PLATO : THE ALLEGORY OF THE CAVE

Plato s Allegory of he cave gives a better clarrification of his concept of FORMS and the PUREST FORM.
The Allegory of the Cave, also commonly known as Myth of the Cave, Metaphor of the Cave, The Cave Analogy, Plato's Cave or the Parable of the Cave, is an allegory used by the Greek philosopher Plato in his work The Republic to illustrate "our nature in its education and want of education". The allegory of the cave is written as a fictional dialogue between Plato's teacher Socrates and Plato's brother Glaucon.

Inside the cave
Socrates begins by describing a scenario in which what people take to be real would in fact be an illusion. He asks Glaucon to imagine a cave inhabited by prisoners who have been chained and held immobile since childhood: not only are their arms and legs held in place, but their heads are also fixed, compelled to gaze at a wall in front of them. Behind the prisoners is an enormous fire, and between the fire and the prisoners is a raised walkway, along which people walk carrying things on their heads "including figures of men and animals made of wood, stone and other materials". The prisoners watch the shadows cast by the men, not knowing they are shadows. There are also echoes off the wall from the noise produced from the walkway. Socrates asks if it is not reasonable that the prisoners would take the shadows to be real things and the echoes to be real sounds, not just reflections of reality, since they are all they had ever seen or heard. Wouldn't they praise as clever whoever could best guess which shadow would come next, as someone who understood the nature of the world? And wouldn't the whole of their society depend on the shadows on the wall?

Release from the cave
Socrates next introduces something new to this scenario. Suppose that a prisoner is freed and permitted to stand up. If someone were to show him the things that had cast the shadows, he would not recognize them for what they were and could not name them; he would believe the shadows on the wall to be more real than what he sees. "Suppose further," Socrates says, "that the man was compelled to look at the fire: wouldn't he be struck blind and try to turn his gaze back toward the shadows, as toward what he can see clearly and hold to be real? What if someone forcibly dragged such a man upward, out of the cave: wouldn't the man be angry at the one doing this to him? And if dragged all the way out into the sunlight, wouldn't he be distressed and unable to see "even one of the things now said to be true," viz. the shadows on the wall? After some time on the surface, however, Socrates suggests that the freed prisoner would acclimate. He would see more and more things around him, until he could look upon the Sun. He would understand that the Sun is the "source of the seasons and the years, and is the steward of

all things in the visible place, and is in a certain way the cause of all those things he and his companions had been seeing"

Return to the cave
Socrates next asks Glaucon to consider the condition of this man. "Wouldn't he remember his first home, what passed for wisdom there, and his fellow prisoners, and consider himself happy and them pitiable? And wouldn't he disdain whatever honors, praises, and prizes were awarded there to the ones who guessed best which shadows followed which? Moreover, were he to return there, wouldn't he be rather bad at their game, no longer being accustomed to the darkness? "Wouldn't it be said of him that he went up and came back with his eyes corrupted, and that it's not even worth trying to go up? And if they were somehow able to get their hands on and kill the man who attempts to release and lead up, wouldn't they kill him?" PLATO then explains how the philosopher is like a prisoner who is freed from the cave and comes to understand that the shadows on the wall are not constitutive of reality at all, as he can perceive the true form of reality rather than the mere shadows seen by the prisoners. The Allegory is related to Plato's Theory of Forms,[1] wherein Plato asserts that "Forms" (or "Ideas"), and not the material world of change known to us through sensation, possess the highest and most fundamental kind of reality. Only knowledge of the Forms constitutes real knowledge.[2] In addition, the allegory of the cave is an attempt to explain the philosopher's place in society.

