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DOI 10.1007/s11245-012-9148-5

Knowledge as ‘True Belief Plus Individuation’ in Plato
Theodore Scaltsas 

Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2012

Abstract In Republic V, Plato distinguishes two different
cognitive powers, knowledge and belief, which operate
differently on different types of object. I argue that in
Republic VI Plato modifies this account, and claims that
there is a single cognitive power, which under different circumstances behaves either as knowledge or as belief. I show
that the circumstances which turn true belief into knowledge
are the provision of an individuation account of the object of
belief, which reveals the ontological status and the nature of
the object. Plato explores many alternative candidates of
individuation accounts of objects of true belief, which he
discards. I conclude with a Platonic sketch of a teleological
account of individuation which would satisfy his requirements of turning true belief into knowledge.
Keywords Plato  Epistemology  Knowledge 

In Republic V, Plato claims that knowledge is not a type of
belief. He says that the power of knowledge is a different
type of power from that of belief, with different objects of
cognition, and thus knowledge states cannot be analysed in
terms of belief states. His position parallels Williamson’s
position of knowledge first, according to which ‘‘Knowledge cannot be given an analysis as a combination of
belief, truth, and other factors’’.1 Plato’s argument has
attracted great attention in the exegetical literature, because
of its epistemological and metaphysical significance and
the fact that it lends itself to alternative interpretations,
T. Scaltsas (&)
Department of Philosophy, The University of Edinburgh, Dugald
Stewart Building; 3 Charles Street, Edinburgh EH8 9AD, UK

which explore alternative readings of ‘‘is/being’’ (‘‘esti,
In this paper I follow a different approach to the exegesis of the argument than the type of approach encountered in the literature, concentrating on how the nature and
function of the cognitive powers themselves figures in
Plato’s epistemology. The challenge presented is to
understand how a conception of the power of knowledge as
incompatible with the power of belief can be part of Plato’s
system, where, in different works of his, knowledge is
studied as a type of belief, i.e. as true belief with an
account. My ultimate goal is to show how Plato’s Republic
V conception of knowledge as incompatible with belief
develops into a conception of knowledge as a type of
For Plato, the knowledge of Republic V is a power that
is distinct from the power of belief and functions differently from the power of belief, not only with respect to
fallibility, but also with respect to the kind of cognitive
grasp it has of objects. Yet, I argue that Plato manages to
‘‘render’’ his conception of the power of knowledge compatible with the conception of knowledge as a type of true
belief. He does this by reconceiving the Republic V powers
of knowledge and of belief as a single power in Republic
VI, which functions differently under different conditions,
as if it was two different powers. I further show that Plato’s
conception of knowledge is a constitutional conception,
which is concerned with the individuation of its objects—
with their ontological status, and their nature. Coupling
these two results I show that the common cognitive power
of Republic VI can function as knowledge, rather than as
belief, through the provision of individuation accounts for
the objects of true belief. Thus, Plato’s conception of

Williamson (2000: 21; see also 45).


and thinks that he ought to write and does write Th and e. p. When declaring that he knows absolutely nothing he is referring to that very strong sense in which philosophers had used them before and would go on using them long after – where one says one knows only when one is claiming certainty. through which Plato offers his reasons for claiming that there are such entities as the Forms. he is still countenancing knowledge to be of the constitution of the definiendum.’’3 Whether or not we assume that Socrates thought that he did possess examples of successful definitions. Scaltsas knowledge is shown to be that of ‘‘true belief with an individuation account of its object’’. those that show Socrates to be saying that he has no knowledge and those that show him to be making a claim to knowledge: To resolve the paradox we need only suppose that he is making a dual use of his words for knowing. 1 Socratic Epistemic Legacy The early Platonic dialogues show Socrates as being in search of definitions. and flourished especially during the Hellenistic era. the elenchus. which is thought to have begun with Xenophanes. or in the type of information needed to fulfil these requirements for knowledge. It is further important because it gives us an insight as to what he. differing in the way we can acquire such knowledge. which enables the knower to reidentify the object in any of its occurrences. 2 Plato’s ‘‘Power’’ Epistemology in Republic V I will concentrate on the theory of knowledge and belief that Plato puts forward in Republic V. and all instances of ABC are instances of X. but. which is usually translated as belief. that I agree with S. meant by ‘‘doxa’’. by requiring the specification of the criteria by which such entities can be individuated. again. thinks that he ought to write and does write T and e—can we suppose that he knows the first syllables of your two names? We have already admitted that such a one has not yet attained knowledge. 3 Cohen (2004). Rudebush (2009).’’ (Theaetetus 208a). Much has been written about Socratic definitions and in particular about his attempts at defining moral concepts and his disavowals of knowledge. This is important methodologically because it shows. . of what these entities are. what follows from the realisation that he is seeking to define entities (in this case. X = df ABC iff (1) all instances of X are instances of ABC. Vlastos (1985). which is a first in the history of philosophy. Benson (1990). and what makes them such. at this early stage of the development of philosophical method. because I see this theory as the key to understanding the other discussions of knowledge in Plato. Vlastos (1971).4 Vlastos has proposed a position that aims to pay justice to both sets of texts in Plato’s works. Plato says: A power has neither color nor shape nor any feature of the sort that many other things have and that I use to distinguish those things from one another. In the case of a power. 12. By a ‘‘constitutional’’ account of knowledge I mean that knowing requires a full account of the constitution of the object of knowledge. The Republic V account is significant also because it is one of the existential arguments for the Platonic Forms. My thesis is that Plato develops a constitutional account of knowledge. Vlastos (1981a). The constitutional account is such as to provide the individuation of the object of knowledge. but of things. abstract moral ones) shows that his definitions would give him knowledge of the constitution of these entities. but what the nature of justice itself is…. 5 Vlastos (1985). his understanding of knowledge remains in the mainstream of ancient Greek epistemology.5 2 One can pursue this topic in Nehamas (1975). Socrates does not want to know what the word ‘justice’ means. 123 My position is that even if Socrates is disavowing knowledge. Plato’s sensitivity to the introduction of a new type of entity into the ontology. I use only what it is set over and 6 ‘‘When a person at the time of learning writes the name of Theaetetus. 4 For Socrates’ disavowal of knowledge see Gulley (1968). and (2) all instances of X are instances of X because they have characteristics ABC. This would leave him free to admit that that he does have moral knowledge in a radically weaker sense – the one required by his own maverick method of philosophical inquiry. primarily in the moral domain. not about words: ‘‘Socratic definitions are not of words. which he does not abandon in his later works. a question that has been one of the centrepieces of epistemological enquiry in the history of philosophy. The question of Socrates’ disavowal of knowledge has been important since antiquity because of the role that Socrates has played in the history of scepticism. and possibly more broadly at his time. In this sense.T. Plato introduces his discussion of the difference between knowledge and belief in Republic V by offering the individuation criteria for a power. I will not here engage in an account of the literature on this2 but only state my position. meaning to write the name of Theodorus. Marc Cohen regarding Socratic definitions being about entities.6 Variations of the constitutional account of knowledge are encountered in several Platonic dialogues.

