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This Week's Respondent
I think the main point that this part is talking about is the importance of truth being conceived by human beings in different situations, different societies. And also the importance of the fact that the truth perceived is what enables human beings to have a concept of good and justice.
When I was reading this passage, I couldn’t help myself but think about the similarities of the image described of the prisoners to somehow the example of the people who are actually facing the same situation today. The image of the prisoners reminded me very much of the condition that immigrants from the poor, uneducated, traditional and strict religious countries go under when they move to more civilized ones. They are compelled to see and accept the world in its new existence, probably having serious problems adopting themselves to a new society where all their longtime beliefs would go under question. They would feel pain and annoyance, dazzled by the new light but at the same time eager to experience the new sense of truth. Being put back to their previous place they might be laughed at by the people there as they would probably want to preserve the truth as they have been lived and grown up with. We could even trace this in a smaller form comparing the education received within a family and then its contrast later on with the realities in the actual society out of home. Somehow it may be fair to say that truth is defined differently by the communication of people in certain communities all throughout the history.
- I really liked your ,Aitag, and could relate to it personally. Although I'm originally from Southern California - I spent nearly all my teenage years in Ireland - so I felt Irish. When I returned to the US for college I really was unhappy and didn't like it at all. I was afraid of everything - the vastness and the lack of a cohesive culture like I had known in Ireland. Then I returned to Ireland after a year, and although I was glad to be back (I went for 3 months) - I clearly remember feeling like my mind's eye had been expanded and realized that all my real opportunities lay in America and not the small society I had come from. I don't think my Irish mother would be thrilled to hear me comparing Ireland to Plato's cave wall - so I must clarigy that this was more than 25 years ago and (fortunately) things have come on! MDuignan
Valerio Borgianelli Spina (Euripides)
Ting-Fang (Annie) Cheng
How Plato sees the world is different from the previous authors we read. People this time held certain interiority, having the insight to seek for the truth. They began to search and disdained the present honors. The knowledge, the meaning of lives were no longer surrounded by but dwelled within human while one should excavate deep within or be inspired to be aware of the truth and the idea of good. It is the time when people got the power within themselves to seek for the truth, to perceive the world by their own intellections.
The allegory of cave tries to interpret the essence of truth. The story tells when a shackled person turns around to see the outside world, just like the process of how people come to know the being, the truth, and the idea of good.
To see the essence of truth, on the one hand, one should undergo skepticism of what is real, on the other hand, how people conceive the world becomes extremely important. How do people define what is truth while others are falsehood? As people have been shackled, having limited mobility and seeing only in front of them, they would hold that the truth is nothing other than the shadows of artificial things. However, when they are released, they see the torch of fire; they have a view of the dazzling outside world. Which one would be more real, the shadows or the outside world?
The thing that makes people see other things, people can not see. That’s why it is very hard to see the idea of good, to see directly into the sun itself. So bright does the idea of good that one can hardly see it clearly at the first glance.
“What is truth” could be the question that have been sought over thousands of years, while until today, in the categories of philosophy, history, science, and even journalism, people are repeatedly asking the same question. Nonetheless, it is not solved until today, while ironically modern people watch again a lot of representations as movies, as paintings and as news, and talk a lot about representations.
While the discussions above still lie in the explanation of truth as Correctness/ Correspondence, Heidegger’s profound re-interpretation of truth tries to say more: true as Unhiddeness/ Un-concealment. In Plato’s Doctrine of Truth, Heidegger discloses unsaid part according to Plato’s allegory. Heidegger says that the allegory provides a glimpse of what is really happening in the history of western humanity, both now and in the future: taking the essence of truth as the correctness of the representation, one think of all beings according to “ideas” and evaluates all reality according to “values.” Heidegger wants to re-contemplate the essence of truth, which not only can be interpreted as correctness but also can be view as unhiddeness, since if only viewing truth as correspondence; we are inside the unfair/ stringent system that has stereotyped standards of fake or genuine, and good or bad.
I was really struck by the dilemma at the end of the excerpt. The dilemma of a man set free from the bonds of a lifetime and compelled to see what really (or what else) exists beyond the only existence he as ever known. Then, still adjusting to this new reality, he is callously told that everything he ever believed about what he knew to be true is "silly." He is then ordered to state what it is he actually sees now. Well, insulted, confused by the strangeness of this new reality, and most probably taken aback by the person he meets - how else would he be expected to answer, except to fall back on what he has always known/thought to be true and that sufficed until that moment. Talk about bad communication. That someone (teacher) obviously wasn't aware of any appropriate educational subject matter introductional approaches! Okay, I know Plato was using dialectic argument to build his case for the rest of the book - I just wanted to initially take the excerpt at face value. This same dilemma, however, did remind and prompt me to think about the nature versus nurture argument - where either innate biological (natural) factors have a stronger developmental influence OR environmental factors (family, friends, social status, etc.) do.
I think Plato/Socrates believed in both nature and nurture. If I'm reading it correctly, I feel that the following passage has Plato/Socrates making this very point. The same passage also demonstrates the type of instruction/instructor they believed in - one that does not dictate, but enlightens and allows the student to determine how to act with the new information:
"...we must hold the following about these things: education is not what the professions of certain men assert it to be. They presumably assert that they put into the soul knowledge that isn't in it, as though they were putting sight into blind eyes."
"Yes," he said, "they do indeed assert that."
"But the present argument, on the other hand," I said, "indicates that this power is in the soul of each, and that the instrument with which each learns--just as an eye is not able to turn toward the light from the dark without the whole body--must be turned around from that which is coming into being together with the whole soul until it is able to endure looking at that which is and the brightest part of that which is. And we affirm that this is the good, don't we?"
