Plato’s “Simile of the Cave”

It is hard to overestimate the input of Plato to the world development of philosophical thought and science. And though many centuries separate us from this brilliant philosopher who lived in ancient Greece, we still know his teaching, count on some aspects of it and find new and new sides in his immortal theories. Some of the philosophers agree with Plato’s theory, others contradict it, but they never stand indifferent to this genius of the philosophical thought.

Plato’s theory of “Things and Ideas” makes an outstanding contribution to the Western Philosophical thought. Despite he wrote a lot of books on different themes including political science, ethical theory, psychology and art, he is known all over the world mostly due to this theory of “Things and Ideas”. The idea that the reality that we see around us is not a true reality, but just a reflection of the higher reality makes the cores of the theory of “Things and Ideas”.

Things are those which can be perceived by human senses and include everything that surrounds us. These things altogether make a sensible world. This world is changeable, fleeting and never certain. The reason of this changeability is that the world of things is nothing more than a reflection of the Ideal world or the world of Forms. The Forms are unchanging and eternal. They are not created and will exist forever.

The world of Forms makes the realm of being and this being is the real world. But it can not be perceive by our ordinary senses and all we see is just a reflection of the real world. With our senses we can perceive only the realm of the becoming ”“ the way the being is realized in our perception. The becoming is changeable and imperfect. It usually disfigures the Ideal objects. Plato wanted reality to be fixed, permanent, and unchanging. He identified the real with the ideal realm of being as opposed to the physical world of becoming. We can  perceive things by our senses only because they have their ideal pairs in the realm of the Being. If we can say that some thing is “beautiful” it means that this “beauty” is nothing more but a reflection of the Form of “Beauty” which exists on the level of Forms or Ideas. The theory of Forms or Ideas insists on the dual nature of the world stating that every subject we see here in the realm of becoming has its “Ideal” equivalent in the realm of being.

We are born in the imperfect world and are never able to have even a glimpse of the true knowledge and there are no means or techniques which could help us to get an idea of the Real Ideal world. Plato rejected empiricism which, in effect, slightly contradicted his theory of forms. All we have to do is to wait a mercy of God in the form of insight or inspiration which gives a kind of mythical shade to all this gnosceological and ontological theory.

The myth about the cave gives us a very bright and picturesque description of our situation. Plato states that people are placed in the same situation as those who sit in an absolutely dark cave with the fire set in the middle of it. The cave is absolutely dark and people can not see anything but shadows cast by models or statues of animals and objects that are passed before a burning fire. We never see true objects ”“ only their shadows on the wall of the cave. But once the person leaves the cave he can see true nature of things illuminated by the sun.

Outside the cave he sees the realm ob being and real objects, not shadows. Unfortunately the person who is inside the cave can not find an exit alone.  Here Plato introduces another important concept. He speaks about superior person who can guide us and show an exit from the cave. This person knows the difference between the World of Forms and the World of Ideas. This person has seen true nature of all things and thus can be able to show the way out to other people. Moreover, Plato states that all people who learnt the truth about the theory of Forms and Ideas are able to find the exit from the cave and to see the sun, “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” (Plato, 1981, 115).

Despite our thoughts and language belong to the world of forms we sill can be able to develop the right thinking. If we possess the right knowledge about the structure of the Universe, we will be able to know about our ignorance about the real essence of things, which exist in the World of Forms and remember about their ideal copies in the World of Ideas. According to Plato any person can reach this level and get through this transformation and become a superior person.

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