Truth and Tradition in Plato and the Cambridge Platonists
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Both Plato and the Cambridge Platonists hold the view that moral knowledge depends primarily on cognitive resources which are innate to the mind. There is, nevertheless, a need for our minds to be prompted through experience in order for knowledge to occur. The following study is an attempt to reconstruct and compare the accounts in Plato and the Cambridge Platonists of the empirical conditions that are required for knowledge. For Plato, these conditions are a result of a decline in political and psychological constitutions, through which the intellect is increasingly developed. Dialectical analysis of received customs, laws, opinions, and language may then reveal the moral ideas upon which the polity was initially based and which remain implicit in common sense throughout the historical decline. Philosophical knowledge consists of a recollection of the ancient wisdom which was revealed to the original lawgiver by the gods. In the Cambridge Platonists, philosophical knowledge likewise consists of a recollection of revealed knowledge that stood at the foundation of a form of life, namely, Judaism. The revival of ancient Greek and Jewish philosophical theories in modern times heralds the end of history, in which the complete system of knowledge is both attainable and necessary for salvation. From the perspective of humanity as a whole, knowledge is initially granted through revelation, then generally forgotten, and finally recollected in a highly intellectual age of deteriorating morality and stability. The esoteric traditions of knowledge, coupled with recent developments in science and philosophy, act as the prompts for knowledge, given an intuitive basis that has been formed through the spread of Christianity. This intuitive basis serves as the concrete way in which the natural anticipations of the mind are gradually shaped in order to recognize the truth when it appears in a shrouded manner in modern philosophy. Both Plato and the Cambridge Platonists are critics of the similar intellectual trends in their times and they respond with similar arguments; however, unlike Plato, the Cambridge Platonists are unable to connect their rational critique with their genetic critique of modern ideas, rendering the latter ineffective.