Evaluating Plato's Theory

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Evaluating Plato’s Analogy of the Cave - Strengths


         As a rationalist, Plato essentially wants to convince you that the physical world around us is an illusion – that it doesn’t provide us with absolute, certain and universal truth.  This can only be gained a priori.

          The analogy (at face value) seems convincing.  After all, how well do we know the universe? (as we shall see with the world of quantum physics!)

         It may be that there really is more to life than what we can know through our senses, e.g. as in the Matrix.

          Plato certainly believed that the ‘passions’ or emotion clouded our rational minds – we become fixated on material, physical concerns which blind people to what is really important.


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Evaluating Plato’s Analogy of the Cave - Criticism


•         Plato wasn’t speaking in the general or metaphorical terms.  He literally meant that the entire visible world was an illusion and that the Realm of Forms (RoF) was the only true reality we should seek.

 •          In one very real sense the analogy can only be valid if the RoF is real.  Without the RoF the analogy breaks down.


•         Plato also assumes that someone who discovered the Form of the Good (like the released prisoner) would never want to return to their old ways – is this necessarily true?

•         Plato appears to undervalue the physical world around us and the importance of knowledge gained a posteriori.

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Evaluating Plato's Theory of the Forms - Strengths


         Plato was convinced that there were two realms, one of ideals (Forms) and one of matter (the physical world).  This is a dualist approach to understanding reality which has much in common with the religious distinction between the spiritual and material world.

         Other rationalists such as Descartes argues that we are born with innate ideas which we can understand more clearly when we use our reason to explore them further.  E.g. knowledge of mathematics.

•         If there is the Form of the Good then we can all have access to a universal and absolute system of morality.

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Evaluating Plato's Theory of the Forms - Criticism


         Plato never gives us any proof of the Realm of the Forms.

•         Aristotle suggested that Good comes in so many varieties that there cannot be one Form of it; Goodness of a person is different from the Goodness of a shovel.  A person may be a Good person but a bad shovel.

•         The physical world definitely feels real.

•         Scientists argue that the physical world is worth studying in its own right and can give us true and meaningful knowledge a posteriori.  This knowledge benefits us all in our daily lives.

•         Many scientists, e.g. Richard Dawkins, claim that this physical world is the only reality there is - it is nonsense to talk of a transcendent ‘other world’ beyond the physical. 

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