Plato The Cave Notes
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Plato week 7 essay How, if at all, does the image of the cave integrate and develop the earlier two images?
In book VII of The Republic, Plato makes his famous allegory of the Cave. He explicitly says that this 'image must be fitted together with what we said before', referring, we can safely presume, to the analogies of the sun and the divided line made in the previous book. But I want to argue that there is a fundamental error in Plato's presumption that the images actually can be well fitted together: in fact, the image of the cave, while explained in a way that appears to integrate the earlier image of the divide line, actually contradicts it.
The image of the cave goes as follows. Ordinary people are compared to people trapped in a cave. Their eyes are directed to a wall on which shadows play. These shadows are cast by artifacts, such as statues, that are carried in front of a large fire behind and above the prisoners in the cave. These are all the people can see, and they assume the shadows to be teal objects, having never seen any different. Socrates explains that were a prisoner to be released from the cave, it would be difficult for him to look at the fire. Then after becoming accustomed to the fire, he would be able to look at reflections of objects outside the cave more clearly, and only finally the sun. When Socrates explains this, it is useful to remember he is developing an argument about the proper education of leader-philosophers, indicating that it is difficult to know the form of the good – compared to the sun – straight away for ordinary people.
The various visible things in the cave analogy appear to be have been deployed by Socrates in such a way as to mirror those things that are knowable, as laid out in the analogy of the divided line. In the divided line four segments or categories of seeing and knowing are identified, two in the visible realm and two in the intelligible realm. Nicholas White usefully explains what these segments are:
"Segment A would contain, e.g., an image of a table, which table is in B considered as the model for that image, but is also in C considered as itself a copy or image of the form of Table, which is D." (White, p185)
Just as there are four segments to the divided line, so too there are four things seen in the cave analogy: the shadows of artefacts; the artefacts themselves; the reflections of real objects outside the cave; and those real objects, including the sun. Socrates identifies these four things specifically in 516a-b, only a short passage before he states the need to connect the image of the cave to that of the divided line ('what we said before') in 517b. So there are four parts to the divided line analogy, and four things are distinguished and discussed by Socrates in his cave analogy. Is this just a coincidence, or is it Socrates' attempt at integrating the two images? It would appear to be the latter.
The first piece of evidence for this is that the dichotomy between the visible and intelligible realms is well paralleled by that between what is experienced in the underground cave and that which is experienced outside it. Indeed, the image of the cave dramatizes the relation between the intelligible and the sensible, suggesting far greater attractiveness of the former. (White, p183) But more significantly, the four items identified by Socrates in the analogy of the cave, and the four segments of the line, appear to correspond
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