due in 4 hours
We begin with a reading of Plato’s Theaetetus. Students may be wondering why we will read a philosophical dialogue of a Greek philosopher who died more than 2,000 years ago for a class on foreign policy. The answer is because the Theaetetusexamines the fundamental problem of knowledge and has influenced the western and non-western mind every since. More directly to our class, we begin with Theaetetus because the question of what policy-makers, experts, journalists “know” and, more often, don’t know is a fundamental problem for international politics. Unlike domestic politics where most variables are known to all parties (something that game theorists call “perfect knowledge”), international affairs is perennially by “imperfect knowledge”. Perception and misperception are essential features of foreign policy.
To introduce this concept, please also read this link on CNN: “Twitter Suspends Account that Helped ignite viral encounter” (Links to an external site.)
Plato, Theaetetus 142a–186e
Especially 145c–148e, 151d–179b, 183c–186e
NB: Because the first section of this dialogue is quite long, I have included the passages which deal explicitly with the questions central to our discussion. Students may find that reading the whole passage (142a–186e) once or twice will aid in providing context. And then reading carefully the three noted passages in greater detail for clarity and mastery.
- The Twitter article reveals that the recent controversy over the Covington High School students was, in large part, initiated by spurious account. Why would foreign actors have an interest in manipulating our perception of the world?
- Plato’s Theaetetus considers and quickly rejects the idea that knowledge are the subject matters we have. What does this rejection suggest regarding our chosen majors, minors, and classes in which we enroll (like this one)?
- Does the critique of knowledge as perception persuade you? If so, what does it suggest about empirical science and social science? If not, what counter arguments can you construct to make the case that knowledge is perception stronger than it was presented?