A Question About Plato
Was reading a bit about the allegory of the cave by Plato.
It is fascinating. So is he saying that philosophy is what frees the man from the dark cave that men are naturally enslaved in?
Joe (the name I will use in the post),
No. First, my philosophical studies deal with life and I am not up to speed on the Thanatology of world philosophy, but your question deals with philosophy and life application. Thanatology can be connected to philosophical life application when the latter is first understood.
Also, keep in mind that there will be numerous variations of Plato’s basic metaphysical foundation; my answer deals with the basic fundamentals and how they apply to life and religion. I will be using your attached religious version of Plato’s cave; the image on the front of Russ Kennedy’s book is more of a basic secular version. Nevertheless, the title of Kennedy’s book is very relevant to this discussion.
No, while man is alive, he does not escape the dark cave. The guys outside of the cave represent the deity of your choice. The guys inside of the cave looking at the flame are the philosopher kings. Note that they study a light, or flame, but it is only a form of light; the true light is outside of the cave.
Note that the philosopher kings are studying the light form (the flame) and how it makes shadows on the walls that they interpret. Hence, they cannot know truth either, but lead mankind according to their interpretation of the shadows; i.e., “wisdom” that saves mankind from itself.
Note that the masses are behind walls that block out the flame which is a semblance of the true light. The two guys looking around the corner are the warrior class of men that enforce the dictates of the philosopher kings. Here, they are more or less messengers that relay the dictates of the philosophers to the people. Kennedy’s book is written to those behind the walls; since they can’t know reality or anything in general regarding life, his book instructs them how to present their “perplexity” to God. Get it? Perplexity is a virtue that recognizes that we are all like the ones behind the wall blocked from the true light. Russ would consider himself one of the philosopher kings on the other side of the wall.
In regard to Protestantism and Catholicism the ones looking around the corner are the state, and any state that is fulfilling God’s will—will enforce their interpretations of the flame and the shadows on the walls. The angels on top of the wall serve the guys outside of the cave according to the religious version.
In Plato’s construct, all people are made up of philosopher king, warrior, and producer, but are predetermined by the god of your choice (or cosmic force) to have a dominant state of being which determines their proper place in society. So, one’s soul is dominated by one of the three classifications according to lineage. Hence, you serve society according to the trade of the family you were born into. In Platonism, upward mobility is strictly forbidden. Societal wellbeing is determined by what degree every individual is functioning according to their dominant soul.
Generally, the greatest societal sin is failure to recognize your own total depravity; one who believes he can know is public enemy number one. If you’re behind the wall you dare not assume that you know something other than the worldly knowledge of how you are to best serve the collective whole (society) for the collective good. This is collectivism; in the Platonist construct, individualism is the greatest sin.
In Plato’s construct, societal justice is determined by unity around the dictates of the philosopher kings. Upward mobility is the greatest threat to society other than intermarriage between the classes which often leads to genocide. Upward mobility suggests that all men are created equal which is the antithesis of Platonism.
In addition, the material world is evil and empirical knowledge through the five senses can only yield falsehood. The material world can only yield forms or shadows of the true forms outside of the cave. This all flows from the original philosophy introduced in the garden: the knowledge of good and evil. This is why Johnathan Edwards defined the new birth as a sixth sense that enables the “saved” to understand that the five senses cannot yield truth.
Since empirical knowledge involves the five senses, Platonism has never been big on science that would improve quality of life. Martin Luther, a devoted Platonist in the vein of St. Augustine, believed that empirical knowledge only leads to arrogance against God. Hence, the Dark Ages where death and constant warfare ruled the day.
Aristotle was a little different. He believed that reality can be ascertained through the five senses and empirical observation. A chair is a chair and represents part of the reality in the room. A=A. B=B. It is what it is; man can know. Aristotle believed in social caste, but he also believed it could be earned. Aristocrats are not predetermined by God, gods, the force, or the universe. However, those who are willing to invest in knowledge should, in fact, rule over those who are lazy thinkers. America was eventually born from this metaphysic.
Hope this answers your question.