Plato analogy of the cave and concept of the forms.

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Plato (428-347 BC)
Pupil of Socrates in Athens (Ancient Greece). Socrates was sentenced to death in 399 BC for
challenging the accepted view of the world and the most basic assumptions.
Theory of knowledge
The world that we see around us is just an illusion created by our senses. The senses are deceived by
appearances and are therefore unreliable, they enable us to form opinions about the world but
never give us true knowledge.
True knowledge can be gained through the use of our minds. By rational thought. This enables us to
access the realm of true reality, which lies beyond our senses; at the heart of this is Plato's "Forms".
He believed the most important task of the philosopher was to seek knowledge by searching
beyond the appearances of the world.
The Analogy of the Cave
Plato's analogy emphasizes the difference between the appearances of the world (represented by
the scene of the cave) and the reality (represented by the outside world).
Plato describes a group of prisoners who have spent their live chained up underground near the back
of the cave. They are facing the rear wall and are unable to turn around. The prisoners represent
ordinary people who have not yet discovered true knowledge. They have been deceived by what
they see into believing there is nothing beyond the shadow play, which for them is the full extent of
reality. In the same way, our senses convince us that there is nothing beyond what they experience.
However, our mistake is the same as the prisoners, and just as obvious to those that have true
knowledge and know true reality.
All the prisoners can see on the wall is a series of shadows, which are cast on this wall by a fire that
burns some way behind them, providing the only light in the cave. Immediately behind the prisoners,
between them and the fire, is a low wall, behind which a group of people are moving and talking,
whilst holding up various puppets above the wall. It is these puppets that form the shadows on the
back of the cave. To the prisoners, the shadows seem real because they do not know what is
happening behind them and it's all their senses have ever experienced. The shadow play represents
the illusion created by our senses. Just as the shadows seemed real to the prisoners, exhibiting order
and structure, so the sights and sounds that we experience seem genuine. They are both, however,
equally mistaken because the senses do not access reality. Plato emphasises the falsehood of the
illusion by depicting shadows of artificial objects cast by flickering firelight; nothing could be further
removed from reality.
If one of the prisoners was set free, he would feel pain and confusion. Blinded by the fire, he would
be unable to see the puppets clearly; the familiar shadows would seem much more comforting and
real. If he were then dragged out of the cave into the sunlight, he would be even more dazzled. At
first, he would seek the shadows and reflections before slowly getting used to the amazing clarity of
real objects and animals. Finally, he would see the sun for what it really is the source of all life,
including, in directly the shadows of the cave. For the first time he would understand. The journey out
of the cave into the outside world represents the philosophers' discovery of true knowledge. The
prisoner had to loosen his chains and escape from the cave before he could see reality. In the same
way, the philosopher must free himself from the illusion created by his senses by using his mind to
gain knowledge. Plato emphasises that this journey is painful and confusing because it involves
rejecting everything that is familiar and everything that one has ever known to be true. Like the

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Because it is so unfamiliar, reality will at first seem less believable than the illusion. It will
take time to discover its full extent, just as the prisoner at first could not look at the sun.
The sun represents the most perfect of all realities, which Plato calls the Form of the Good. Our
ultimate goal is to gain knowledge of this because this will enable us to understand everything else.…read more

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We can only have opinions but never true knowledge.
Visible World/ Realm of Appearances/ World of sense experience.
The Forms
Plato believed that behind every object (tree) and concept (beauty) in the visible world, there is an
unseen reality, which he calls its Form. There is, for example, a Form of Beauty, and a Form of a Tree.
The Forms may be seen as ideal blueprints for the particular earthly examples of beauty and trees for
example. These earthly forms are called "Particulars".…read more

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Forms are the source of all knowledge. Philosopher seeks these. Infinitely more real than their
particulars which only appear to exist and are very pale reflections of the Forms? Sometimes called
Forms are not made upon nor dependant on physical matter. They are consistent in that they are
unchangeable and eternal. Immaterial and cannot be detected by the senses. Particulars are the
opposite and are imperfect.
We recognise objects for their resemblance and things they have in common with the Form.…read more

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In Plato's words; "The body is the source of endless trouble... it fills us full of loves and lusts and
fears and fancies of all kinds... and takes away from us all power of thinking at all"
Unless we make a conscious effort to set aside these bodily concerns, the mind may never develop
an understanding of the soul. Plato therefore emphasised that the philosopher must live simply and
avoid excesses so as to focus the mind on the soul and gain its knowledge.…read more

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Second, Plato's analogy does not successfully illustrate the difference between the visible
world and the world of the Forms. Plato believed that the two are fundamentally different;
unlike the visible world, the Forms are beyond the experience of our senses. Plato's analogy
fails to illustrate this distinction both the Form of the Good (the sun) and the source of
appearances in the cave (the fire) are the same type of thing because the sun is just a very
big fire.…read more



Perfect, detailed and intellectually exquisite.

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