(477c6-d5) Is the criterion complete? Are these conditions both necessary and sufficient for the individuation of a power? Can there be powers that operate in the same way. and a very careful examination of how the resulting criterion for a power affects the individuation of that power’s objects (which may be themselves powers) without unravelling the individuation criterion. fallibly. Plato distinguishes between two epistemological powers: knowledge and belief—gnosis or episteme. since our powers of smell are different.g. Even if Plato could not know this. which will play a crucial role in revealing Plato’s core conception of knowledge. whereas in Republic V Plato does not allow for the sameness of powers with different extensions. and can smell what humans can. A genus is determinable. What then is unsatisfactory in Plato’s individuation criterion for powers? To appreciate the problem and diagnose its solution we need to import some metaphysical tools that were not explicitly introduced into philosophy until Aristotle did so in his Categories. Then we agree that opinion is clearly different from knowledge. I will use ‘‘opinion’’ as a translation of ‘‘doxa’’. The infallibility of the former and the fallibility of the latter is introduced by Plato as a sharp and definitive operational difference between the two powers: what about opinion. because their respective powers of smell are different. canine smelling). Furthermore. what belief does is to represent reality dimly.True Belief plus Individuation what it does. That is. but apply to different objects? Does Plato think this is not possible—does he think that if they have the same operation they must have the same objects? What of hearing? Dogs hear wavelengths humans do not. On Plato’s power criterion of Republic V then we do not smell the same odours as dogs do. or of dogs and humans. Using an Aristotelian classification system. odours. are generically the same but specifically different. 477e) In order to avoid misunderstandings by the use of ‘‘belief’’. When dogs and we respond to the smell of the roast in the oven. On the basis of his individuation criterion for powers. which are to be distinguished according to their respective objects. clearly and infallibly. By ‘‘belief’’ we understand a mental state of conviction. the objects of the powers of smell are powers. he would have known that dogs have a very sensitive sense of smell. This will not be undertaken in the present examination. if dog is a genus then Dalmatian and Terrier forms are alternative species. We will examine in more detail what opinion is for Plato in what follows. but also what humans cannot smell. This is not what Plato thought doxa signified in the present context. although they also hear the sounds we do. The latter application of the criterion on the power’s objects should not result in undermining the individuation of the original power. even if not identical in their ‘‘specifications’’. the question whether humans smell the same odours as dogs poses an additional component of difficulty for the individuation of their respective powers of smell: we would have to give the individuation criteria of odours as powerproperties of objects. (Rep. A moment ago you agreed that knowledge and opinion aren’t the same. and doxa. By ‘‘doxa’’ Plato does not mean what we mean by ‘‘belief’’. his corresponding position of Republic VI is different and more complex. or did he rather think that the fact that the dogs’ sense of smell can access sense objects which our power of smell cannot detect indicates that it functions in an altogether different way than ours does? I shall argue in the present paper that. is it a power or some other kind of thing? It’s a power as well. there is an overwhelming inclination to think that we are smelling the same odour and that our powers are the same. Hence we would expect that the power of smelling of dogs of different species. and by what it is that they do in cognitively accessing these objects. 123 . and hence whatever individuation criterion we settle on for a power it would have to also be the same criterion as the individuation criterion of the power’s objects. Thus the question of the sameness or difference of the powers of smell of humans and dogs as judged by the Platonic individuation criterion for powers would require the further supplementation of Plato’s criterion with individuation criteria for generic properties. As we just saw. knowledge and belief for Plato are mental faculties or powers. For the argument of Republic V we shall assume that Plato would hold that a dog has a different sense of smell than humans do since dogs can smell some odours humans cannot. and by reference to these I call each the power it is: What is set over the same things and does the same I call the same power. How could a person with any understanding think that a fallible power is the same as an infallible one? Right. for it is what enables us to opine. what is set over something different and does something different I call a different one. What knowledge does is to access reality for us. There is something unsatisfactory about this position. one would distinguish between a genus of powers (of smelling) and the species (human smelling. He would in fact hold that all the odours that dogs smell are different sense objects than the odours that humans smell. its different species determine the genus’ characteristics in alternative ways—e. Would Plato have considered that their power of smell shares the same function as the human power of smell.

