This theory gives further insight into the epistemology of Plato's middle period. First, it is worth noting that empirical knowledge--knowledge we gain from experience--does not count as knowledge for Plato. For instance, an empirical fact such as "Sparta won the Peloponnesian War" cannot be recollected nor brought into the mind by means of questioning. It would also be absurd to say that we have had this knowledge in our souls since before we were born: Socrates was born before the Peloponnesian War, so how could he have had this knowledge back then? True knowledge for Plato is only knowledge of the Forms. If we know Equality and Beauty and Justice and all the rest, then our understanding of the sensible world will flow from these Forms. For instance, I can know that two sticks are almost, but not quite exactly, equal because I know the Form of Equality.

Plato also wants to discuss two different kinds of knowledge. It seems that on one hand, we all have intrinsic knowledge of the Forms, which is why we need only recollect them to bring them into our minds. On the other hand, however, this knowledge remains somehow sub-conscious until it is brought out through recollection. People who have conscious knowledge of something are able to give an account or explanation of what they know, and teach it to others.

This section of the text, like much of the Phaedo, is quite problematic. Three main problems crop up here, which we shall discuss in turn. First, there is an objection to the Theory of Recollection. The second and third problems focus on Socrates' discussion of the Form of Equality, which raises some questions and problems for the Theory of Forms itself.

Socrates seems mostly intent on showing that we came to know what we now know before birth. However, he never gives any explanation of when before birth we acquired this knowledge, nor how. If we came into this life knowing what Equality is, when did we first come to know Equality? If no true knowledge comes from experience but is all innately given, experience from a previous life could not have given us knowledge of Equality either. Perhaps Plato would suggest that when our soul is first created, and has its first life, it is created with a knowledge of Forms. But this raises another question that Plato does not answer: when and how does the cycle of birth and death of the soul begin? And if it has a beginning, why can't it have an end?

Our other two problems concerns the Theory of Forms. Socrates asserts that the Form of Equality is different from equal objects in that equal objects can sometimes be seen as equal, sometimes unequal. Equality itself, on the other hand, is always equal. Plato seems to propose this as a general rule for Forms: the Form of Equality is equal, the Form of Beauty is beautiful, the Form of Justice is just, and so on.

The first question this raises is what is meant by "is" in this case. It could be: (1) the "is" of identity, such as "Socrates is the teacher of Plato" where both sides of the "is" mean the same thing. (2) The "is" of predication, where the predicate is an essential characteristic, as in "Socrates is a human being." Under this interpretation, "The Form of Equality is equal" would mean that the Form of Equality is essentially and above all, equal. (3) The "is" of extension, where the Form of Equality is equivalent to the set of all particular objects in the world that participate in this form.

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