Plato is one of the greatest of all ancient philosophers and thus his theory of two worlds is known by most of us. Plato upholds the idea that there are two kinds of worlds, the visible and the intelligible. The visible world dwells with ordinary or physical objects wherein the intelligible world dwells with Forms. Of the two worlds, Plato considers the world of intelligible to be superior to that of the visible world.
To distinguish the two worlds Plato said that where the visible world is one which deals with physical objects which are constantly changing, the intelligible world is one which deals with images and forms and that the intelligible world is unchanging and eternal as compared to the visible world. Plato also pointed out that of the two worlds, the world of ideas is more real than the visible world and that the visible world’s reality is dependent upon the intelligible world because the visible world is merely a reflection of what the intelligible world is all about.
Another major difference between the two is that we get to know something about the visible world because of our senses wherein we get to know things from the intelligible world due to our faculty of reason. Of the two kinds of knowing the one which Plato considers the best are things known through our faculty of reason because for him things known empirically are prone to error. Plato also pointed out that our body is a part of the visible world wherein our soul is part of the intelligible world and this regard we can see Plato’s dualism in forms of mind and body.
In Plato’s dualism we can deduct that the body is dependent on the soul (and not the other way around. Based on the above explanations, one can easily deduct that Plato favors the world of ideas or the intelligible world to that of the visible world. Plato, on his epistemology stated that all knowledge is inherent or innate. Thus, according to this belief once we learn about something, say for example riding a bicycle, we are not really learning it; instead we are merely recalling what we already know deep within our soul. Plato also distinguishes knowledge from that of opinions.
As we have discussed earlier knowledge is based from the intelligible world wherein opinions are derived from the visible world and of the two, knowledge is more reliable. Plato also gave us an idea with regards to ultimate reality. Plato stated that ultimate reality is very much spiritual in nature. Plato also made use of the metaphor of sun to illustrate his view regarding ultimate reality. Plato said that of all our senses the eye is the most curious because it needs light in order to operate fully and in this regard the sun is the best source of light.
On this said metaphor Plato stated that the visual world is the world “of becoming or passing away”. Thus, according to him if we try to understand the things that are visible only to our senses or the naked eyes without consulting the world of forms or our faculty of reason, then our understanding would fail us. Plato considers the sun, in this metaphor, to be one object of our knowledge. We shall now move on the idea of anamnesis but we shall first describe what anamnesis is all about. Anamnesis got something to do with recalling to our minds past events or matters.
We can clearly see anamnesis in Plato’s epistemology. In a way Socratic method can relate to the idea of anamnesis. Socratic Method is a method used by Socrates where he asks people about things and through his continuous asking knowledge may be derived. If one continuously asks someone anamnesis may occur because you will try to recall from your soul or memory what you already know. Moving on, we can see traces of previous pre-Socratic philosophers on Plato’s ideas. One example of this pre-Socratic philosopher is Heraclitus.
Both Plato and Heraclitus believe in the idea that everything in this world is in constant flux or that the only permanent thing in this world is change. Having discussed Plato we may now move on to another philosopher, Rene Descartes. Rene Descartes is often attributed to be the first modern philosopher. Descartes greatly influenced many great thinkers and he brought skepticism into a positive point of view. He is regarded as the first modern philosopher because he brought to life the first modern system in philosophy with his famous idea “I think therefore I am”.
Descartes developed a philosophical framework for natural sciences. Descartes tried a method to which he can no something without any doubt. This can be seen on his Discourse on the Method from where we will see his method “methodological skepticism”. He made use of methodological skepticism to form genuine knowledge by rejecting all the ideas which he can doubt. On his endless search for something which he can no longer doubt he arrived at the idea that the only thing in this world which he cannot doubt is the fact that he exists which can be seen on his famous cogito ergo sum (I think, therefore I am).
He proved this fact by saying that he is a thinking thing and in thinking one needs consciousness and if one is conscious that he is thinking then how could he possibly doubt the fact that he is thinking? Descartes also made use of the wax argument. According to him our senses can deceive us thus if he wants to really know the real nature of a wax he must make use of his mind. With this, he argued (like Plato) that our senses are prone to error and thus, unreliable thus he proposed to use deduction as a method.
Thus, for him the only reliable and trustworthy form of knowledge is reason. I have admired Descartes because of his view regarding the things I have mentioned above however he employed the ontological argument that God is benevolent and thus he gave us our faculty of reason and sense perception without any notion of deceiving us. This is where, I think, he made his mistake. From his endless method of deduction and doubting everything he then on jumped to his idea of God without giving us concrete knowledge or evidence from which we can ground his idea.
Descartes argued that sensory perceptions comes to each and everyone of us without us willing it and these things are external to us thus, according to him this proves that there are things which are part of our external world. Descartes also argued that these things are material things or objects. He came to this conclusion because he believes that God is benevolent and thus he would not want to deceive us and so those things are material.