Veridically they will be read as incomplete sentences. The mode of participation in the Forms will not play a role in the differentiation. Plato introduces them with the usual designation of an ‘‘F in itself’’. and opinion represents reality fallibly. V. (There is more discussion of these readings in what follows. or ‘‘pantel o¯s on’’ (what is completely). missing the general terms that complete the characterisation. who alone possess knowledge: ‘‘who are the true philosophers? Those who love the sight of truth. Furthermore. Plato is concerned to establish the numerical oneness of each Form: since beauty is the opposite of ugliness. Plato says: ‘‘Then we have an adequate grasp of this: No matter how many ways we examine it. primarily to set up the context between what is and what is not.. The expressions Plato uses to characterise the status of the objects of knowledge are: ‘‘on’’ (being). By themselves. It is not that each Form is one while each instance is many. It figures briefly in the argument. or per general term of language. ignorance falsely. or ‘‘eilikrino¯s on’’ (what purely is). or ‘‘me¯dame¯ on’’ (what is in no way). Existentially they would be treated as complete expressions.] And inasmuch as they are two. Plato does not talk much about ignorance (agnosia) and there is little reason to assume that he considers it a faculty of the mind. each of them is one. which is taken up in the Parmenides..’’7 (475e) We will have more to say about this. Such a position pertains to the nature of participation. or in actions. predicatively. but from the various combinations of them with actions and things and with one another. for it is necessary that they appear to be beautiful in a way and also to be ugly in a way. and the same with the other things you asked about. is any one of them. as being immortal. (476a) Plato is saying that it is each Form that appears many when encountered in the things it characterises.T. 475–479) is the following. By contrast. 81d). Plato’s language is more that of perceptual acquaintance. ‘‘‘The soul. what is completely is completely knowable. There is a mental state such as knowledge (antisceptical position). where Forms occupy the highest level of being. So. [. Since the individuation criterion of powers requires a specification of the operation and the objects of a power. as an identifying feature of the Forms. or even in other Forms that partake of them.] And of just and unjust. the same remark holds: taken singly. and as implying a type of doctrine of degrees of existence. which is lacking in any the Form’s instances. these expressions can have alternative interpretations: existentially. for the objects of ignorance he uses expressions such as ‘‘me¯ on’’ (something that is not). and having been born again many times. and of every Form [eidos]. there is a uniqueness about each Form F. But more to the point in the current context. 123 attempt an explanation of what the ‘‘combination’’ of a Form with its instances entails about the nature of participation. each of them is one. Yet it may be thought that it raises difficulties for Plato in the present context. having established the difference in the operation of knowledge and opinion. About the objects of knowledge and ignorance. with the many bigs and smalls and lights and heavies. Plato proceeds to compare their respective objects. I will not 7 See also.) Finally. then. Knowledge represents reality infallibly. e. (Meno. and it is about what is. But why is it that Plato goes out of his way to introduce and establish through an argumentative-seeming way the numerical uniqueness of each Form? On the one hand.g. and opinion is about what is and what is not. The numerical oneness of each Form by contrast to the multitude of its instances is at the heart of the One Over Many explanatory role of the Forms in Plato’s account of similarity. the uniqueness of each Form is contrasted to the multitude of their instances as preparatory evidence that the objects of knowledge are different from the objects of opinion.. This theme is not of concern in the present argument. and what is in no way is in every way unknowable?’’ (477a) That which completely is are the Platonic Forms. He says about philosophers. they are seen in all sorts of lights and appear many?. whether in objects. and distinguishes them from ‘‘F things’’ (476b-c). the objects of opinion are described as follows: … of all the many beautiful things. rather. is there one that will not also appear ugly? Or is there one of those just things that will not also appear unjust? Or one of those pious things that will not also appear impious? There isn’t one. any more the thing someone says it is . has knowledge of them all’’. especially in relation to opinion which involves falsehood. Predicatively. Ignorance is about what is not. Scaltsas 3 The Objects of Knowledge and Opinion Plato’s overall argument structure in distinguishing knowledge from opinion (Rep. The nature of the uniqueness of each Form depends on the way we read the verb ‘‘is’’ in Plato’s argument. whether in this world or in the world below. good and evil. his reason is that since Forms are posited in his metaphysics for their One Over Many explanatory role. they would be read as incomplete expressions. or veridically. [. and having seen all things that exist. in order to place opinion’s objects in between them.. What about the many doubles? Do they appear any the less halves than doubles? Not one. it is essential to establish that there is a single Form per character of thing. Although I spoke of knowledge as representing reality. they are two.

