Katja Maria Vogt's Belief and Truth: A Skeptic Reading of Plato explores a Socratic intuition about the difference between belief and knowledge. Beliefs ? doxai ? are deficient cognitive attitudes. In believing something, one accepts some content as true without knowing that it is true; one holds something to be true that could turn out to be false. Since our actions reflect what we hold to be true, holding beliefs is potentially harmful for oneself and others. Accordingly, beliefs are ethically worrisome and even, in the words of Plato's Socrates, "shameful." As Vogt argues, this is a serious philosophical proposal and it speaks to intuitions we are likely to share. But it involves a notion of belief that is rather different from contemporary notions. Today, it is a widespread assumption that true beliefs are better than false beliefs, and that some true beliefs (perhaps those that come with justifications) qualify as knowledge. Socratic epistemology offers a genuinely different picture. In aiming for knowledge, one must aim to get rid of beliefs. Knowledge does not entail belief ? belief and knowledge differ in such important ways that they cannot both count as kinds of belief. As long as one does not have knowledge, one should reserve judgment and investigate by thinking through possible ways of seeing things. According to Vogt, the ancient skeptics and Stoics draw many of these ideas from Plato's dialogues, revising Socratic-Platonic arguments as they see fit. Belief and Truth retraces their steps through interpretations of the Apology, Ion, Republic, Theaetetus, and Philebus, reconstructs Pyrrhonian investigation and thought, and illuminates the connections between ancient skepticism and relativism, as well as the Stoic view that beliefs do not even merit the evaluations "true" and "false."
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This is a stimulating book on the history of philosophy which systematically defends a single message: beliefs are deficient cognitive attitudes. ( Jan Willem Wieland, Mind)
No other book on the subject focuses so ably on one issue while demonstrating the extent to which that issue has influenced subsequent history up to the present day. Highly recommended. ( G.S. Bagwell, CHOICE)
This elegantly written book makes a significant contribution to current debates about ancient epistemology, by offering a series of radical new perspectives, both historical and philosophical. It deploys a combination of skills rare among specialists in ancient philosophy. Even at their most speculative, its findings will deserve a serious hearing. ( David Sedley, University of Cambridge)
This book presents some of the best and most interesting work in the history of philosophy I have encountered in quite a few years. It should have real impact both on thinking about ancient philosophy and on thinking about the options available in contemporary discussions of knowledge and belief. ( Calvin Normore, UCLA)
This is a very exciting book.... The main ideas, of belief being widely regarded as deficient and of the Stoics and skeptics in this respect standing in the shadow of Plato, are well worth taking on board. ( Richard Bett, Ancient Philosophy)
Just as Vogt [seeks] to do philosophy with Plato, her book compels us to do philosophy with her. Moreover, Vogt's challenging book has done the very hard labor of providing a Skeptic account of Plato on belief. Her work provides the much needed epistemic core for a more broadly Skeptic reading of Plato in which one sees the entire corpus as aporetic. ( Brian Johnson, International Philosophical Quarterly)
You cannot help but admire the lucidity with which the author addresses issues long debated by scholars. ( Mauro Bonazzi, Elenchos)
Vogt's interpretation of Pyrrhonian skepticism and her interpretation of Sextus' understanding of his philosophical predecessors and contemporaries are nuanced and persuasive. ( Deborah K. W. Modrak, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews)
This is a stimulating book on the history of philosophy which systematically defends a single message: beliefs are deficient cognitive attitudes. [...] Vogt's book is to be recommended because it revives a long-standing skeptical tradition from Plato onwards and addresses important systematic questions. As Vogt comments at the beginning of her book, this tradition is not concerned with whether I have hands or with whether you are not a zombie (as other familiar skeptical problems have it), but concerns rather the importance of forming beliefs about such matters in the first place. This tradition, as Vogt emphasizes, can be seen as a battle against one's own ignorance-and this is a message worth telling. This battle does not imply, indeed, that we should make more knowledge claims. It means rather that we should know which knowledge claims we are entitled to make-namely, hardly any. ( Jan Willem Wieland, Mind)
Katja Maria Vogt is Professor of Philosophy, at Columbia University. She is the author of Law, Reason, and the Cosmic City (OUP, 2007)
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