Appearance, Perception, and Non-Rational Belief: Republic 602c-603a

Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy 47:81-118 (2014)
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Abstract

In book 10 of the Republic we find a new argument for the division of the soul. The argument’s structure is similar to the arguments in book 4 but, unlike those arguments, it centres on a purely cognitive conflict: believing and disbelieving the same thing, at the same time. The argument presents two interpretive difficulties. First, it assumes that a conflict between a belief and an appearance—e.g. disbelieving that a stick partially immersed in water is, as it appears, bent—entails a conflict between beliefs. Prima facie, there is only one belief, the belief that contradicts the appearance. Second, it is unclear what parts of the soul Plato intends to divide between: some argue that it is, as in book 4, a partition between a rational and a non-rational part; others argue that it is a new partition between a higher and a lower subdivision of the rational part. This paper offers solutions to both difficulties through an analysis of what Plato means by φαινόμενα, ‘appearances’, and δόξαι, ‘beliefs’. It is argued, first, that the relevant appearances are entirely sensory but nonetheless sufficiently belief-like to (a) warrant being called δόξαι and (b) oppose, by themselves, our beliefs; there is no need for a third mental state, a belief that assents to the appearance. A second claim concerns a central line in the argument, 602e4–6, that has served as the primary evidence that the partition is within the rational part of the soul. Those who wish to avoid this conclusion generally resort to alternative, and less natural, translations of 602e4–6. It is argued that this is unnecessary: once we have correctly understood sensory appearances, we see that the standard translation of 602e4–6 in fact entails a division between a rational and a non-rational part of the soul.

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Damien Storey
Koc University

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