Gosling (1968). It follows from Plato’s criterion for powers that what is known cannot be opined and vice versa. while the objects of opinion are F but also non-F at the same time. I will not engage here in a detailed reading of the text so as to exhibit how different parts of it read under alternative exegeses. Stokes (1992). namely the world of the objects of knowledge and the world of the objects of belief. we cannot derive that a beautiful object exists less than the Form of Beauty because it partakes of ugliness. which is an object of ignorance on this interpretation. On my understanding. 12 A comprehensive survey of the interpretative scene of Plato’ theory of knowledge and belief in Republic V is given by de Harven.g. it further describes the objects of belief as existing in a less full sense. as opposed to objects. and the objects of ignorance as not existing at all in any way. Gonzales (1996) has argued against Fine’s reading of Republic V. What is important about them is that their objects are totally non-overlapping—colours and sounds—and different in kind.True Belief plus Individuation than its opposite? No. It is instructive to note the example Plato uses to explain what he means by different powers in the present context. as is what each of these powers does from what the other one does—seeing and hearing. The objects of knowledge are those that are F in every sense of ‘‘F’’. Ch. for example. The three interpretations that have been given to the verb ‘‘to be’’ in the literature (introduced above) offer alternative readings of the arguments Plato develops about the objects of knowledge. e. 8 For the existential reading of the knowledge arguments see. If we were to think along these lines. and being honest is as knowable as being dishonest. on) as ‘‘is true’’.11 On Gail Fine’s version of the veridical interpretation. any more than e. as this has already been done exhaustively in the secondary literature on Republic V. is nevertheless as knowable as being F. there is the veridical interpretation. In fact. and can be in the predicative one. Yet.8 This interpretation has been the basis of the tradition of the attribution to Plato of degrees of reality. I believe there is further motivation to try to find alternative interpretations of what Plato meant in his argument. But this would not count against attributing the positions to Plato. In the veridical interpretation the objects of the cognitive powers are propositions.g. Specifically. that knowledge is a kind of belief. as a special kind of opinion. specifically. It says that the objects of knowledge are completely true. something is beautiful and ugly.10 Although this interpretation helps us understand the objects of knowledge and opinion. The description quoted just above of the objects of opinion has invited a predicative interpretation of ‘‘is’’ (esti. Hintikka (1973). but not existentially lacking. on). this makes the object less beautiful. in Republic V. somehow to a lesser degree. 9 Cross and Woozley (1964). Interpreting this position by the existential reading. Finally. the objects of opinion are true and not-true. justified true belief. it is more problematic for the objects of ignorance. But we cannot use the same reading throughout the whole argument. in every way of being beautiful. he asks us to consider sight and hearing (477c). in such 11 Gail Fine (1978. Sedley (2007). 123 . since being completely non-F.9 Of course it is problematic to understand the sense of a ‘‘lesser degree’’ of existence. at the same time. (479a-b) The challenge has always been to find an interpretation of ‘‘is’’ (esti. objects of opinion are characterised by Forms and their opposites. A critical discussion of the veridical interpretation is further offered by Job van Eck (2005). what is known is completely true. Smith (2000).g. being large is as knowable as being small. the Form of Beauty is fully beautiful. which they are in the existential interpretation. which. and Gonzalez (1996) combining the existential and the predicative interpretations. 10 Allen (1960). Cross and Woozley (1964). 7–9. Similar problems apply for the existential interpretation of the objects of the power of ignorance. opinion and ignorance in the present passage. the origin of this conception of knowledge is generally thought to be Plato himself. Annas (1981). fits the notion of something being F and being non-F.12 What I wish to centre on regarding the knowledgeopinion argument of Republic V is that it tells us that the power or faculty of knowledge is different from the power or faculty of opinion. The first is the existential interpretation which explains the objects of knowledge as objects which fully or completely exist. Yet. or at least some passages read most naturally under one of the three readings of ‘‘is’’ (esti. while what we believe can be true or false. Plato’s argument requires that we take different passages to have different readings. which understands ‘‘is’’ (esti. Vlastos (1965). e. It follows from this distinction between knowledge and opinion that knowledge cannot be analysed or defined in terms of opinion. As we shall see. resulting from difficulties that would have been apparent to Plato. on) that fits the notions of being completely or not being in any way. the existential interpretation does not fit the explanation of the objects of opinion. 1990). its significance would be that we would be attributing to Plato a stance which would contravene what philosophers have thought for millennia about knowledge and belief. each of them always participates in both opposites. while the objects of ignorance are completely false. This means that the objects of knowledge can overlap with the objects of belief –true propositions—which Fine exploits to argue that Plato did not hold a Two World view of reality. sight can be defined as a special kind of hearing. on). namely.

will allow Plato to speak of opinion transforming into knowledge. (476a-b) It is important to understand the exact nature of the failings of the lovers of sights which Plato identifies. Rather. On the one hand.14 while: belief aims at knowledge (not just truth). and it only carries traces of truth in its states mixed up with falsehood. 41–48. knowledge is not reducible to a type of opinion any more than sight is reducible to a type of hearing. In response to the many unsuccessful attempts at fortifying the ‘‘justified true belief’’ analysis of knowledge against the Gettier counterexample in the past 40 years. the difference of opinion and knowledge. they fail to grasp the conception of beauty itself. 717. nevertheless knowledge entails belief. … To know is not merely to believe while various other conditions are met. The lovers of sounds and sights… like beautiful tones and colours and forms and all the artificial products that are made out of them. art-loving practical people. while belief can be true or false. in the Theaetetus he investigates whether ‘‘knowledge is true judgement with account. who lack the faculty of knowledge and have only the faculty of opinion. Williamson (2000).15 What is most relevant for our present concerns is that for Williamson. This paper defends that principle. Williamson (2000). knowledge is not a kind of belief. and those… who are alone worthy of the name of philosophers…. 4 Problems with Opinion in Republic V Plato distinguishes between the lovers of sights. they fail to like the beautiful itself and only like the instances of beauty in colours and sounds and items generated from these. opinion is a different type of mental state altogether. This type of conception of knowledge as true belief with an account has been challenged only in our time by Gettier’s famous counterexample (Gettier 1963). and only knowledge. To see how knowledge is related to opinion according to Plato. Scaltsas passages as in the Meno or the Theaetetus where he seems to be defining knowledge as a kind of true belief. which marks a qualitative difference in the content of the cognitive states of knowledge and opinion. In the Meno Plato says: ‘‘[true opinions] are not worth much until one ties them down by (giving) and account of the reason why’’ (98a). for Plato. e. Many attempts have been made to rectify this. Timothy Williamson proposed an alternative conception of knowledge as a primitive mental state.T. it is further that even at best.13 On Williamson’s ‘‘knowledge first’’ analysis. which points to the core difference between opinion and knowledge. which cannot happen with sight and hearing. there is no satisfactory addition found which can block Gettier type of cases passing the ‘‘knowledge’’ test. But more importantly. although knowledge is not a type of belief. but that true judgement without an account falls outside of knowledge’’ (201c-d). we shall turn to the description Plato gives of the state of opinion in Republic V. As we will see below their cognitive state involves misidentification and confusion. as we shall see. primitively so. but their thought is incapable of seeing or loving the nature of the beautiful itself. who do not possess knowledge but only opinion. 47. it equates S’s evidence with S’s knowledge.g. constitutes evidence. p. According to Republic V. Knowledge is not analysable into belief plus conditions that select out those beliefs the ones which enjoy the status of knowledge. But as opposed to sight and hearing. belief lacks the type of contact with reality that allows it to ‘‘see’’ reality for what it is. and the philosophers. cannot be led to knowledge by being presented with the truths that the knower possesses. … knowledge. who possess knowledge: And this is the distinction which I draw between the sight-loving. a factive one. It is not only that knowledge is factive. for every individual or community S in any possible situation… Call this equation E = K. Their failing is more fundamental because the sight lover cannot ‘‘see’’ these truths even when shown them: . Rather. true belief with an account. not reducible to a kind of belief. 123 Republic V did not think that knowledge entails belief. Plato is at pains to explain that the sight lovers. This I take to be the fundamental failing of the lovers of sights. In subsequent treatments of knowledge and belief their relation becomes closer in so far as the conditions that need to be satisfied if belief is to become knowledge are such that they somehow transform belief into knowledge. It is the non-analysability of knowledge into ‘‘belief plus conditions’’ that I wanted to bring out as a common feature between Plato’s and Williamson’s theories of knowledge. which showed that justified true belief is not sufficient for knowledge. primarily by adding a fourth condition to the justified true belief requirement for knowledge without success. knowledge and opinion are two different mental powers or faculties. but I would like to also emphasise the difference of their accounts: the Plato of 13 14 15 Williamson (1997). it is to be in a new kind of state.

