The Theory of Knowledge

Session II

Today’s seminar was teaching us about the theory of knowledge defined by two different perspectives, the contrasts between Plato and Nietzsche’s theories. Working as a group we were given the task to identify Plato and Nietzsche’s arguments. Also, prof. Clive gave us a number of questions regarding the theory of knowledge and the two arguments to reply to in pairs.

We were given the opportunity to choose one of the questions of which we had to reply in our pairs.

  • What is knowledge? How does it differ from opinion? How can you be certain that you know what (you think) you know?
  • How do Plato’s and Nietzsche’s theories of knowledge differ? What are the consequences of the conflict between them?
  • How do Plato and Nietzsche affect what or how I think?

Some philosophers hold to the opinion that the difference is due to different kinds of knowledge. What is knowledge? There are three types of knowledge: “To know how to ride, to know by an acquaintance, and to know by description”. These are the three different examples professor Clive gave us.

We talked about each example individually and we understood that “to know how to ride” is something you ‘know’ how to do it by using your body, is called tacit knowledge. It is the kind of knowledge that is hard to transfer to another person by means of writing it down or articulating it like riding a bike or stretching a canvas those are examples of tacit knowledge.

Bertrand Russell talked about the difference of “Knowledge by Acquaintance and Knowledge by Description” in his seminal article (1910) and in chapter five of The Problems of Philosophy (1912). “To know by acquaintance” is the type of knowledge where the subject has a direct circumstantial access to what is known, for example; knowing Berlin or Southern down beach or Lady Gaga or the Samsung Note 7. On the other hand, “to know by description” are the factors leading to the events of 9/11, the difference between minimal and conceptual art, what Berlin is like, basically to know that something is the case.


Plato, Republic, 509b. His theory, “The sun, I think you will agree, not only makes the things we see visible but causes the processes of generation, growth and nourishment, without itself being such a process”


Since knowledge is related to what is, and ignorance, necessarily, to what is not, we shall have to find out whether to what lies between them there corresponds something between ignorance and knowledge…Plato, Republic, 477a.

Plato thinks that “opinion is the medium between ignorance and knowledge”. He thinks, there is a crossed line between ‘Ignorance’ and ‘Knowledge’ but in-between the two there is a matter of personal opinion what resemble between ignorance and knowledge.

However, one good example prof. Clive showed us was about two different perspectives of ‘The Trompe l’oeil’ piece of art where two great philosophers are arguing the artist’s practice of recreating artwork reflected from the real world like a perfect reconstruction of the world around them.

Trompe l’oeil

On the other hand, Nietzsche argues that “A painter without hands who wished to express in song the picture before his mind would, by means of this substitution of spheres, still reveal more about the essence of things than does the empirical world.” ‘On Truth and Lie’, 69.

Unlike Plato, Nietzsche thinks that “Every concept arises from the equation of unequal things. Just as it is certain that one leaf is never totally the same as another, so it is certain that the concept ‘leaf ’ is formed by arbitrarily discarding these individual differences and by forgetting the distinguishing aspects. This awakens the idea that, in addition to the leaves, there exists in nature the ‘leaf ’: the original model according to which all the leaves were perhaps woven, sketched, measured, coloured, curled, and painted – but by incompetent hands…”. Friedrich Nietzsche, ‘On Truth and Lie’, 67.

My colleague and I have chosen to argue the differences between Plato and Nietzsche’s theories. We argued that Plato is an idealist, that things in the physical world are flawed reflections of ideal forms, such as roundness or beauty. By means, he sees things that are not what they seem to be at first but just a reflection of the reality in continuous changing.

In contrast, we concluded that Nietzsche is more of a nihilist, he is a pessimist, he believes that the belief that all values are baseless and that nothing can be known or communicated.

Following Plato’s theory can lead to more dynamic answers whereas following Nietzsche is more pessimistic, he believed that all morals need to be constantly questioned.

Personally, I would argue that Plato’s representation of the cave leads to many key questions, including the origin of knowledge, the problem of representation, and the nature of reality itself.




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