Plato’s epistemology holds that ideas are not perception, that knowledge of Platonic Ideas is innate, so that learning is the development of ideas buried deep in the soul. In several dialogues by Plato, the character Socrates presents the view that each soul existed before birth with the form of the good and a perfect knowledge of ideas. Thus, when an idea is “learned” it is actually just “recalled”. According to Plato, the soul is immortal and its natural home is the transcendental world of ideas, where it first existed, without a body and in blissful contemplation of ideas.
However, when the soul sinks into a body, because the experience is traumatic, the soul forgets itself and its interests. Its knowledge of ideas is dimmed or blotted out by its immersion in the world of senses. Instead, in its confusion, it takes on the concerns of the body and in the process acquires the false beliefs that prevent one from making the right choices in life. It has to be reminded of the ideas that are already present in it.
This knowledge of reminiscence is possible through education. Everything is already present in the soul by birth. Education leads to merely the unfolding process of remembering everything. Knowledge is the recollection of the past. This gives rise to the doctrine of Apriori Knowledge of Descartes, Leibnitz.
- Relation between empirical World and world of ideas
In this regard, Plato propounds the following theories :
a) Copy Theory : Ideas are original archetypes. Worldly objects are their copies. In Platonic realism, forms/universals/ideas are related to particulars (instances of objects and properties) in that a particular is regarded as a copy of its form. For example, a particular apple is said to be a copy of the form of applehood and the apple’s redness is an instance of the form of Redness.
Criticism : If ideas are universal, and worldly objects are particular, then how can individual thing be a copy of something “universal”? Either both are particular, or both are universal.
Also, if worldly objects are mere copies, then the world becomes completely unreal. But according to Plato, the world is both real and unreal. Thus Copy theory cannot be valid.
b) Participation Theory : All the particular objects participate in the Universal or Idea. But no object can be said to fully participate in the idea. Particulars are said to participate in the forms, and the forms are said to inhere in the particulars. Example : Idea of Equality.
Criticism : If particular really participates in the universal, then the particular becomes real. Moroever, participation theory is vague. Particular objects are changeable, while ideas aren’t.