rather than to perceptual ability. Plato continues: of such a one I ask. Plato explains this state by saying that opinion sees similarity where there is none. rather than verify whether the sight lovers do suffer by being confined to opinion rather than knowledge.e. Additionally. not rejecting. so as to understand what it is that the lover of sights is missing. In fact the shortcomings in their understanding works both ways: not only do the lovers of sights not recognise a whole domain of entities in the world. but of the individuation of objects the belief is about. The lovers of sights are missing theoretical understanding akin to mathematical understanding. This is not only a mistake of identity. They may be committed to the rejection of any type of transcendental being. the beautiful things in nature which participate in the Form of Beauty. but only copies of it. They fail to grasp the nature of the Form of Beauty when they fail to recognise that the beautiful objects in the world are mere copies of a single Form of Beauty. There. what the role of these entities is in the cosmos. and the reason why these entities are what they are. the Forms. but categorically different entities generates distortion. having a sense of beautiful things has no sense of absolute beauty. they are metaphysical non-realists. Admittedly. true propositions. and of the type of relation of things to one another. This is a mistake of identity of objects of the same type. to think that a likeness is not a likeness but rather the thing itself that it is like? (476c) The state of the person who has opinion and not knowledge is described as a state of dreaming. and because of this. if another lead him to a knowledge of that beauty is unable to follow (476c) Why can the sight lover not follow? What is it that blocks the lovers of sights from attaining the cognitive state of knowledge of beauty? To understand this we need to see how Plato describes the state of opinion. has a different vision of reality than the non-dreamer. the beautiful things around them are not the Form itself. but also a mistake of ontological status. is he awake or in a dream only? Isn’t this dreaming: whether asleep or awake. and nevertheless. These broadly. they also fail to realise that the instance. These are not failings of justification of a belief.True Belief plus Individuation he who.g. either divide sharply the objects of knowledge from the objects of opinion—an ontological division between Forms and things in the world—or they hold them to be overlapping classes of objects—e. We shall therefore assume the soundness of Platonic ontology and judge the state of the sight lovers in relation to it. which shows that the dreamer. since the lovers of sights cannot distinguish between them and their respective Forms. a case could be made that the sight lovers are far from confused. Furthermore. the failing the sight lover displays is a lack of understanding of reality—not a mistake of which object they are attending to. in favour of a Wittgensteinian account of similarity as a primitive relation of resemblance between particulars. we can compare their erroneous cognitive state to that of a case of mistaken identity of the type described in the Theaetetus. nor can they be ‘‘shown’’ such entities. the perceiver takes Socrates. (476b) 5 The Individuation of Entities: Their Type and Nature The lovers of sights fail in two ways. which reveals a defici ent grasp of what there is in the cosmos. By contrast. strictly speaking. but rather. It does not tell us anything about the perceiver’s state of understanding of reality. he thinks that his limited ontology covers the whole of reality. who is seen at a distance. The dreamer cannot tell the difference between entities in different domains of reality. only. a whole domain of reality with its characteristic ontology. The confusion between like. including universals and Platonic Forms. and further. or their relation to the things of our experience. because they lack this understanding. even about the objects of experience. But what is of interest to us here is to uncover what the cognitive state of opinion is. they are not aware that entities of a certain type exist. To understand the profound state of the sight lovers’ confusion. because their lack of understanding of reality is such that they cannot comprehend the need for such entities in the ontology. but a mistake in the type of object they are attending to. The lover of sights is missing out. for Plato. it sins more deeply by confusing the original with the copy. They are mistaking a distinct domain of ontology with another. I diverge from the received views in the literature on this topic. they cannot distinguish such entities from others which are like them but also fundamentally different entities. they cannot grasp the nature of the Form itself. to be Theaetetus. i. according to Plato. This means that the belief state is not. or who. of the particularist variety. They fail to grasp the type of entity the Form of Beauty is when they fail to distinguish the Form from its instances. They are unable to understand or ‘‘embrace’’ the nature of beauty itself: Their thought is unable to see and embrace the nature of the beautiful itself.g. They cannot grasp the type of entity a Form is. On the reading I am defending of the epistemo-metaphysical argument of Republic V. e. generally. What I find Plato is telling us in this passage is that the 123 . other than their mistaken perception.

