Shona Epistemology and Plato's Divided Line

By Mangena, Fainos; Mukova, Maxwell | The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online), June/July 2010 | Go to article overview

Shona Epistemology and Plato's Divided Line


Mangena, Fainos, Mukova, Maxwell, The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)


Abstract

This paper compares and contrasts Plato's theory of knowledge as represented by the divided line with Shona conceptions of knowledge as found in Shona traditional utterances. The idea is to show the possible synergies and nuances between the two philosophically rich traditions. In order to show clarity and coherence in argumentation, we begin the treatise by defining knowledge in general and we move on to outline and discuss the levels of knowledge in Plato's divided line before we consider Shona conceptions of knowledge. Using Plato's divided line is just a matter of strategy; we do not consider Plato's theory of knowledge to be the most ideal theory to be used across cultures. Rather, we try to show that areas of commonality between Plato's divided line and Shona conceptions of knowledge are more revealing than areas of divergence.

I am the wisest man alive; for there is one thing that I know that is that I know nothing (Socrates, in The Republic).

Introduction

This paper estimates how Shona utterances or expressions approximate Plato's theory of the divided line in the definition and conceptualization of knowledge. To begin with, in his theory of the divided line, Plato identifies and analyses four levels of knowing starting from the lowest level which he calls imagination where the mind encounters shadows and take them as knowledge; to the highest level which he calls perfect intelligence where the mind perceives knowledge through The Forms. In between imagination and perfect knowledge, the mind also perceives knowledge through belief and thinking. In this article, we argue that there is a correlation between Plato's theory of the divided line and Shona conceptions of knowing which are found in Shona utterances and sculptures. For instance, at the level of imagination, Shona utterances such as: Raviro anobatira zvinhu pamusoro, ha-ana cha-anonyanyoziva (Raviro has a tendency to scratch things on the surface, she is not quite knowledgeable) approximates Plato's imagination in the divided line as shall be demonstrated later in this work.

Juxtaposing this proposition with Plato's divided line one can notice that 'scratching the surface' does not require much serious thought except some bit of imagination which Plato defines as the most superficial form of mental activity. At the level of belief, it will be argued that the Shona people use statements like: Anovona asi ha-avonesesi (he or she does not see properly) which means that a person has knowledge of some phenomena. At this level, the senses distort reality to the extent that a mountain would appear to be blue if viewed from afar, yet upon getting closer to it, one would see that it is not be blue. At the level of thinking, it will be demonstrated that the Shona saying muninga dzepfungwa (deep thoughts) has the equivalence of Plato's dianoia where Shona sages go beyond imagination and belief to be deeply engaged in deep thoughts about the cosmos and their everyday experiences in society. And finally at the level of perfect knowledge, the Shona utterance: Vanhu vanepfungwa dzakajeka ndivo vano-ona zvakavanzika (only the intellectually gifted have to transcendental knowledge or knowledge about the forms). This compares well with Plato's divided line where the mind perceives knowledge in terms of The Forms which surpass all forms of imagination, belief and thinking. Though areas of commonality between these two philosophically rich traditions are more revealing, we will argue that among the Shona; elders are the sources of knowledge which they re-collect through their past experiences where knowledge is a product of induction, while knowledge according to Plato is a function of the mind as it negotiates its way from imagination to perfect knowledge.

Epistemology

Epistemology is one of the four main branches of philosophy which include metaphysics, ethics and logic. While metaphysics deals with the nature of reality in terms of what there is (ontology) and what we say about what there is (predication), ethics deal with the nature of human relationships in terms of how we ought to live and logic deals with the principles of correct and incorrect reasoning. …

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