Ancient Epistemology by Lloyd P. Gerson - ISBN 9780521871396 - Cambridge University Press 2009


  • 1 Ancient and modern perspectives
    • "ancient epistemology is a form of naturalism, that is, an account of cognition in general rooted in an understanding of the natural world to which humans belong and also from which they somehow stand apart as observers or thinkers." (p1)
    • objective of this chapter is to draw "basic differences between
      • the ancient naturalistic approach to knowledge and
      • the contemporary nonnatural or criteriological approach." (p1)
    • "What makes it possible to speak generally about ancient epistemology is that all the philosophers with whom I shall be concerned shared the belief that knowledge is a natural state or a ‘natural kind’ and that it is possible to have incorrect or correct accounts of what that is." (p2)
    • "one should not assume that episteme[knowledge] is related to doxa[belief]" (p2)
    • Standard Analysis of knowledge (p2-3)
      • "a subject S knows p if and only if
        • (1) p is true;
        • (2) S believes p; and
        • (3) S is justified in her belief."
      • brief discussion with reference to following chapters
    • "ancients maintained that ‘wisdom’ was the name for the most important knowledge, extremely difficult to obtain and equally difficult to communicate, but ultimately life-enhancing in some way." (p6)
    • "the error is in supposing that the assumption that there are two[empirical/non-empirical] (or more) kinds of knowledge is itself not a feature of a view of knowledge fundamentally at odds with the ancient view. The fact that there may be different sorts of things that are knowable does not entail that there are different kinds of knowledge." (p6)
    • briefly postulating classical questions of falsification, demarcation, indeterminability
    • "in ancient Greek philosophy the fundamental division within the genus cognition (gnosis) is between perceiving (to aisthanesthai) and thinking (to noein)." (p7-8)
    • "if we allow that knowledge has a real nature independent of how we stipulate that the word ‘knowledge’ is to be used, still we might want to insist that knowledge has to be understood ‘from the bottom up’, that is, as a process or state or capacity arising somehow from a biological or chemical basis." (p8-9)
    • "Atomists, Stoics and Epicureans - who were in principle receptive of a ‘bottom-up’ approach to explanation, [...] operated in a milieu in which the opposite approach dominated." (p9)
    • "Ancient epistemology differs from modern epistemology in maintaining that knowledge is a natural state that is in essence not reducible to the subject matter of empirical science." (p9)
  • 2 The origin of epistemology
    • "Philosophy begins in ancient Greece with a simple hypothesis: nature (phusis) is or has an order (kosmos) or structure." (p14)
    • "ancient cosmological speculation from its inception bears the hallmark of scientific reductionism, that is, the operating assumption that multiple explanations are themselves ultimately reducible to or derived from a single explanation." (p14)
    • "the assumption that the explanation of complex explananda will converge on one or a few irreducibly simple explanans goes to the heart of ancient epistemology." (p14)
    • "If nature has an underlying order, but appears not to have one, still it is from the appearances (phainomena) that the order has to be inferred." (p15)
    • "The obvious problem is, however, how to distinguish epistemic [those that putatively represent or reflect reality] from non-epistemic [those that do not accurately represent reality] appearances." (p15)
    • "If, for example, things appear qualitatively diverse and complex but are in reality nothing but atoms in the void, the appearances from which we started are non-epistemic." (p15)
      • which sounds like the explanation in movie X (describing a philosophical in the Mont Saint-Michel, see in the PiecesOfCulture), add the excerpt from YouTube when the "heroin" describes to the man atoms agency in the guard tower
    • "Democritus’ assertion that knowledge is of intelligible reality and is separate from belief undermines the Standard Analysis because on that analysis, knowledge is a type of belief and there must be justifying evidence for the knowledge." (p24)
  • 3 Plato
    • "started with the universal Presocratic assumptions that knowledge is a real, not merely notional achievement, that it is more than merely belief, and that its desirability is manifest." (p27)
    • "The value of knowledge over belief underlies the so-called early or Socratic dialogues in a straightforward way." (p27)
    • "One who binds the true belief by figuring out the explanation is a knower. She understands why the true belief is true. In Platonic terms, the explanation for the truth of a true belief is to be found in the nature or essence (ousia) owing to which something is correctly said to be or to possess an instance of that essence." (p29)
    • study of Republic including
      • knowledge and belief have mutually exclusive objects
      • discussion of philosopher-kings and their education, Idea of the Good and the analogy of the Divided Line
      • allegory of the Cave
    • "A belief for Plato is derived from an appearance and appearances are, primarily, sensible." (p32)
    • "Plato in fact does not merely maintain the position he held in Republic, he also shows why knowledge cannot be as the Standard Analysis has it." (p44)
    • study of Theaetetus
      • "this dialogue provides no comfort whatsoever to those who wish to recruit Plato into the ranks of contemporary epistemologists." (p45)
      • "whereas Republic was primarily concerned with what sorts of objects are knowable, Theaetetus focuses on the nature of knowledge itself." (p45)