Plato¶s Realm of Forms
Plato¶s theory of forms (or ideas) lies at the heart of his philosophy. It follows on directly from his allegory of the cave and understanding reality. One of the problems that philosophers tried to answer in ancient Greece was that of relating the many to the one. For example when we see a particular chair for the first time how do we know it is a chair? The particular example of the chair we are presented with might not bear any resemblance to any other chair we have seen before yet we know instinctively that it is a chair! Socrates had insisted that we must attempt to answer the question µWhat is X?¶ before we can say anything meaningful about X. To answer this question Socrates asked the question µWhat is the one thing common to all the many instances of examples of X?¶ Socrates was primarily interested in the consequences of this problem for ethics (not chairs!). He was interested in questions such as µWhat is justice?¶ He reasoned that in order to define what justice is all you needed to do was look at examples of justice in the world around you and note down the similarities. However, despite all his philosophical inquiry, Socrates was unable to come to any conclusion.

Plato¶s Conclusion to Socrates

Following on from this, Plato sought to find out why Socrates¶ reasoning was inconclusive. Going over Socrates¶ philosophical method, Plato concluded that all instances and examples of X were unreliable. Plato held that in interesting cases such as justice and goodness and beauty every instance of X will also be an instance of the opposite of X. Plato concluded that there must be an unambiguous example of justice. This unambiguous example cannot be found in this world but only in another. He believed that as well as the transitory material world that we all experience here and now, there was also an eternal world of concepts or forms. This eternal world is more real than the world we experience through the senses, and it is the object of knowledge, not opinion.

Heraclitus¶ constantly changing world
The world of sense experience is subject to constant change. This was a popular topic for discussion in Greek philosophy; how can the truth be known, if the world never stays the same from one moment to the next? Heraclitus, a philosopher who lived about one hundred years before Plato, had considered this idea. He was famous for the saying µIt is not possible to step into the same river twice¶. According to Heraclitus, everything in the world is in a constant state of flux. Things come into the world, they change all the time that they are here, and they go away again. The objects we perceive are not eternal µthings¶, they are processes. Heraclitus believed that there is nothing in the world that is reliable and unchanging, and nothing that we can hold up as a certain, unchanging truth.

Plato¶s Realms of Forms
Plato had a different view. He believed that the answer to this question was that there is certain truth, but that this material world cannot reveal it. It can only present appearances, which lead us to form opinions, rather than knowledge. The truth is to be found elsewhere, on a different plane, in the non-material world of ideas or forms. For Plato, in order for something to be real, it had to be permanent and unchanging. Reality and perfection for Plato were closely related. When Socrates asked µWhat is justice?¶ or µWhat is beauty?¶, he was not just trying to find a good definition of the words. He was asking about the nature, or essence, of these qualities. Plato believed that the qualities had a sort of universal existence, a reality of their own. When we see examples of justice in the world, we recognise them as such because we see that they reflect the nature of True Justice, or the Form of Justice. When we call something beautiful, it is because we have an innate knowledge of True Beauty, or the Form of Beauty. Whether we are thinking about justice or beauty what we see in the world around us is always imperfect. Even though we have never seen perfect justice or beauty, we know what they are because knowledge is a kind of recollection. We have an instinctive understanding of the Forms; so we can say to each other µHer eyes are too close together¶ and know that this means that she

fall short of true beauty, which we understand as a concept even though we have never seen a perfect example of it.

Plato¶ s Realm of Forms and the Pre-existence of the Soul
Plato reasons that because we have concepts of the Ideal Form, without having experienced them (e.g. Justice or Beauty), our souls must have known the Forms before we were born. This leads him to the belief that people must have immortal souls. Contemporary Greek thought was a belief in reincarnation.

Plato¶s Realm of Forms and Language
Plato¶s concept of a realm of forms is directly related to the way in which we use language. When we use words and apply them to particular objects we make reference to the world of Forms. There are many individual animals of whom we can truly say µthis is a cat¶. What do we mean by the word µcat¶? Obviously something different from each particular cat. An animal is a cat, it would seem, because it participates in a general nature common to all cats. Language cannot get on without general words such as µcat¶, and such words are evidently not meaningless. But if the word µcat¶ means anything, it means something which is not this or that cat, but some kind of universal cattiness. This is not born when a particular cat is born, and does not die when it dies. In fact it has no position in space or time, it is µeternal¶. When we use a word such as µcat¶ to describe the particular animal we see, Plato believed that we are not just classifying it (c.f. Socrates attempt of relating the many with the one). We are actually referring to some particular quality or essence that it shares with all other animals that also are described as µcat¶; they all share something of the Form of Cat. Plato went further than this: he also claimed that, in the world of Forms, there is an Ideal Cat, created by God. The cats we see as we go about our daily lives are inferior instances of this Ideal Cat. They are constantly changing, they are born, and they die; but the Ideal Cat is eternal, depending on nothing for its existence, and is the object of knowledge, not opinion.

