Plato raises an important philosophical question of how we should define knowledge. He makes use of interesting analogies, told through the voice of Socrates, to argue that making a true judgment about something is insufficient for knowledge in certain cases. In this paper, I will first point out the reasons why Plato thought that this distinction necessarily should be made between knowledge and true judgment and how he uses Socrates to capture this idea through analogies. I will argue with and against Plato, evaluating aspects of his two analogies. At the same time, I will sketch my own idea of justification and argue that it is this which accounts for rendering true judgment into knowledge.
Plato offers a potential epistemic view in the Theaetetus, through his writing of the dialogue between Socrates and Theaetetus. At this point, the definition which Socrates wants to critically analyze is the following: x knows y iff x reaches a true judgment about y. He draws a distinction between the two by making an analogy to a lawyer who is able to rightly persuade a jury of a perpetrator’s guilt in committing a crime. Socrates emphasizes that, in persuading the jury, the lawyer doesn’t teach the jury anything, but rather causes them to make a true judgment for themselves (Theaetetus 201b). However, Socrates wants to argue that the jury doesn’t know that the perpetrator is guilty because they reached this verdict merely by hearsay (i.e. testimony of an eye-witness), and that the jury intuitively must have actually seen the crime being committed for themselves to know their verdict to be true (Theaetetus 201c). Thus, Socrates analogy acts as a counterexample to the definition in that knowledge and true judgment come apart when personal experience is posited as a necessary condition to knowledge. Namely, this is so since true judgment is not reached by personal experience while knowledge is – thus, violating the double entailment in the biconditional above.
My objection to Socrates’ analogy is that it becomes less convincing when adding in the premise of personal experience as a necessary condition. We are interested in what knowledge actually is and how one acquires it, and adding in certain conditions to test it is a useful practice. But I would argue that Socrates is simply mistaken that each individual jury member has to see the crime being committed in order to make their true judgment an instance of knowledge because the testimonies of several independent witnesses, the perpetrator’s criminal history, his/her alibi, his/her possible relationship with the victim and motivation for being guilty can act as sufficient secondary source evidence to persuade a jury to make the right judgment over the perpetrator’s guilt, and this judgment still has knowledge along with it to a high degree. I will elaborate on this point soon.
In short, I’m suggesting here that Socrates is right that there is a distinction between knowledge and true judgment, but his jury analogy surely doesn’t specifically target what is missing. It only goes as far as making us realize that there is something else which is necessary to add to true judgment for it to become knowledge. This may include personal experience, but it is not limited to just that – as I have shown above. In what follows, I will supply my own argument for what I believe to be a component of knowledge which Socrates overlooked.
My idea is that justification needs to be exercised in order to support our true judgments. By justification, I mean that there are individual reasons or pieces of evidence which interact with one another to form a methodology which explains to one how or why one’s true judgment is true. By methodology (or method), I am referring to a notion of patterned organization of reasons or explanatory information. The point is not what type of methodology is implemented in one’s justification, but rather that it is there and shown to be reliable.
Let me make this clearer by giving an example: A simple farmer and a botanist both have a true judgment on how to grow corn. They take very different approaches, however: the former plants the corn in the field using proper machinery and insecticides while the latter cares for the plant cells in a laboratory. But regardless of their differences, the farmer has knowledge of growing corn just as the scientist does because they are both justified by their methods. The farmer knows what to do to grow corn well because he has been persuaded over time working on the family farm that it traditionally harvests well in the right soil, climate and field conditions, whereas the botanist knows this because she is convinced from her study of biology and repeatable experiments that it will grow when given the right amount of sunlight, air pressure, temperature, etc. The conclusion here is that the reasons at play in each of their respective tested methods give sufficient justification for the farmer and botanist’s true judgments, making them – while not cases of certainty – cases of knowledge, nevertheless.
Also, there is a difference in value which separates knowledge from true judgment. Plato addresses this point in the Meno, when he writes of Socrates’ dialogue with Meno and his analogy of the statues of Daedalus. He insists to Meno that true judgment is like one of Daedalus’ beautiful statues, which is good in every way until it escapes (Meno 97d). The comparison here that Socrates is making is that true judgment is also good, but this doesn’t last very long since it is soon forgotten – escaping from a man’s mind (Meno 97e). Knowledge, however, is more secure. It is like the same statue, but now tied down to ensure that it lasts for all to enjoy its beauty and goodness. For Socrates, this quality in knowledge is attributed to recollection, and serves to make knowledge superior in value to true judgment (Meno 98a). Recollection works to tie knowledge down within the subject, since it is actually innate within the soul. When one recollects, one demonstrates that one has subconsciously known something all along as the knowledge is summoned out of one’s soul. It will not be my purpose here to get into a long discussion over Plato’s theory of recollection, but to make a connection now with how this notion of tying down in knowledge relates to my argument for justification.
Being justified has a comparable function as with recollection, since justification helps one to confidently arrive at the conclusion that one’s true judgment is in fact true. In other words, justification is essentially good in making one firm in one’s knowledge. This is accomplished through tracing the reasons in one’s methodology to the point where one can understand why something is the way that it is. Justification, furthermore, is an adhering mechanism which fastens one’s judgment to the truth. One’s true judgment, in being justified, latches itself on to knowledge in just the same way as how recollection securely ties down the statue of Daedalus. Or in the case of the jury analogy, the jurors’ tracing of all of the reasons or pieces of evidence provided by the witnesses makes them resolute in their judgment that the perpetrator is guilty – they know from this why their verdict must be true. It would be very difficult to make them budge in their determination once they have been justifiably persuaded.
In conclusion, I have considered different analogies of Plato to help me form my own argument for how justification resolves the distinction between knowledge and true judgment. Admittedly, our methodologies may vary, but even Socrates wouldn’t deny that justification is a universally applied truth in how humans commonly construe knowledge.