Plato Essay, Research Paper
Analysis of Plato’s The Simile of The Cave
Many literary works of the past have been very accurate to our view of society today. None of these works, however describes our view of today s society as closely as Plato s “Simile of the Cave”. In this work, Plato describes how he believes humans of his time behaved using a simple analogy of men in a cave. Through this analogy, Plato is able to fully show his beliefs and concept of life itself. Although very old, this literary work can still be used to associate problems of today s society to those of the past. Plato describes men as being chained in a dark subterranean chamber with their eyes permanently turned to a screen before them, upon which pass the shadows of men living and working in the world of light. Since the prisoners in the underground cave have never known reality other than those shadows, they take them for all that actually is “the whole truth”, and if voices from the world above do reach them, they believe it is the shadows speaking. In comparison of this to our government today, many similarities can be seen. Citizens of our nation today are often “blinded” from the truths that are presented before them. They live their lives from day to day just knowing and accepting what is being presented to them blindly and have no concept of the reality that lies behind what they are presented. Unless these people are freed and allowed to find the truth for themselves, this is the way that they will always live their life. Plato symbolizes this by suggesting that one of these men is freed and ventures out of the cave into the light, or the world above, and sees the sun, symbolizing “the form of the good”. Plato s object in this work was not of personal enlightenment; he had the sense to understand that where communication was lacking, such as those prisoners still locked in the cave. The wise, represented by the freed prisoner, should distribute their knowledge to others who were lacking that information. In today s society, however, this idea is usually not practiced. In terms of our government, people with this “knowledge” tend to separate themselves from others wanting this same information. In the world of politics, it seems that politicians try to show the people of their country just what they want the people to see, making them the ones that are withholding the information. Upon closer analyzation of this analogy, instead of being the freed prisoners that journey to the light to find knowledge, politicians tend to be more like the men behind the curtains showing the prisoners these objects, representing “truth”, but they only show the prisoners shadows that stand for “mystery” and “doubt”. There is in deep-seated contradiction here, because the journey of each freed prisoner seems to be an individual venture, and it appears that the good cannot be realized by a collective enlightenment. This holds true to today s society also. Man s journey into enlightenment is still a personal adventure; success or failure in today s society with our government depends on our individual drive to succeed and our own individual effort to do our best. In conclusion, Plato s “Simile of the Cave” represents abstract qualities such as truth, enlightenment, mystery, deception, and many other ideas. Upon one s analysis of this simile, many qualities can be found that are comparable to today s society. Through a better understanding of this literary work, a person is able to fully compare and contrast the similarities between society today and society of Plato s time. These astounding similarities make this one of the most intriguing and interesting literary works of all time.
Plato s analysis of the truth through “The Parable of the Cave” is an effective, valid tool to help us analyze our own life and ultimately find the truth. He did this by first analyzing his own life and the fetters and bearers who used shadows to keep him from reaching the roadway to wisdom. It has proved to be an effective assessment not only when he was alive but even up until today.
The parable symbolizes man s struggle to reach understanding and enlightenment and is a universal and everlasting concept.
Plato used the bearers in his parable to symbolize people who control what we see and do, people who hold us back from using our full potential to decide what we want to see for ourselves. An example from modern society would be TV producers or record label executives, ultimately they decide what songs we will sing tomorrow and what shows we will watch. They limit us by allowing only what they want to reach us and penetrate our minds and lives. The fetters were what kept the escaped prisoner in the parable from turning his head and seeking his own truth, as well and new things. They kept him from being able to control what he saw for himself. The naming of objects was another hindrance, because it only caused prejudging and encouraged a closed mind. The fetters, bearers, and naming of objects make it harder to find our own truth, although it is not impossible. As Plato knew then, they exist in everyone s lives.
Humans have to travel from the visible realm of image making and object naming to the intelligible, invisible realm of reasoning and understanding. The “Parable of the Cave” symbolizes this trek and how it would look to those still in a lower realm. The things our senses perceive as real are just shadows on a wall. Just as the escaped prisoner ascends into the light of sun, as we amass knowledge, we ascend into the light of true reality: ideas in the mind.
