Plato – sample answer – part b


This was written in 15 minutes in timed conditions.

The key questions are whether Plato does undervalue experience and whether he is correct in assuming this. In one sense Plato appears correct in his assessment that the physical world cannot give us answers to “what is it?” questions. “What is it that makes something beautiful or just?” doesn’t seem to be able to be answered by pointing at one thing in the physical world because that one thing doesn’t explain the whole concept, only part. Plato was influenced by Heraclitanism that states something is no more “X” than it is “Y”. This taught Plato that anything in the physical realm or the realm of experience cannot provide true knowledge as every object is in a relational state with other objects in the universe. This means that it doesn’t make sense to say someone is “short” or “tall” because there can be millions of examples when that individual is “shorter” than something or “taller” than something else. This suggests that Plato is correct not to value experience enough.


However, empiricists such as Hume and Aristotle might argue that Plato doesn’t give enough credit to experience. Hume may argue that Plato’s ideas are counterintuitive as the physical realm and sense experience appear far more real than this spiritual World of Forms. When I cut my finger I feel the pain and experience the sensation of blood passing out of my body, I may even feel queasy at the sight of blood. These experiences are tangible, concrete and follow directly from my stream of consciousness. This makes it very difficult to believe that these experiences are simple illusions or that they are pale reflections of another realm. If Hume and Aristotle are successful here then they would agree that Plato does not value experience enough. Plato might argue in support of his point that these illusions feel very real but cannot be true reality as “matter” is inherently evil and will deceive us. We must break free from the chains of ignorance and seek true knowledge in the Form of the Good. It could be argued that this goes some way to defend Plato’s point but it does not seem to successfully dismiss the empiricists’ point of view. This is mainly because Plato has no evidence to back up his ideas other than his own theory and analogy.

Aristotle might argue that Plato has missed the point. That true knowledge comes from understanding the individual object in the physical realm and not be searching for some other “Form”. He believes that the “Forms” are of no use to us as they serve no practical purpose. Any idea such as “Goodness” would need to be seen in a practical light not in its abstract if people were to truly understand it. It appears then that without a physical setting for the Forms they can have no meaning at all. Supporting Aristotle’s point, Kotarbinski has suggested that Plato is guilty of making a mistake about language – the mistake of reification. He believes that there are words that exist in our language that do not point to any “thing” or “object”. He thinks Plato is taking the concept of “Good”, “Truth”, “Justice” or “Beauty” and simply thinking them into actual existence in the World of Forms. It seems that Plato needs to posit the existence of the World of Forms as he believes that “Truth” must be unchanging or eternal. It may be that, as Popper suggests, truth can exist in a state of change. This would mean that we would need to take extra care to analyse the empirical data before us if we wanted to be sure of the true nature of reality. It seems that Plato’s undervaluing of experience cannot be justified in light of the arguments discussed above.

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