Use Of Allegory In Plato’s Work
‘The analogy of the cave tells us nothing about reality’. Discuss (30 marks)
It is perceived to an extent that Plato’s analogy of the cave gives us great insight into reality, due to the symbolic relevance of the different objects and characters in the Cave I.e. The prisoners, shackles, (eventually) the Sun and nature, and the knowledgeable prisoner put forth by Plato to encourage humanity to seek true knowledge and to never settle for unanswered questions. At the same time however, the realm of the Forms is meant to be perfect, unchanging, and eternal, (heavenly), but this world, according to philosopher Stephen Law, ‘requires the existence of deeply unpleasant things too, such as faeces, and mucus. The ‘Platonic heaven of the Forms’ does not sound so heavenly…’, therefore showing that the analogy of the cave does not accurately reflect reality, as the World of the Forms (the outside the cave in the analogy), is made to seem perfect.
Firstly, many may be of the impression that the Cave tells us a lot about reality due to the symbolism of the Prisoners- who reflect us as an apathetic society; who simply believe what we are told at face-value and through the media (Eikasia), instead of seeking to decipher true knowledge of morals and our World in its entirety- like the man who freed himself from the shackles. In spite of this, many others would perhaps take a similar stance to Aristotle- empiricist view in regards to the statement, as the analogy of the cave conveys a sense that humanity will only find absolute truths outside the normal realm of existence- in the World of the Forms (the outside of the Cave), whereas empiricists arguably believe that the analogy tells us nothing about reality because the physical world around us can give a great deal of information, instead of the ‘World of the Forms’ that the free prisoner had discovered.
Furthermore, one might argue from the point of view of Aristotle, that the Analogy of the Cave tells us a bit about reality, but from a different perspective as Plato, because although the prisoners according to Plato have the ‘lowest level of understanding’, Aristotle as well as Richard Dawkins may argue, that there is no transcendent ‘other world’ beyond the physical, and this World might be changeable, but we are still able to study it’s processes in order to gain valuable knowledge which benefits us in our daily lives. In relation to the prisoners, the analogy of the cave may somewhat reflect reality according to Dawkins and Aristotle, because the prisoners have still gained the knowledge of how to make the fire, and create different shapes and objects to be projected, and this satisfies the final cause of the objects, which is for fulfilment and entertainment for themselves, as well as the instinctive understanding of ‘true beauty’ due to the knowledge acquired making all the artificial shapes.
However, the prior view greatly differs to that of Plato, as he believed that the ‘true beauty’ lies in the realisation in the World of the Forms that the knowledge of forming these artificial shapes, can lead to the prisoners being able to physically feel the shapes; which highlights how a follower of Plato’s ideologies would perhaps say that the analogy of the cave tells us significantly more about reality than a follower of Aristotle’s ideologies would. Leading on from this, the end of the analogy alludes to the idea that even if the prisoners were released, they would kill whoever it was that freed them- which correlates to the way that Socrates was killed for spreading his knowledge on various philosophical ideas, thus showing that Plato based the analogy of the Cave on reality, so in this way, it must therefore reveal at least glimpses of realism in our World. Also, the way in which Plato was unable to explicitly use Socrates’ name in his book ‘The Republic’ further reinforces the idea that the analogy of the cave tells is about reality, because it showed the Plato was afraid that by sharing true knowledge, people would still react negatively even years after Socrates’ death- proving that humanity on the whole are content with minimal amounts of knowledge and do not deem it necessary to explore the infinite depth of knowledge that is hidden in our everyday lives; that Plato says is our duty to search for (because according to him, those that search for knowledge are considered to be philosophers, and their souls will live on in a state of wisdom in the World of the Forms).
