Plato on perceptual cognition

Dissertation, Stockholm University (2001)
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Abstract
The aim of the study is to spell out and consider Plato' s views on perceptual cog­nition. It is argued that Plato is cornrnitted to the view that perceptual cognition can be rational, and that beliefs about the sensible world need not be confused or ill-founded. Plato' s interest in the matter arises from worries over the way in which his fore­runners and contemporaries conceived of perceptual cognition. They conceived of cognitive processes in terms of corporeal changes and attempted to explain perceptual cognition in causal terms. The problem with such accounts, according to Plato, is that they make perceptual cognition an entirely passive process, and seem incapable of accommodating the freedom of reason. Plato's main target is Protagoras' view on cognition and he accuses him of con­flating different cognitive phenomena that ought to be kept apart. More particularly, he suggests that Protagoras' 'man the measure' thesis is based on the conflation of sen se perception, belief and appearing, and that Protagoras is cornmitted to the view that beliefs are arrived at in a non-rational way. It is shown how Plato takes issue with Protagoras by disentangling these three cognitive phenomena. It is argued that Plato' s way of understanding these notions leaves room for the possibility that reason plays apart in perceptual cognition and that we arrive at beliefs in a rational way. In the course of spelling out the argument, Plato' s views on a number of topics are scrutinised: the perceptual mechanism; the objects of sense perception; perceptual content; the nature of belief; the eon trast between belief and appearing; the nation of reason.
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