Plato was not interested in ignorance and does not go into detail of it in the Republic.
What he was interested in however, was what lies between ignorance and knowledge, that being belief. Plato had previously decided that knowledge must be a faculty of the mind, with the object being the thing that is known and the effect being that it is known, or conversely not known – that being ignorance.He moves on to try to determine the faculty of belief and its effect. Its effect is obviously belief, but its object is less clear.
This is, because if the object of knowledge is what is known, and that of ignorance is what is not known, then belief must lie somewhere in between – being something that is what is known and is unknown. Plato describes it as being, ‘something that has its share of being and non-being, and cannot be said to have the characteristics of either without qualification’ (478d)1.The problem arises when trying to determine what is meant by what is and what is not. It is a question of how something can something exist and not exist at the same time, without being simply one or another.There are difficulties even with the language used. In English there can be three contexts in which the word ‘is’ may be used. These are firstly, what exists – the existential; secondly, what is true – the veridical and finally, what is something or other – the predicative. It is difficult to determine which one Plato intends.
According to the existential view, what Plato intends is that an object both exists and does not exist to a certain degree. There are differing degrees of existence – some things do not exist, others do exist fully and some things exist only to a certain degree.However, this view does not make sense. It is difficult to see how one thing could exist more than another.
How could a Dog exist more than a paperclip? Things must surely exist equally.However, some commentators have suggested that Plato was influenced by ethico-religious ideas, leading him to have and ‘understanding’ (in a religious sense) of how things can both exist and not exist at the same time. This is a plausible idea as Plato was surely influence by some aspects of mysticism, as seen in his notion of the forms. However, even this aspect of the interpretation of the view, is heavily flawed. It relies upon a religious – belief based – influence on a person, to allow them to understand a concept of knowledge and belief.On the other hand, it may be that Plato actually did hold this view. He saw the world as we know it as only being a fraction of the perfect forms.
In the Republic he talks about the, ‘twilight world of change and decay (in which the mind) can only form opinions, its vision is confused and its opinions shifting’ (508d – 515d)2.The veridical use dictates what Plato intends is that Knowledge only relates to truth, whereas ignorance relates us to truth and falsehoods. However, this interpretation bears similarities to the existential view. It seems to be suggesting that there can be different degrees of truth; surely this bears similarities to the idea of differing degrees of existence.
As a result, it also bears the same flaws.According to the predicative view, what Plato means is that we can only know what is ‘fully or completely f – where f is just…
then talk of what is f and not f’3. So, one can hold a belief about what is wrong and is not wrong, or similarly what is just and what is not just. This is the most popular interpretation of what Plato intends; mainly as it does not hold the sever flaws relating to differing levels of truth or existence that the other two hold.However, another interpretation is that Plato may have meant all three, emphasising a particular one depending on the situation or context involved.If one view is to be taken, it may be that it is the predicative view that would be the safest course of action; as this would have the least detrimental effect on the text as a whole, if incorrect, than the other two; which may lead to problems based on the aforementioned differing degrees of truth and existence.