On the contrary, followers in the Aristotelian concept of this argument may also argue that the analogy of the cave tells us nothing about reality, due to the fact Plato’s idea of the Form of Good is invalid because there is not a complete agreement on what goodness is. Since Plato believed that all other forms are the derivation of the Form of Good, how do we know what goodness is? The highest task of the philosopher is to gain knowledge of the Form of Good, but the analogy of the cave therefore does not tell us anything about reality because following this theory, someone who commits an unprovoked murder, may be considered to be committing an act of goodness, but in reality, we know that acts of this manner are immoral and sinful. Moreover, Aristotle’s 4 Causes could arguably show that the analogy of the cave tells us nothing about reality, because what if the Prime Mover- also known as the Unmoved mover or God made the Cave’s final cause/purpose (Telos) for the prisoners to live in forever? This would then disprove Plato’s theory that you have to find absolute truth in the World of the Forms, because who is to say that true knowledge does not exist in a material world depending on what you consider the Purpose (Telos) of particular situations to be. Ostensibly, Plato’s analogy does not successfully illustrate the difference between the visible world and the world of forms- which suggests that it tells us nothing about reality. Since Plato believed unlike the visible world, the forms are beyond the experiences of our senses, the analogy of the cave fails to illustrate this distinction: both the Form of Good (the sun) and the source of appearances in the cave (the fire) are the same type of thing because the sun is just a very big fire (making it subjective and not Universal like Plato says). The analogy does not therefore accurately help us to understand the difference between the Forms and the visible world, and regarding applications to reality and the statement in its entirety, this is like saying that this World and Heaven will be virtually the same, but in reality, we have been taught in scriptures such as: The Bible, Qur’an and Torah that this is not to be the case.
But Platonian followers may strongly argue against this, because they would say that the analogy of the cave tells us a lot about reality due to its key moral message left by Plato. Plato’s analogy symbolises that the world around us, which we think is so important, is really just an illusion, and that true reality, which is far more valuable, lies beyond our experience and existence. This idea could be interpreted to have some validity and relevant in our everyday realism because we might be taken in by someone’s personal appearance, and in fact it is their personality that is far more real and important for example. Therefore, the analogy of the cave tells us a lot about reality, due to the moral message that lingers. From a Christian person’s perspective, they may interpret this as being very extremely realistic because it further supports the Bible verse from John 7, stating ‘Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.’ and seeing as religion would be a Christian’s reality, then that also suggests that the analogy tells us a significant amount about reality.
Similarly, Heraclitus once said, ‘You never step into the same river twice’ and linking this idea to the statement and the fact that the analogy of the cave tells us a lot about reality, in the analogy the free prisoner found new knowledge whilst the other prisoners were ignorant and did not want to know about it. This links to reality because it shows that the World is always changing, because the river that the free prisoner saw for example, would have continued to flow and its actuality would have been different due to the Prime Mover. Furthermore, Brian Davies would argue that the analogy of the Cave reflects reality, because without Forms we would not be able to discuss general features of the real world such as beauty or justice, because we would have no knowledge or recognition of what these Forms look like, or what their essence is. Therefore, the analogy of the cave’s explanation to the Forms must tell us that there is more to our reality than we think, because why else would we be able to universally recognise the essence of these Forms? In the opinion of many, the analogy can tell us why we understand features within our reality.
In light of the matter, Plato’s analogy of the cave tells us somewhat about reality because he highlights with the characterization of the prisoners, that material and physical concerns can blind people to what is ultimately important, and also links to reality by accentuating that this World does not exist without any imperfections. But Aristotle’s criticisms are that there is no tangible evidence of the forms; there is a substantial amount to be learnt in this World without the idea of a ‘World of the Forms’, and if the free prisoner found ‘True knowledge’ from the outside of the Cave (World of the Forms), then why does no-one study the Forms; if it’s our duty in order to seek enlightenment? This again suggests that the analogy of the Cave tells us nothing about reality, because it conveys the message that you can only learn a lot by being in the World of the Forms, but in reality, it is widely argued by followers of the Aristotelian concepts, that the Telos of this World in itself is for humanity to live and gain knowledge, without having to gain ‘True knowledge’ elsewhere.
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