In our One Garden Interspirituality group we had a great discussion – or at least started a great dialogue around this question – Q. How does Plato’s cave allegory relate to what we know of the interspiritual teachings of Tolle, Zen, Christian, Baha’i etc?
1 This here is useful – http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Allegory_of_the_cave – because it helps re the ‘line’ and the ‘four stages’ – which weren’t fully clear in our dialogue.
The allegory describes Plato’s conception of reality. Humans appreciate every day objects through our senses, however, those objects are only "shadows" of the true "Forms", a concept Plato develops throughout his writings. Knowledge of the forms is the equivalent in the allegory of being released from the cave and seeing the world itself rather than shadows of the world.
Plato essentially believed that there are four "levels" of knowledge. Speaking allegorically, the first one is the shadows of the objects the prisoners see; the second is the objects themselves seen in the dim light of the cave; the third is the objects seen in clear daylight; and the fourth is an up close examination of the objects. The former two stages are considered ‘below the line’ and the latter are ‘above the line’
Plato believed that each of these stages is directly analogous to a state of knowledge of anything in the real world. Take the concept of a circle for instance, a primitive understanding involves a crude and rough outline of a shape similar to a circle. At this level, The next understanding would involve an ability to draw the circle with a compass. The first stage above the line involves knowledge of all the formulae involved with the circle and pi and trigonometry etc. The last stage is the form of a circle, from which all other understandings derive. As humans, Plato assumed we are not capable of reaching this level of understanding.
Plato applies his own allegory
Now all of this is only moderately interesting until we examine the book we find the allegory in – The Republic. The Republic is actually a work that analyzes a subject, namely justice, through these four levels of knowledge and provides an analysis at all stages.
In the opening stages of The Republic, Socrates (Speaking for Plato) asks what the definition of justice is. Cephalus gives a rather basic answer – "speaking the truth and repaying debts". Socrates is able to demolish this argument as extremely inadequate through the use of counterexamples. Polemarchus improves the argument somewhat, but the argument is clearly inadequate due to its reliance on fixed and definite rules. This is the primitive notion of justice, simple and sufficient for simple societies, but as a society develops, more is required…..
2 If you go to exactly 1min on this video and hit the pause button you will see an excellent diagram as well – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z8bo3fTH6m8
I thought one comment particularly interesting – that The Republic was a project to define justice but that Plato chose to do this via considering what would a just state be rather than a just individual. This makes me ask – do you still feel this definition useful? – "Justice is a state that prevails where due weight is given to every influence that bears upon a situation" – John Ferraby in a talk I heard. It seems to me that that applies equally to countries and individuals. Does it satisfy the need Plato expresses for a more developed definition of justice for more developed societies?
Am I pushing things too far if I link this the last stage is the form of a circle, from which all other understandings derive. As humans, Plato assumed we are not capable of reaching this level of understanding. as a symbol og God and as a statement about form and formlessness
Christian found this excellent video re Plato’s cave –