the philosophers are presented as having knowledge of the Forms and their many participants—the objects of our experience—whereas the lovers of sights do not have knowledge of either. only. the philosopher. whereas the objects of the opinion are only the many objects of experience around us. In short. Furthermore. and the indeterminacy of the nature of opinion’s objects—of the many. and implicitly reveals what the limits of even the philosopher’s cognitive capacities are. Opinion can be wrong about its objects. since he knows. I believe that this tension exists but further. and the difference between the two types. is there one that will not also appear ugly? Or is there one of these just things that will not also appear unjust? Or one of 16 I read the text. opinion is confused in its grasp of its objects. which are also the objects of opinion. can see both it and the things that participate in it. It misrepresents how things are. in view of the way things are in the world. the Indeterminacy of the Nature of Objects.16 while the philosophers are claimed to have knowledge of the Forms. and. while people such as the lovers of sights make cognitive contact with some. opining about objects opinions that may be fully or partially false. and the metaphor of darkness: Opinion is… darker than knowledge but clearer than ignorance… so is intermediate between the two. it is not factive. clearly demarcated natures. a confused conception of just the many. Plato tells us that the lovers of wisdom are able to recognise the Forms as the perfect paradigms they are. as opposed to the objects of knowledge. namely. the type of entity the things in the world are. the Forms. and doesn’t believe that the participants are it or that it itself is the participants – is he living in a dream or is he awake? (476c-d) The lover of wisdom. and the Deficiency of Language A tension seems to arise in the argument on my interpretation. to take the opposite case. as we have seen (476c6-7). 477d4. This I take to be the ground of Plato’s distinction between knowledge and opinion: So we’d be right to call his [the lover’s of wisdom] thought knowledge. and this. believes in the beautiful itself. i. On the one hand. and their participants. 123 On the other hand. since he opines. Describing the cognitive state of the lovers of wisdom. . When Plato is exploring the objects of opinion he says: if something could be shown to be and not be at the same time. rather than different classes of objects. but rather have opinion. that it is informative about a metaphysical problem that Plato is identifying and facing in his account. of the ontology of the universe. differs from the lover of sights because they succeed in individuating the objects of their cognitive states. but also the objects of experience as the copies and instances of these Forms: But someone who. by contrast to the cognitive state of the lovers of sights. The way that Plato describes the indeterminacy of the nature of the power of opinion is through the metaphor of dreams (see quotes above). (478d) What ‘‘purely is’’ are the Forms. he recognises that objects in the world participate in the Forms. So the philosopher recognises the type of entity the Forms are. but we should call the other person’s thought opinion. it would be intermediate between what purely is and what in every way is not. The problem is that there are two types of indeterminacy: the indeterminacy of the nature of the power of opinion. makes mistakes about their identity: to think that a likeness is not a likeness but rather the thing itself that it is like? (476c) Thus opinion is described as a cognitive power that grasps reality multiply deficiently. But independently of opinion. 478a12-b5 as claiming them to be different objects. or the differences between their respective natures. accordingly. which in this context (476c) means that they are copies of the Forms. By contrast. Plato argues: Of all the many beautiful things. and the nature of these objects. (476c) 6 The Dimness of Opinion. Scaltsas philosophers have a grasp of the whole ontology of the universe. that have ‘‘pure’’. which has implications about their respective natures. To show that the many are not like the Forms. (478c) Plato further explains the nature of the power of opinion by the fallibility of opinion (477e). and is able to distinguish between the two classes of things. the tension arises as the powers are claimed to have different objects. the objects of the power of knowledge are claimed to be different from the objects of the power of opinion. through a ‘‘veil of confusion’’ with respect to the type. the objects of knowledge are only the Forms. the many objects are indeterminate in their nature. we saw that the lover of sights does not recognise either type of entity as such.e. because they are different powers.T. their ontological status. Plato’s position is revealed in a passage that is telling us what the philosopher is capable of. The philosopher recognises that Forms exist.

