Ancient Greek influences on philosophy of religion
Plato: analogy of the cave
There are some prisoners in a cave, who are bound in such a way that they can only see the back wall (by the neck). Behind them is a wall the height of a person and a fire. On the other side of the wall people are constantly walking back and forth with objects on their head that cast shadows onto the back wall for the prisoners to see. One of the prisoners manages to turn around. The fire dazzles him and hurts his eyes and it is very overwhelming. He then ventures out of the cave, a difficult into the world of sunlight outside. Again he is blinded at first but he soon gets used to the light. He travels back to the cave to tell the others about the world outside and that the shadows aren’t all there are, but the prisoners reject his claims and kill him.
The prisoners are everyone on earth that hasn’t realised the truth of the Forms. They’re forever watching the shadows, which is all they’ve ever known, and so believe that that’s all there is. We refuse to see the truth and so are prisoners in our own bodies. We are only able to see illusion.
The shadows are the reflections of phenomena in the visible world. They are not real, but an illusion. They’re the lowest form of reality. They are extremely vague and fuzzy images in comparison to the Forms.
The cave is the physical world, the world of senses. It is the world that we all live on, and it contains phenomena and illusion, which are not fully real, but lower forms of reality. Exiting the cave would mean exiting the physical world into the truth beyond.
The outside world is the world of ideas, world of the Forms, the intelligible world. The Forms exist in this world and venturing out of the cave to this world shows you the truth and you then gain true knowledge. The Forms are the beautiful, unchanging and eternal moulds of the imperfect phenomena.
The sun is the Form of the Good. In the outside world it is the source of everything- life and growth, and everything that the philosopher sees in the visible world, and in the cave and what’s inside, depends on the sun. This is highest form of knowledge and is the source of reality and truth. All other Forms, and objects which participate in them, derive their usefulness and value from the Form of the Good.
The difficult journey out of the cave represents a philosopher’s journey to find the truth, and to do this he must move away from the physical world, where he can only see partial realities, to the reality of the world of the Forms. As he breaks away from his confines and faces the light he starts to find the truth, and must accept that everything he believed in is…