If true belief is knowledge, like Protagoras, one must believe to be false

  • "what one believes to be true. Once we see that true belief is not knowledge, we can proceed to try to explain what no one doubts for one moment to be the case, namely, that false beliefs do, alas, constantly clutter our minds." (p51)
  • "Knowledge is neither sense-perception nor the true beliefs arising from sense-perception nor sense-perception ‘plus’ anything, including a justifying story." (p55)
  • "The infallibility of knowledge is sometimes characterised by philosophers in terms of the so-called K-K Thesis. This is the thesis that if someone knows, she knows that she knows. Sometimes, this iteration is glossed as someone being in a state such that what is known is self-evident to that person." (p56)
  • "Plato’s view is that there is no other way of attaining the truth than by infallibly knowing it." (p56)
  • "attaining knowledge is a recollection of the cognitive state that actually identifies us, this attainment is a process of self-discovery. It is only on this interpretation of Plato’s account of knowledge, I believe, that his extraordinary view of the indispensability of philosophy makes any sense." (p61)
  • 4 Aristotle
    • "[Aristotle] maintains that there is no knowledge ‘by means of senseperception’." (p62)
    • "Aristotle - despite his substantial disagreements with Plato - agrees with his master’s basic epistemological doctrines." (p62)
    • "Posterior Analytics is almost unintelligible outside the framework of Organon, the collection of works wherein Aristotle outlines the conceptual tools whereby knowledge may be obtained." (p63)
    • "The fundamental items of nature are substances (ousiai)" (p64)
    • "Individual substances have so-called accidental attributes." (p64)
    • "individual substances are actualisations of the species to which they belong as the species are actualisations of the genera." (p64)
    • "One who aims to possess knowledge of the things that exist by nature aims to cognise the relation between the species and genera of particular accidental attributes and the species and genera of individual substances." (p64)
    • "The middle term is what supposedly ‘links’ the species and the properties such that we can see that they must be connected because the species is connected to the middle term and the middle term is connected to the property. The middle term explains, which is to say in Aristotelian jargon, that it is a cause." (p64)
    • "Aristotle maintains that ‘the cause always exists to a higher degree (mallon huparchei) than that of which it is a cause’. What exists to a higher degree is that which does not have a compromised or qualified identity, that is, something whose reality and actuality are not diverse." (p69)
    • analysis of De Anima
      • "the basic orientation of De Anima which is to show how a soul defines a species of living thing, and in particular how a soul is characterised by its highest functioning. For a human soul, this is thinking, which includes both knowledge and belief as well as practical wisdom." (p75)
    • "Aristotle’s account of thought in general drives his conclusion that knowledge is distinct from belief, and even from true belief." (p89)
  • 5 Epicureanism and Stoicism
    • "first generation of post-Aristotelian philosophers whose materialistic metaphysics inspires their approach to epistemology." (p89)
    • "My justification for treating together two schools of philosophy that are deeply divergent in many ways is that they share a type of naturalism in epistemology that is self-consciously materialist." (p90)
    • Epicurean epistemology
      • "It is not enough, it seems, to have acquired a true belief; one must be completely convinced of it in order for the belief itself to make the requisite change that is actually constitutive of happiness, or tranquility of soul (ataraxia)" (p92)
      • "The factor that transforms a mere true belief into one that is psychologically effective is the firmness (bebaiotes) and clarity (enargeia) with which it is held. When our conviction (pistis) is as firm as possible, that is, when the truth of what we believe is self-evident, we shall have knowledge." (p92)
      • "It is not easy to see how degrees of conviction could be rationally correlated to the status of beliefs whose supposed truth cannot be but recognised as pro tem." (p100)
      • "Epicurus’ embrace of the traditional Greek philosophical idea that knowledge is supposed somehow to be life-enhancing along with his principle that the only sort of knowledge possible is empirical knowledge sets ancient epistemology on a new path. Epicurus was joined on that path by the Stoics." (p100)
    • Stoic epistemology
      • "the founder of Stoicism, Zeno of Citium (334-261 bce). Zeno pronounced the goal in life to be ‘living in agreement with nature’" (p100)
      • "The Stoic criterion of truth is the ‘graspable presentation’ (kataleptike phantasia) (D.L. 7.54 = SVF 2.105). A presentation is a state (pathos) in the soul revealing (endeiknumenon) both itself and its cause" (p102)
