perfect, permanent and abiding in it. In this world of senses and objects, everything is in space and time, everything is subject to change. This world of senses is made of matter. It is only a copy or shadow of the real. Plato regards matter as the source of all evils, the cause of all imperfections. Anything that seems beautiful today fades away tomorrow. Only the ideas about the beautiful things linger on. That is why Plato said that it is the world of an idea that is real. ‘The Truth’, ‘The Good’ and ‘The Beautiful’ are the eternal qualities of the world. Hence the highest reality is the truth, the good and the beautiful. In order to be a moral man, one must possess “Goods of the Soul” or certain virtues like justice, magnanimity, temperance and self-control.

Man- According to Plato, man is the essence of the universe. He is a combination of body and soul. Man is perfect and can lead a moral life only when his soul, as well as body, are developed properly. The body is made of physical components. It deprives the reason and, hence, it is the source of several evils. The body is unreal and transitory. Plato said that there are three elements of the soul-

  • Instincts and appetites- Instincts, drives, desires and appetites constitute the first part of the soul. The centre of this element is the abdomen of the body. It is the point that instigates or accentuates desires, wishes and other activities of the body. This part is subject to decay and destruction. Therefore instincts, drives, desires and appetites should be curbed.
  • Will- This is the second element of the soul. Its centre is the heart. It resides in the human heart. It is considered as a source of encouragement for all activities. It inspires endurance, preservance, tolerance and such other qualities in a man.
  • Reason- Its centre is mind. It is divine and is not related to the body. It should decide all the things. It is neither destroyed nor does it change its form. The body is a prison of reason. The body loses its existence with the exit of wisdom. This wisdom resides in the divine power of God before birth. After birth soul becomes its abode. It is due to this wisdom that soul knows about truth, beauty and goodness before birth. In fact, wisdom is the eye of the soul. Just as the physical body sees through eyes and gets the knowledge of the real substance, similarly the soul realises truth, beauty and goodness through the eye of wisdom before birth. The aim of life of man should be to realise the ‘spiritual wisdom’. With the realisation of this wisdom man can be happy, delighted and contented. The aim of education should be to awaken the wisdom of man. Man cannot achieve perfection so long his wisdom is not awakened.

Plato believed that the first two elements of soul namely instincts and appetites, and will or courage are destroyed with the body. They are perishable and unreal. Only reason or wisdom is real. Plato was the first philosopher in Greece who made it clear that the man is composed of soul and physical substances. The body and soul are separate identities. The body is perishable while the soul is immortal. The body is related to concrete, physical and outside world, and the soul is connected with the conscious part of the universal soul.

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