Belief and Truth: A Skeptic Reading of Plato

Belief and Truth: A Skeptic Reading of Plato

Belief and Truth: A Skeptic Reading of Plato

Belief and Truth: A Skeptic Reading of Plato

Synopsis

Katja Maria Vogt's Belief and Truth: A Skeptic Reading of Plato explores a Socratic intuition about the difference between belief and knowledge. Beliefs -- doxai -- are deficient cognitive attitudes. In believing something, one accepts some content as true without knowing that it is true; one holds something to be true that could turn out to be false. Since our actions reflect what we hold to be true, holding beliefs is potentially harmful for oneself and others. Accordingly, beliefs are ethically worrisome and even, in the words of Plato's Socrates, "shameful." As Vogt argues, this is a serious philosophical proposal and it speaks to intuitions we are likely to share. But it involves a notion of belief that is rather different from contemporary notions. Today, it is a widespread assumption that true beliefs are better than false beliefs, and that some true beliefs (perhaps those that come with justifications) qualify as knowledge. Socratic epistemology offers a genuinely different picture. In aiming for knowledge, one must aim to get rid of beliefs. Knowledge does not entail belief -- belief and knowledge differ in such important ways that they cannot both count as kinds of belief. As long as one does not have knowledge, one should reserve judgment and investigate by thinking through possible ways of seeing things. According to Vogt, the ancient skeptics and Stoics draw many of these ideas from Plato's dialogues, revising Socratic-Platonic arguments as they see fit. Belief and Truth retraces their steps through interpretations of the Apology, Ion, Republic, Theaetetus, and Philebus, reconstructs Pyrrhonian investigation and thought, and illuminates the connections between ancient skepticism and relativism, as well as the Stoic view that beliefs do not even merit the evaluations "true" and "false."

Excerpt

The kind of skepticism that interests me in this book is not the skepticism that asks whether or not I know that this is my hand, or that you are not a zombie. Instead, it is part of an approach to epistemology that thinks of questions about knowledge, belief, and truth as being immediately tied to normative and evaluative questions. Much of the inspiration for this kind of skepticism derives from Socrates, or rather the Socrates of Plato’s dialogues. In a famous line of the Apology, Socrates says that the unexamined life is not worth living for a human being (38a5–6). Ancient skepticism inherits this spirit. It is centrally about stepping back from belief-formation and counteracting one’s tendencies to be quick to judge. Closely related, it is concerned with the ways in which one can fail to understand one’s own thoughts, and fail to examine thoughts because one likes or dislikes them, or because one prefers to hold a view as opposed to holding no view. These psychological phenomena are taken to differ importantly from processes of rationally guided belief-formation, in which a cognizer is inclined to accept a thought after careful consideration of whether it is true.

The plan for this book is to think through a range of theories that share intuitions relevant to this kind of normative epistemology. A short way to describe the project is thus to say that I am interested in the Socratic side of ancient epistemology. Somewhat more specifically, I shall discuss Plato’s engagement with central Socratic ideas about an examined life, as well as versions of what I call Socratic epistemology, found in ancient skeptical philosophies and in Stoic epistemology.

A minimal historical orientation would begin with the initial successors of Plato (429–347 BCE), who focused on Platonic theories: Speusippus (347–339), Xenocrates (339– 314), and Polemon (314–269). The founder of Stoicism, Zeno (334–262), studied and philosophized in the Academy for a long time, perhaps as early as under Xenocrates’ leadership,

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