Plato The Images Of The Sun And The Line Notes
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Plato week 6 essay What is the form of the Good and how is it explained through the images of the sun and the line?
Having already distinguished between particulars and forms; between the many things of beauty the thing that is beauty itself – at the end of book 6 Socrates explains what the form of the Good is through the use of two images: the sun and the line. In this essay I suggest that the form of the Good is best understood as a particular object of knowledge that is necessary for any other knowledge to be achievable, and suggest further that this is well demonstrated by Socrates' analogy to the sun. In discussing the image of the line, I will, as Ferguson and others have done, suggest that the easily understood distinction between Eekasia and Pistis is itself only presented in order to elucidate the more important distinction between the visible and the intelligible realms. These analogies, then, can be seen to be part of a wider, 'two world's' theory being put forward by Socrates, in which only forms are knowable and the only things knowable are forms; while only particulars are believable and the only things believable are particulars.
Socrates is clear that a form is something that 'is', and is necessarily so in all times. It is therefore not a physical entity, since a physical entity can be destroyed. Before book six, Socrates refers to forms such as beauty and justice. In book six he introduces the idea of the form of the Good. He first makes it quite clear that the Good is neither pleasure nor knowledge:
"What about those who define the good as pleasure... Aren't even they forced to admit that there are bad pleasures?" (505c)
"You know that those who believe this [that the good is knowledge] can't tell us what sort of knowledge it
[the good] is, however, but in the end are forced to say that it is knowledge of the good." (505c)
He then tells us that 'every soul pursues the good and does whatever is does for its sake'. (505e). This is a peculiar claim, especially in light of his soul-City analogy (does every City pursue the good?). Nevertheless, Socrates goes on to bring in the sun analogy as a means of elucidating the form of the Good. He says: 'the many beautiful things and the rest are visible but not intelligible, while the forms are intelligible but not visible.' (507b). He then explains that it is the sun which provides light to enable the eye to use its power of sight. And here is the analogy: in the same way, the form of the Good, Socrates argues, enables the mind to know the truth. Just as the sun illuminates visible objects, enabling us to see them, so the form of the Good illuminates intelligible objects, enabling us to know them.
This part of the analogy is easy enough to understand. The form of the good is presented as that which enables knowledge, while being itself knowable – just as the sun is that which enables vision, while it itself visible. But there is another dimension to the analogy that is more controversial. Socrates notes that the sun, as well as illuminating physical objects, also generates them, enabling them to come into, and to stay in, existence. (509b) In the same way, Socrates claims, 'you should also say that not only do the objects of knowledge owe their being known to the good, but their being is also due to it'. (509b) The role of the form of the Good is thereby expanded here, to include a creative function: the 'being' of all objects of knowledge (forms) are described as being 'due' to the form of the Good. Fogelin offers a linguistic
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