      • "The Stoics insisted that knowledge is available only to the wise, whereas the having of graspable presentations was possible for any rational creature." (p103)
      • "It is noteworthy that the Stoics refused to reject the distinctiveness of knowledge from belief and even from grasping, especially given their claim that knowledge was extremely rare." (p104)
      • "Stoic epistemology rests upon a general principle of cognition as a natural process or event. This naturalism precludes representation from being exclusively the medium of cognition. A true proposition is an expression of the truth when the truth is known, not the truth itself. The relationship that a wise man has to the truth is not a propositional attitude." (p111)
      • "they set themselves apart is in their materialism. The combination of naturalism and materialism on behalf of a defence of the possibility of knowledge provides scepticism’s main target" (p111)
  • 6 Scepticism
    • "all later sceptics who claimed Pyrrhonian inspiration took the latter alternative [all things were indeterminable] as the basis for their arguments." (p114)
    • "we only hold beliefs that we believe are true. If one admits that one has no more reason to believe p than not-p, one is not faced with a cognitive black hole. On the contrary, one can embrace the sceptic way, insisting that it appears to one that p (or not-p)." (p116)
    • "For Sextus, the sceptical rejection of the possibility of knowledge makes rational belief impossible as well." (p124)
    • "Although the activity of dialectic and the pursuit of happiness need not fall to scepticism, groundless would be the assumption that in between the dialectic and the achievement of the happy life the attainment of knowledge of serious matters must intervene." (p133)
  • 7 Plotinus and the Neoplatonic synthesis
    • "The three fundamental hypostases of Plotinus’ version of Platonism (and of Neoplatonism generally) are the One, Intellect (nous) and Soul (psyche)." (p135)
    • "knowledge is the sort of thing that we must have if we are to have understanding of anything and hence belief." (p143)
    • "The anti-sceptical Plotinian argument might be termed the argument from self-consciousness. Indeed, Plotinus is the first philosopher to thematise consciousness in epistemology. Consciousness is primarily self-consciousness in ‘primary thinking’." (p142)
    • "Consciousness is paradigmatically self-consciousness because what is unqualifiedly intelligible is identical with the intellect. In the latter aspect, it is ‘self-reflexivity’ (epistrophe pros heauton) (" (p142)
    • "Plotinus [...] claims that thinking in the principal sense is self-thinking." (p143)
  • 8 Varieties of naturalism
    • Naturalism Redivivus
      • "The doyen of contemporary naturalism about knowledge is undoubtedly W.V. Quine who in 1969 published an essay titled ‘Naturalized Epistemology’." (p153)
        • no mention of Lorenz, Campbell, Munz, Popper or Amari
      • "the naturalism of ancient epistemology turns upon an understanding of nature more capacious that anything found today." (p155)
      • "The gap between the knowledge as a mental state and the representation of it is the main gap between ancient and modern naturalistic epistemology." (p157)
    • Epistemology and Nature
      • mainly focusing on Hilary Kornblith's Knowledge and its Place in Nature, OUP 2002
        • "an extended effort to refine Quinean-inspired naturalism in epistemology." (p157)
      • "The cornerstone of Kornblith’s naturalised epistemology is the claim that knowledge is a natural kind like gold." (p157)
      • "Kornblith’s reason for thinking that knowledge is a distinct natural kind is that any scientific account of sophisticated animal behaviour must see an animal’s cognitive equipment as aimed at acquiring and processing information" (p158)
    • Naturalism and the Mental
      • mainly focusing on Timothy Williamson’s Knowledge and its Limits, OUP 2000
        • "rooted in his claim that knowledge is a distinct mental state, incapable of analysis into any other mental state or into the typical terms of the Standard Analysis" (p159)
    • Concluding Remarks
      • "A striking feature of the analysis of thinking in Plato, Aristotle and Plotinus is the immateriality or incorporeality of thought. If thinkers were not immaterial, they would be incapable of the self-reflexivity required for Varieties of naturalism 163 thinking." (p163-164)
      • "Ancient epistemological naturalism insists on the distinction between following a rule and understanding a rule that is being followed. The achievement that is understanding or knowing is not open to arbitrary stipulation just as it is not reducible to a determinate material state." (p164)
      • "The ancient account of knowledge and belief rests upon certain putative features of human cognition, like its immateriality, that could not in principle be explained by empirical science. Contemporary epistemology can only be enriched by keeping its ancient counterpart in the discussion." (p165)

See also

Overall remarks and questions


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