Yet if someone goes into the light of sun and embraces true reality and then proceeds to tell the others still chained in the cave of the truth, they will laugh at and ridicule the enlightened one, for the only reality they have ever known were some fuzzy shadows on a wall. They could not possibly comprehend another dimension without experiencing it themselves, and therefore would label the enlightened one as mad. The exact same thing happened to Charles Darwin. In 1837, Darwin was traveling aboard the H.M.S. Beagle in the Pacific Ocean and dropped anchor at the Galapagos Islands. Darwin found a wide array of animals therein. These differences in animals sparked Darwin to perform research, which lasted well up to his death and culminated in the publishing of The Origin of Species in 1858. He stated that these had not appeared out of thin air but had evolved from other species through evolution and natural selection. This sparked a firestorm of criticism, for most people at this time accepted the theory of Creationism. In this way, Darwin and his scientific followers parallel the escaped prisoner. They walked into the light and saw true reality. Yet when he told the imprisoned public what he saw he was scoffed at and labeled mad; all the prisoners knew and could perceive were shadows on a wall, which are just gross distortions of reality. Darwin walked the path to understanding and wisdom just like the escaped prisoner on the parable.
“The Parable of the Cave,” because of its timeless text and ingenious originality, will probably be around until the end of time. It will continue to amaze people through its eye-opening metaphors and unforgettable lessons. By reading the parable, Plato made us take a look at our own lives, to make sure we weren t living a life based solely on our senses, in order to be able to find a personal truth. Situations will arise probably similar to Darwin s and this lesson will repeat itself again.
Plato s Divided Line is a model indicating not only levels of knowledge, but basically levels of everything. It is divided into four levels and two sides. The left side consists of ways we know, become aware of, and perceive things, while the right side consists of the objects of knowledge, awareness, and perception. The bottom half includes those things in the physical realm and the top half includes those things in the spiritual and intellectual realm. The highest point in the physical realm is the sun, and the highest point in the spiritual realm is the form of the good and beautiful, both of which are essentially impossible to reach. The different levels mean different things. On the lowest level, the left side is made up of our imagination, perception, and conjecture. The right side is made up of shadows and mirages. The next level up, on the left, is where we believe something because we see it. The right side of this level is where we find all physical things. At the top of the physical realm before entering the spiritual realm, is the sun. The next level up is the lowest level in the spiritual realm. The left side of this level includes thinking from hypotheses, while the right side includes objects of math and science. The top level in Plato s model contains true knowledge and dialectical thinking on the left. The rite contains all forms and ideas. The topmost point, the forms of the good and beautiful, is the ultimate goal of human happiness, or eudaimonia. These non-physical forms are the ultimate reality, the ideal perfect model of all that exists. These different levels apply to knowledge, perception, awareness, and ethics in the same way. For each of these things, the higher one goes in the model, the higher one goes in any of these particular areas. For example, regarding different levels of knowledge, the lowest level is on the bottom and the highest level is on top. Therefore, the closer one gets to the top of the model, the more knowledge one has Eskildsen, p.2 and vice-versa. The same holds true for the other areas, as well, and they are all related to each other. Using knowledge in another example, the higher level of knowledge one reaches, the higher one s ethical standards are, as well. Because of these relationships, Plato s Divided Line relates to all areas of life
Plato sculpted this idea into his theory of Forms. The Forms are basically essences, they are that which truly defines a thing. By the time of the Republic, Plato had come around to the view that everything had Forms–not just virtues, but tangible things like beds, chairs, etc. We are surrounded by chairs, but there is a single Form of the “chair” that is common to all of them and makes them what they are.
The other thing we need to know about Platonic philosophy in the Republic (actually, this is true in all of his works) is that Plato believes wholeheartedly in an objective human Good , and he feels it is the goal of philosophy to find that Good . Plato’s work rests on morality in many places, and this provides it with both passionate credibility and intellectual weakness. Plato rejected human sensory observation in favor of seeking the higher good of the Forms, which were the key by which humans could come to an understanding of the truth of their universe and lead happier, fuller lives. Plato’s rejection of the senses, and adherence to a normative belief at the core of his work,
Plato then projects this three part division onto the human soul. We all have a rational, wise part, a spirited, honor- loving part, and an appetitive, base part (desiring money, food, sex, etc.) The soul is just when, just like the city, the rational part rules over the other two and each part of the soul does its own job.
