’S Worldview, And How Do Humans Exist Within It? Essay, Research Paper
Plato lived in a very exciting time in history. The post-Socratic era had merits for exploration totally new to him. The idea that science and reason could be applied to more than static issues such as logistics and geometry, allowing the thinking men of the time the opportunity to examine the world around them with structured thought. He, like his mentor, was not happy with what science gave as answers to life. Though it gave a structure the world, It denoted a typically atheist view on the world. Plato had strong ideas about right and wrong, and other abstract ideas in general, but could not relinquish such a powerful tool as “scientific” reason or Grecian theories on the atomic nature of the world, so used them in his work.
One of Plato’s core philosophies was what he called “The Forms”. He postulated a duality that spanned the planes of human existence. The world around him was made entirely of crude matter that could only represent the purity of the next life, in the plane of the forms. If we examine any object (for argument’s sake a glass) we should be able to identify what it is without having to think to hard. It is our ability to connect objects that aren’t atomically identical to the same ilk that Plato found fascinating. How does a common understanding of what is glass arise? We could scorn any deeper meaning of this by saying that we can tell a glass is a glass by examining its function, but then consider common ideas such as justice. Even in cross-cultural examination common human concepts can be found. To Plato they were proof of a common human existence before this one, where these notions were first given to us. Thus was born the plane of the forms.
Plato concluded that the corporeal world was illusionary on this principle. He thought that the world (his “world of shadows”) was merely a corruption of the reality of forms that exists for us before and after. All the worrying about the matters that concern us in our earthly lives only distracts the pursuit of happiness and wisdom that Plato saw as the purpose of life.
He took this further when he went on to describe the relationship between the body and the soul. In Christian philosophy the body is the corporeal perfection that houses an equally perfect (though intangible) soul. Both are human; both are perfect; both come from a divine God. To Plato however the body was scorned as a crude vessel for a form of a person. It had some benefits that cannot be ignored, the possibilities for family, wealth and earthly happiness, but these paled in comparison to the world of the forms. Plato conceded to say that although there is no inherit evil in these pleasures, they should only be indulged minimally as the truer gift in life is to seek the form inside us. Plato’s belief was that we are all representations of the pure form of ourselves that existed in the life before, and as soon as we are born we start to corrupt (in modern thinking, the development of “filters”), mutating the ideals and spiritual luggage we carried inside us in our transition from the life before. . This is how isolated peoples on earth form similar ideas about justice, and what it means to treat people well. It is the body that causes this mutation of ideas. One of the core principles as to why the body is not to be taken as the be all and end all of existence unfortunately relies on now archaic Grecian scientific knowledge. One of the Greeks crowning achievements was the concept of “indivisibles”, or atoms, as we know them today. The idea of things that are elementary to material existence being imperishable, due to their very nature, was eagerly adopted by Plato. He argued that the body, being made up of many smaller units, would soon disassemble. This gives material life the temporary and unimportant spin the Plato had searched to explain properly. This meant that any beauty in the world was less than it could be, because of its basic foundations in a corporeal format. The forms are different however Plato argued. They are elementary by themselves, being pure and having no need for composite additions. They are by their nature, imperishable and eternal. Therefore to seek anything but the forms seemed nonsensical. Plato’s logical conclusion would have been to abandon earthly delights altogether, and though he didn’t the idea of shedding possessions to pursue a spiritual quest of some sort endures today.
He paints a picture of all the non-philosopher caste as being chained by the hand and foot from birth in the bowels of a cave, a very precise metaphor of ignorance. Behind these captive minds is a wall that (if they were able to turn around) obscures a procession of people. These people carry objects with them, above wall height, the shadows of which are cast onto the wall in front of the prisoners via a fire at the rear of the procession. These shadows are literally and figuratively the representation of the material world that, as the people have known it from birth, the take so seriously.
“The Republic” – Plato