Plato¶s Realm of Forms and Mathematics
Plato¶s theory of Forms can also be understood in terms of mathematics. Plato held the study of mathematics in high regard. Above the entrance to his Academy there was a sign that forbid anyone ignorant of mathematics from entering. Mathematics was held in high esteem because it was a discipline which depended on pure reason. The allegory of the cave is meant to contrast those who depend solely on their senses (the prisoners) and those who are able to discern the world through pure reason (the escapee). Mathematics is based on reason rather than using ones senses. It should therefore provide some insights into the realm of Forms unhindered from the realm of appearances.

We can know truths such as 2+2=4 without having to check our experiences in the material work. It is possible to see how mathematics helps us understand the realm of Forms simply by considering a circle. The definition of a circle is« µan infinite series of points, all at the same distance to a given fixed centre¶. This is in effect what you are trying to do when you use a compass! It follows on from this that no one has ever actually seen a perfect circle. No draftsman (or woman), no matter how deft he was with his pen could ever produce enough infinite dots that were expertly measured out from an infinitely small centre point. When we see a circle that has been drawn well what we are actually seeing is a close approximation of a perfect circle. In fact a perfect circle could not be seen at all. Infinite points which make up its circumference do not take up any space, they exist in logic rather than in a physical form. As soon as someone tries to draw it, even if he uses the most sophisticated computerised equipment, it becomes imperfect. But although the Ideal Form of a circle has never been seen, and never could be seen, people do know what a circle is, they can define it while at the same time accepting that it cannot be translated into the material world without losing its perfection. For Plato, therefore, the Form of a Circle exists, but not in the physical world of space and time. It exists as a changeless object in the world of Forms or Ideas, which can be known only by reason. Forms have greater reality than objects in the physical world both because of their perfection and unchangingness, and because they are models. As Ideals, they give ordinary physical objects whatever reality they have, because of the ways in which the physical objects resemble any kind of existence because of resemblance to their corresponding physical objects. Circularity, squareness, and triangularity are excellent examples, then of what Plato meant by Forms. An object existing in the physical world may be called a circle or a square or a triangle only to the extent that it resembles (µparticipates in¶ is Plato¶s phrase) the Form µcircularity¶ or µsquareness¶ or µtriangularity¶.
Plato¶s Form of Good Plato believed that the Forms were interrelated, and arranged in a hierarchy. The highest Form is the Form of the Good, which is the ultimate principle.

Like the Sun in the Allegory of the Cave, the Good illuminates the other Forms. We can see that Justice, for example, is an aspect of Goodness. And again, we know that we have never seen, with our senses, any examples of perfect goodness, but we have seen plenty of particular examples which approximate goodness, and we recognise them as µgood¶ when we see them because of the way in which they correspond to our innate notion of the Form of the Good. By Plato¶s logic, real knowledge becomes, in the end, a knowledge of goodness; and this is why philosophers are in the best position to rule. The one who has philosophical knowledge of the Good is the one who is fit to rule. Plato¶s belief in the fitness to rule of the philosopher is sometimes referred to as the µPhilosopher King¶ (even though Plato himself never used it). Plato developed his Theory of Forms to the point where he divided existence into two realms. There is the world of sense experience (the µempirical¶ world), where nothing ever stays the same but is always in the process of change. Experience of it gives rise to opinions. There is also a world which is outside space and time, which is not perceived through the senses, and in which everything is permanent and perfect or Ideal - the realm of the Forms. The empirical world shows only shadows and poor copies of these Forms, and so is less real than the world of the Forms themselves, because the Forms are eternal and immutable (unchanging), the proper objects of knowledge.

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