but a matter of being so. accurate grasp of ‘‘who’s who’’ in the ontology of the cosmos. is there any one of them any more the thing someone says it is than its opposite? No. the Form of Beauty is beautiful. the power of knowledge has a clear. each of the many things participates in both opposites. Is any one of the manys what someone says it is. language. The passage quoted above gives us even further information about the many. the power of opinion has an inadequate cognitive grasp on the ontology of the cosmos and thus confuses objects between them. that this is not the case. any more than it is not what he says it is? No. they are like the ambiguities one is entertained with … or like the children’s riddle about the eunuch … for they are ambiguous. the description that would apply to her on this method would be exactly the same as the description that would apply to an unjust person: each is just and unjust. He goes as far as to say that that: Is any one of the manys what someone says it is. or a is just and unjust. of the perspective or of the context. or takes the one to be many or the many to be the one. Language is used to make characterisations of objects. and what they can think and say about the object of opinion is inappropriately expressed by language or thought. (479b-c) There seems to be Heraclitean radical flux associated with the nature of the many. and our thought and language is 123 . what they opine about is indeterminate in its nature. b is beautiful and ugly. and the mind. It will not help to say that a is just. but only register the extreme indeterminacy that Plato finds in the nature of each of the many. Hence. secondly. By contrast. and the same with the other things … So. e. as it must have to Plato as well. but in the way these perfect properties are possessed’’. b is beautiful. I will not here examine why Plato thinks so or what could make object be this way. because of the indeterminacy and the fluidity in the nature of a with respect to being just and unjust or any opposite. What is the purpose of such statements if objects always possess both opposites? On might have through that the solution to this predicament is simply to always mention both opposites: a is just and unjust. there is great variation of qualification between even two just persons. The reason why it is necessary that things always participate in both opposites is what we have already found out. for it is necessary that they appear to be beautiful in a way and also to be ugly in a way. but it is also revelatory of the way that Plato sees the relations between things. any more than it is not what he says it is? No. How can one describe the less just one while still keeping this description different from the more just one and the unjust person? Plato expresses total pessimism about the nature of the many.g. etc. Alexander Nehamas has argued that ‘‘to be a copy for Plato is the same as to ‘‘fall short’’ of. Things in the world are imperfectly what the Forms are. a is just.True Belief plus Individuation these pious things that will not also appear impious? (479a) The conflict of opposites in the many is not to be explained away as an ‘‘appearance’’. I believe not. c is pious and impious. c is pious. Would this enable one to make true statements about the nature of the objects of opinion. Let us consider a just person. First. then. Furthermore. It may appear that the conjunction of opposites describes the nature of the many. and one cannot understand them as fixedly being or fixedly not being or as both or as neither. the nature of the many is indeterminate and fluid. if it participates in either of two opposites. (479a-c) It is not a question of the objects of opinion appearing thus and so because of the circumstances. It seems that according to Plato. and thirdly. By contrast Forms are determinate and unchanging. each of them always participates in both opposites.17 This is the character of the nature of the constitution of the many. which the continuation of his argument establishes by turning to their metaphysical nature: There isn’t one [that does not appear F and not F]. the objects it comes to know have determinate and unchanging natures. and so they can be perfectly described by language: the Form of Justice is just. with the many bigs and smalls and lights and heavies. rather than the character of the nature of our cognitive relation to them. In fact. if they cannot even be fixedly being and not being or neither. or a is unjust. that things in the world are only copies of the Forms. then. The same with all cases. language is not suited to describe the many but is perfectly suited to describe the forms. and so on. There are therefore three reasons why opinion is different from knowledge. or to be imperfect in comparison to the model. just because they are only copies of the Forms. or a is neither just not unjust. the many? 17 Nehamas (1975) 109. The copies’ imperfection does not reside in the properties that make them copies. the predicative structure of language and thought is ill-fitted to grasp and express truths about the indeterminate and fluid nature of the many. but a simple reflection reveals to us. they are like the ambiguities one is entertained with at dinner parties or like the children’s riddle … one cannot understand them as fixedly being or fixedly not being or as both or as neither. the content of one’s opinions is muddled.

Returning to the tension in my interpretation of the argument of Republic V that the present section begun with. the philosophers must be able to discern the Forms from the many—which is a distinction that the lovers of sights fail to make. The nature of an object is the character of the object under consideration. Why are the many objects in the world of our experience objects of both knowledge and opinion. The philosophers do not have knowledge of the many.e. It is this minimal cognitive contact of the philosophers with the many that will be the basis for the transition to ‘‘knowledge being true belief with an account’’ in Plato’s work. and describe these objects of knowledge. The ontological status of an object can be that of a Form. and descriptive domains. which is why the argument has so many possible interpretations. because it gives the philosophers a foothold into the world of experience and becoming. But already in Republic V Plato realises that in order to understand what the Forms are the philosophers need to know the difference between the Forms and their participants. metaphysical. existentially. The philosophers know an aspect of the many. making them incompatible with the requirements of ‘‘pure being’’ for the proper objects of knowledge (477a1. and how this position develops in Plato’s work. or of a participant in Forms. attends to the many objects of our experience. but do not know the other aspects of the many. Scaltsas perfectly suited to think about. being beautiful or just or pious. but do not have an individuation account of the many. which will shape the final form of his theory of knowledge and belief in his system. the nature of an object can be determinate and unchanging. 478b3). but as a difficulty that Plato is revealing through his argument.g. e. The two. while opinion. My claim is that the epistemological/metaphysical groundwork for understanding what is missing towards achieving knowledge of the many is carried out in the Republic V argument. what the philosophers 123 additionally know is the ontological status of the participants in the Forms (476c9-d7). because the nature of the many is indeterminate. what they are. sight and hearing. What the philosophers know is what the ontological status of the Forms is (476a2-8). rather than because of linguistic ambiguities of ‘‘is/being’’ (esti/on). At every junction in the argument there is more than one failing: of cognitive discrimination. Rather. The three failings pertain to: which individuals. not only the difference between opinion and knowledge. or in flux (using this term to capture the indeterminacy and instability that we found Plato associating with the many objects of experience). The philosophers’ cognitive contact with the many enables them to discern any one of the many. onto the world of becoming. I can now present the fuller picture of the predicament. in flux. which has not received attention in the literature. d). delineating the many. Plato is operating with a distinction between the ontological status of an object and the nature of the object. Plato does not say unqualifiedly in Republic V that the philosophers have knowledge of the many objects in the world. It is because of the three types of problem in the case of opinion and its objects. What this argument shows us is that the philosophers have cognitive access sufficient for discerning. partially. They could not so know it. namely. namely the ontological status and the nature of an object provide the individuation criteria for these objects. So. but more broadly a multiplicity of relatively independent problems at the epistemological. an account that gives them cognitive access to the nature of the many. Furthermore. which the sight lovers possess. Knowledge. when these two powers are said to have different objects? My claim is that the conflict subsides when we understand a further feature of Plato’s account of knowledge in Republic V. So the power of knowledge crosses over. how they are described. not as a problem of my interpretation.T. do the philosophers know the many or not? Does the power of knowledge have objects which overlap with the objects of the power of opinion? The answer is neither ‘‘yes’’ nor ‘‘no’’. but which I will argue. But it is nowhere claimed that the philosophers know the nature of the many. and the nature of each Form (479e7-9 with 477a3. So Plato realises. which the philosophers possess. In Republic V Plato explores the thought that knowledge and opinion are two different cognitive powers which are as different between them as e. that the argument in Republic V can be read (in parts of it) in different ways i. and of conceptual/linguistic description. as in the case of Forms. their operation is different and their objects are different.g. the three types of deficiency reveal. and veridically. that the philosophers have knowledge of the difference in ontological status between Forms and participants. plays a formative role in Plato’s understanding of knowledge. because the nature of the many is indeterminate and unstable. What he says is that philosophers can discern the Forms from their participants (476c9-d7). This is also why going down the route of particular choices of readings of ‘‘is’’ or ‘‘being’’ is not what will lead to an understanding of this argument. 7 The Emerging Theory of Knowledge and Belief It may be helpful to give an outline of the position on knowledge and belief I find in Republic V. even though they cannot know its nature. in the Republic V account of knowledge. of object constitution. 478a. attends to Forms. predicatively. not by knowing some of the objects of .

