My question is a follow-up from reading this answer;

"Roughly speaking, Socrates believed truth could not be discovered with certainty, Plato believed that truth could only be known via recollection, and Aristotle believed that truth could be obtained via observation and logic. The latter two, of course, began the two great strands of philosophy that wind their way through Western thought to this day."

I am wondering why the Socratic position on epistemology was so widely rejected in favor of Aristotelian and Platonic views? (The reason I ask is that I have found the Socratic arguments quite compelling.)

  • Was this a practical decision, or are there solid logical arguments against Socratic epistemology?

  • Was this purely a "Western" phenomenon? (Is Socratic epistemology accepted in the "East"?)

  • Most epistemologists do not believe that we can have certainty about many empirical truths. Most, though, also believe that certainty is not necessary for knowledge. Might it be that you are equivocating between these two notions?
    – Schiphol
    Jul 16, 2012 at 15:07
  • @Schiphol Do you agree with the quote I cited? Has Socratic epistemology been diminished in Western philosophy? If so, why has that happened?
    – Jas 3.1
    Jul 16, 2012 at 19:05
  • 1
    I'm not an expert in Ancient Greek philosophy, by any stretch of the imagination. If you can explain what "Socratic epistemology" is, I might have an opinion about whether that theory is or is not popular among contemporary epistemologists. That's what I was trying to do in my earlier comment: if Soc. epistemology is the claim that we cannot attain certainty about a posteriori matters, I think most epistemologists would (maybe grudgingly) agree.
    – Schiphol
    Jul 16, 2012 at 20:51

1 Answer 1


It seems that Socrates did not have a formalized knowledge theory. He contributed to perfecting the philosophical dialogue in the sense that you can only find some answer if you are doing the correct question. So most part of the search for an answer comes from stating what you mean with what you are saying in your question and then refining your question.

"Is love a good thing?", what do you mean with love? Is there more than one kind of love? Do you mean that love is a virtue? What is a virtue?

Through reasoning you may reach the definition of the concepts present in the question, so that you will get your answer, the correctedness of the answer depends on this work of what is the question about and what you mean when you say such words, after which you can reach a logical conclusion to the problem.

Plato, influenced by Socrates, gives great importance to dialectics as the instrument for knowledge in his development of a formalized knowledge theory. Although Socrates had a method of inquiry he lacked an ontology and as such, truth would rely solely on the logic conclusion of correct argumentation; he differs from sophists who rely on argumentation but claim that there's no truth, that it is all a matter of perspective. So even if Socrates thought that there was no way of being completely certain about finding an ultimate truth, he certainly was not relativistic like the sophists.

If you say Socrates' epistemology was diminished (and I'm not certain about why you say that) I think it is only a matter of incompleteness in his theory, but his thoughts were very important to development of Plato's theories.

  • this is an excellent answer, much appreciated.
    – p.a.
    Aug 1, 2012 at 19:48
  • Socrates sounds like a cross between Byron Katie and Dr Laura Schlessinger! The first Self Inquiry expert!
    – user16869
    May 16, 2016 at 23:29

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