Almost all of our knowledge today is based on scientific discoveries and observations. All that was required to bring modern physics to fruition was Isaac Newton’s investigation of gravity using an apple. Any information accumulated over time provides us with knowledge on that specific subject. Most people would argue that our sensory abilities working in tandem with our brains are what gives us the pleasure of learning new things. More learning and internalization allows the brain to become more attuned to the reactions and actions that lead to wisdom. As a result, the question arises: do the senses play a role in gaining knowledge? The purpose of this essay is to explain Socrates’ path to knowledge acquisition. In the Phaedo, an argument by Socrates states that bodily senses cannot take a grab on reality in any way. Being a renowned philosopher that he is, Socrates life focused on seeking simple, indestructible truths and thus believed that there is a clear cut between the soul and the body with the latter playing zero part in knowledge acquisition. Concerned with pleasures such as sex, foods, drinks and wealth, the body, according to Socrates fails to be the engine for knowledge search as these needs are obstacles. Giving an inaccurate account of anything, the body is described by Socrates as no two people can hear or identically see or hear the same things and thus the sensory information is unperceivable in the same way. Socrates belief that senses are unreliable to human beings in the quest for knowledge since information from people vary forms his foundation that knowledge never changes, but is concrete and eternal. Claiming further is that reality and truth in anything will forever remain elusive if human beings deploy senses as the instrument in the search for knowledge and to prove this supposition, Socrates uses the reflective abilities of light. Put a stick halfway in the water, and it looks bent. Take it out and it is straight again. The question then becomes, is the stick straight or are our senses deceiving us? The body according to this philosopher is imperfect in a sensible world-all we see around us but an illusion.(Moore and Christopher, 55)The real world he depicts as invisible but where the forms which provide us with standards exist. These forms: unseen or unfelt constitute reality. In an illusionary world, these unchangeable, perfect and eternal forms are the standards by which human beings recognize fluctuations. For Socrates, this world is unreal since it is dynamic and changes. A chair, no matter how solidly made, will eventually break down and will be no more. Objects made of valuable metals are one day bound to tarnish in a real world. To Plato, therefore, forms are unchangeable. Life, a combination of body and soul according to Plato and Socrates is consequently not the perfect way to acquire knowledge. The body, deluged with its endless desires and necessities acts as obstacles in attaining knowledge.
When learning about an object, there exists a good chance the object is already altered or changed. For Socrates, in theory, the body is a wicked tomb that cages our goodness and will attempt to fool it at any instance. A bright summer day would is described blue but is it the same for people suffering from color blindness? Or in parallel, what of those ailing from jaundice? To them, light is yellow. Will the sky, therefore, be blue to them? With a plethora of such examples, Socrates construe that our senses by nature are unable to get the reality grip because changeable and imperfect things (senses) can never bear true knowledge. Knowledge and reality only exist in the forms and our souls. Eternally perfect and known by the soul, knowledge of forms is founded through soul exercising and not through using our senses. This is because humans have previous information or knowledge of the forms. Claiming that in another life, the soul exists together with forms Socrates asserts that souls gather all possible information. So, according to Socrates, the human body deems useless in acquiring knowledge and tricks the soul when it tries to seek the truth. The soul can only know the truth when it, as a single entity and for that reason, philosophy is greatly achieved when the body is separated from the soul as much as possible. Socrates believed two types of knowledge exist- important and trivial with majority of humans attuned to the latter (Sebell, 104).
In another twist of the argument, The Theory of Recollection provided by Socrates purports that the soul acquires knowledge before it is even born. No human experience can create it neither can it get lost. However, it risks facing obscurity from false beliefs acquired in from the beginning of a way to make sense of this method. According to the theory, “some knowledge belongs to “reason.” It is not acquired in “experience.” Instead, this knowledge is an essential part of the human soul. It cannot be lost but only obscured by false beliefs acquired in practice.” A traumatic experience happens when the soul invades the body’s making the soul forget its interest and itself. The soul, in its confusion, takes over the bodily concerns hence acquiring false beliefs that hinder many from making right life choices. This theory does not answer all Socrates questions or his love of wisdom, and although this theory might solve some problems, it remains unreliable in helping us see how excluding inconsistencies in belief related to ethical matter places virtue in the soul hence giving man the wisdom he requires to lead a good life.
The world today possesses the ability to distinguish factual information in geography, history, and mathematics from each other. To the Greeks, this is just knowledge but morally oriented than different disciplines. To these philosophers, it was not a matter of what is the case but a question of how things ought to be. Morality over concern was this philosopher’s mantra. If Socrates were present in this day of age, he would say any written works belong to individual opinion, not truth. For him, his dire interest was in fact. Even if surrounded by the most advanced technologies in the present today, Socrates would cast a cursory glance and ask what all these advancements have to do with beauty or goodness and consequently, his interest is morally orientated.
Sebell, Dustin. The Socratic Turn: Knowledge of Good and Evil in an Age of Science.pg 104 University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015.
Moore, Christopher. Socrates and Self-knowledge.pg 55 Cambridge University Press, 2015