and why it is that we can have knowledge of it: Therefore. Plato is not happy with any of them. it may turn out that it is not possible to provide such an individuation account for the many. this cognitive power performs as different cognitive powers under different circumstances. but when it focuses on what is mixed with obscurity. we can see the bridge being built only a few pages after the Republic V argument is completed: when we turn our eyes to things whose colours are no longer in the light of day but in the gloom of night. it understands. or in some other way of cognising them. which it does not. an account that specifies the composition of the object (202b7). they see clearly. This results from a combination of Plato’s teleological explanation of the universe in the Sun Simile. Generally for Plato knowledge of the many will be possible to the degree that it is possible to provide an individuation account of their nature. Like vision. which reveals its nature by shining light onto the obscurity of indeterminacy. knows. the eyes are dimmed and seem nearly blind as if clear vision were no longer in them … Yet whenever one turns them on things illuminated by the sun. This partial cognitive contact of a knower with the many will help facilitate the transition from Plato’s Republic V account of knowledge as a different power from belief to Plato’s account of knowledge as a type of belief in other passages in his work. He considers an account that offers an analysis of the object of true belief into its simple constituents (201e). 8 Teleological Individuation Account of Objects In closing I will only mention a further dimension of individuation relevant to knowledge that is present in Plato’s system. and apparently possesses understanding.True Belief plus Individuation becoming. which can turn even beliefcircumstances into knowledge-circumstances. The right circumstances for knowledge are provided by supplying an individuation account for the object of the cognitive power. and vision appears in those very same eyes? … Well understand the soul in the same way: When it focuses on something illuminated by truth and what is. Duncan Pritchard has recently argued that there are further principles at play in ruling out misidentifications which do not rest on discriminating between the objects: ‘‘there is a sense in which one can rule out an alternative where this is not to be construed in terms of a discriminative ability’’.18 Rather. it opines and is dimmed. operating in truth (infallibly. (508c-d. Pritchard introduces and argues for the Favouring Principle which provides evidence. In fact. this common power performs differently under different conditions or on different types of object. either on the grounds of perceiving them (Theaetetus 201b7-8). Plato points to the Form of the Good as being the ultimate reason why things are the way they are in the universe. an account that gives the elements of the object (206e7-207a1). you should also say that not only do the objects of knowledge owe their being known to the good. needed to enable this power to operate as knowledge rather than as belief is the provision of the right enabling conditions for ‘‘clear vision’’. why this universe as opposed to a different one. In the Theaetetus. but by having a discerningability between objects of this ontological status in opposition to objects of the ontological status of the Forms. Of course. This is what allows Plato to now explore knowledge as a type of belief. not only individually for each thing but also collectively. exploring alternative individuation criteria of the prospective knowledge-objects. But Plato explores finding such an individuation account to supplement true belief and turn it into knowledge. although not fully developed by him. while operating fallibly on objects with obscure natures in flux it operates as opinion. and seems bereft of understanding. although the 123 . The suggestions he goes through are constitutional accounts. changes its opinions this way and that. It is a teleological individuation account. Plato is exercised by the endeavour to find a satisfactory explanation of what an ‘‘account’’ (logos) is which will turn true belief into knowledge. but only being able to tell its difference from the Form that it partakes in. my emphasis) The bridge between the two Platonic accounts of the relation between knowledge and belief is the cognitive power that Plato mentions in this quotation which is the same for knowledge and opinion. but their being is also due to it. in which case knowledge of them will not become possible. other than through discrimination. and the role of dialectic in inquiries into what there is. on what comes to be and passes away. (2012:76) Plato is doing something parallel but different. If knowledge and belief are the same power. factively) on the unchanging pure being it operates as knowledge. for discarding error-possibilities. an account that identifies the differentiating trait of an object (20208c7-8). In the Sun Simile. but this is not seen as decisive defeat. it may turn out that the indeterminacy and instability of their natures blocks all attempts at providing an individuation account for them. he is introducing a discerning-ability which does not presuppose knowing the object of becoming. what is 18 Pritchard (2012) 72.

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