"There would, therefore," I said, "be an art of this turning around, concerned with the way in which this power can most easily and efficiently be turned around, not an art of producing sight in it. Rather, this art takes as given that sight is there, but not rightly turned nor looking at what it ought to look at, and accomplishes this object."
"So it seems," he said.
"Therefore, the other virtures of a soul, as they are called, are probably somewhat close to those of the body. For they are really not there beforehand and are later produced by habit and exercises, while the virtue of exercising prudence is more than anything somehow more divine, it seems; it never loses its power, but according to the way it is turned, it becomes useful and helpful or, again, useless and harmful..."
The Republic, Book VII/518b-d
Human beings create their own sense of reality based on their observations and perceptions of their surroundings. If there is a society to interact with, this would have an impact as well, but in the bondage situation described in this passage, the people involved have a very dark and limited vision. If someone were to be raised in this prison from childhood, he would imaginably adapt to his surroundings and accept this unfortunate situation as the only existing reality. That's why it would be painful and overwhelming if a prisoner were offered the opportunity to be brought aboveground. The light would be blinding, both literally and figuratively, and the former prisoner might actually choose to return to his former situation. Along these lines, I think another great quote from The Republic is "But if a man were intelligent, he would remember that there are two kinds of disturbances of the eyes, stemming from two sources -- when they have been transferred from light to darkness and when they have been transferred from darkness to light." (Line 518a)
So, what's in this cave?
Prisoners in shackles. The sense of being tied down. The shackles of a corporeal being: we are material objects, bound by gravity, anchored to what we perceive from the direction we face. As a prisoner, there's no standard external to my own, puny, materialism-bound sense organs. Whatever is real is what is projected on the wall in front of my face and how can you tell me otherwise? Thus the enlightened prisoner is mocked by the blind prisoners.
Darkness. One is blind to what isn't illuminated, and, whatever the surroundings may be, in a sense they don't matter. Forever guessing what may be is a waste of time until we can better perceive what the possibilities are, and have a rationale behind our perceptions. The truth needs to be measured.
Together in the passage, then, we have shackles and darkness: a full-hold in a state of ignorance.Light. Plato pulls no punches in what "light" is: it is "enlightenment", knowledge.
In the general scheme of Book Seven, there's all this talk of what the State should be, but as the passage introduces, the dialogue is somewhat psychological. Man is enlarged to the level of State. Once we understand what makes the State good, we'll have a better idea of what makes a person good.
Just some final thoughts-- in the "cave", we don't need to examine what people do, or what is normal-- that's obvious. Just look at them. The question is what they should do. How things should be. Where government is properly vested, that is good government. Where governments and people do what they ought to do, that is good goverment, and those are good people.How should we behave? What is the "right" course of action for man or government? We must decide this through rational power. The supremacy of reason-- balance, truth, and so on.
What I find most intriguing about the analogy in this passage is not just the
implications of the man’s new found enlightenment, but what I think is
Socrates/Plato’s suggestion that those who have been enlightened become
leaders in society by re-joining the common man. (lines 519 c-520a)
It is interesting that Plato places such value in encountering the truth in
its purest form – an idea – yet still advocates its use in a practical manner.
The chapter, particularly represented in this passage, talks about the essence of truth. What Socrates is saying essentially is that there is an absolute truth that exists "above" the common man, symbolized by the analogy of prisoners. It is interesting that he uses the imagery of prisoners for the common knowledge that is "below" what "divine" or absolute truth is in existence. Although as prisoners, each individual experiences a relative truth, or individualized and unique truth based on their viewpoint and the restrictions upon their narrowed senses; however, Socrates asserts that leaders of a society must have the "divine" understanding of an absolute truth that governs all (as symbolized by the prisoner who chooses to turn his head in pain), and use this to help the common man rather than divide himself from them. Still, what brings the philosopher to the conclusion that truth is absolute rather than relative? Why is there a belief in something that potentially exists above what is taken as reality? This sparks questions about the conversation between reality/truth and experience/perception.
While reading the specified passage and the pages following, I was reminded of Heraclitus' fragments. In particular, Fragment 15 came into mind:
The waking have one world in common, whereas each sleeper turns away to a private world of his own.
I felt that this line was relavant because of the metaphor of the one person who is released from the prison, and allowed to see the "real" world and the others' reaction once he had returned to share his new insights into how things really are. In the metaphor, after seeing the real world, the individual returns to the prison to communicate what he had seen. However, when the individual returns, because he has not yet adapted to the old environment, he becomes "the source of laughter" (p. 196). I feel that this relates closely with the waking and the sleepers. As Heraclitus had stated, the waking have one world in common; they share the same understanding of what reality or the truth is, whereas the sleepers, who rejected the views brought in by the one individual who had seen and experienced the "truth" turns away to continue living the way they had been. The excerpt from Socrates seem to indicate that people would not accept truth unless they experience it themselves. If communication was used to communicate what is "true," is it futile? Should communication be used to lead people into an understanding of "truth" rather than just explaining it?
Robert Mac Donald
Education. I am struck by the term in the first line, second graph. Is it truth that lies within in us and educating that truth brings it out? Rachel, brings in a few good points about reality, observation and perception and the darkness to light quote. But who I most agree is Aimee who talks about the absolute truth which in my view is the education Plato speaks about. Again reality/perception are mentioned. And finally in the review of other comments Akio brought a quote from Heraclitus that speaks about interiority which in my view is where the education for truth exists.I mention the other passages as a way to highlight my own opinions about the piece. I get the sense of interiority in the passage, the seeking of truth and binding of natural forces to that interior truth.