Plato then argues that the just person is happier than the unjust person for this reason, that the just person’s soul is in order, whereas the unjust person’s soul is in decay and disorder. Secondly, the just person’s desires are satisfied, since their rational parts limits their desires, whereas the unjust person’s desires are rampant and out of control.
Plato’s next two arguments depend on the just person not only being just but being a philosopher as well, and in touch with the theory of the Forms. The first of these arguments is that, because the philosopher is ruled by his rational part and understands truth, he understands the pleasure of a hedonist (a person ruled by appetite) and an honor-lover (a person ruled by spirit), whereas they both only know their own pleasures. Then, the philosopher has credibility in judging what way of life is best, whereas no one else does. The last argument is rooted wholly in the theory of the Forms: the idea is that, speaking purely in terms of pleasure, the philosopher enjoys his pleasures, the pleasures of the Forms, more than unjust people enjoy their pleasures, pleasures of appetite or honor, because the pleasures of philosophy are greater than those of the sensible world.
The Republic contains arguments on a great variety of subjects, at various levels of complexity. Plato’s prescriptions for the Just City, and even his division of the tripartite soul, is fairly straightforward to follow, and can be taken at very literally. With the arrival of the philosopher-kings, things start to get a little more complicated. Finally, we settle on the analogy of the Line and the Sun, and the Allegory of the Cave, and we are in very difficult philosophical territory, surrounded by complexity that submits itself to a variety of interpretations.
The primary argument behind the explicit conversation about justice that is the Republic is Plato belief in a Form of the Good, an objective human good, and that the key to understanding philosophy is understanding this Form. The only way to come to such an understanding is to immerse oneself in rigorous philosophical study, and to familiarize oneself with the dialectic on a very high level. The Form of the Good casts light over all of the other Forms, and these are key to understanding the world. The Forms are the essences of things, and they are superior to anything in the sensible world. Plato does not trust empiricism or observation as tools for coming to an understanding of things. Without the Forms, we are limited to opinion, because our senses are not reliable to give us true knowledge about anything. Knowledge and understanding come from an examination of the Forms, and only from an examination of the Forms.
Plato’s view of human learning is as metaphysical as his understanding of human knowledge. Plato’s belief in the immortal soul is the reason people are able to get in touch with the Forms. Souls themselves are as eternal and unchanging as the Forms, and they already “know” everything we learn during our lives, learning is simply a matter of helping them remember. And that is what Plato’s education does, brings people into the light of the Good, and they eventually remember all that they had forgotten about the Forms.
Plato’s philosophy in the Republic is based on two presumptions. The first is that Forms exist. Plato deliberately places them beyond the realm of the sensible; they exist above such things, and Plato offers only common-sense arguments for their existence. Secondly, we have to believe his account that, presuming the existence of the Forms, the human mind is capable of understanding them. This is where Plato’s view of the soul becomes important, because it supports this view.
As in any positive philosophy that proposes to answer important questions, at a certain level we find belief resting beneath the arguments. Plato would of course argue that he knows about the Forms, because that is what they allow him to do, by definition.
The circularity of this arrangement, Plato defines his Forms in such a way as to presuppose their existence and his knowledge of them, has been observed and criticized by centuries of skeptical thinkers. That criticism encapsulates one of the most fundamental arguments against Plato’s theory of Forms and general willingness to draw conclusions. There is no “answer” to the question, as there are no answers to many of philosophy’s most fundamental questions.
There is a certain beauty to the option Plato presents. Rather than turn your back on all judgement and conclusion because of the imperfections of human sensory perception, imperfections of which he is well aware, he chooses instead to service his philosophy to a greater Good that stands above the sensible world. The existence of this higher plane is supported by common sense. The greatness of Plato’s philosophy in the Republic is that it makes an extremely well-supported, well-reasoned argument on these virtuous assumptions, and thus does provide a comprehensive way of looking at human good, rather than hiding from any hope of drawing concrete conclusions about right and wrong.