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Theory of universals

See also: Problem of universals, Allegory of the Cave, and Theory of Forms

The Republic contains Plato's Allegory of the cave with which he explains his concept of The Forms as an answer to the problem of universals.

The allegory of the cave primarily depicts Plato's distinction between the world of appearances and the 'real' world of the Forms, as well as helping to justify the philosopher's place in society as king. Plato imagines a group of people who have lived their entire lives as prisoners, chained to the wall of a cave in the subterranean so they are unable to see the outside world behind them. However a constant flame illuminates various moving objects outside, which are silhouetted on the wall of the cave visible to the prisoners. These prisoners, through having no other experience of reality, ascribe forms to these shadows such as either "dog" or "cat".

Plato then goes on to explain how the philosopher is akin to a prisoner who is freed from the cave. The prisoner is initially blinded by the light, however, when he adjusts to the brightness he sees the fire and the statues and how they caused the images witnessed inside the cave. He would see that the fire and statues in the cave were just copies of the real objects; merely imitations. This is analogous to the Forms. What we see from day to day are merely appearances, reflections of the Forms. The philosopher, however, will not be deceived by the shadows and will hence be able to see the 'real' world, the world above that of appearances; the philosopher will gain knowledge of things in themselves. In this analogy the sun is representative of the Good. This is the main object of the philosopher's knowledge. The Good can be thought of as the form of Forms, or the structuring of the world as a whole.

The prisoner's stages of understanding correlate with the levels on the divided line which he imagines. The line is divided into what the visible world is and what the intelligible world is, with the divider being the Sun. When the prisoner is in the cave, he is obviously in the visible realm that receives no sunlight, and outside he comes to be in the intelligible realm.

The shadows witnessed in the cave correspond to the lowest level on Plato's line, that of imagination and conjecture. Once the prisoner is freed and sees the shadows for what they are he reaches the second stage on the divided line, the stage of belief, for he comes to believe that the statues in the cave are real. On leaving the cave, however, the prisoner comes to see objects more real than the statues inside of the cave, and this correlates with the third stage on Plato's line, understanding. Lastly, the prisoner turns to the sun which he grasps as the source of truth, or the Form of the Good, and this last stage, named as dialectic, is the highest possible stage on the line. The prisoner, as a result of the Form of the Good, can begin to understand all other forms in reality.

At the end of this allegory, Plato asserts that it is the philosopher's burden to reenter the cave. Those who have seen the ideal world, he says, have the duty to educate those in the material world. Since the philosopher recognizes what is truly good only he is fit to rule society according to Plato.

Date: 2016-01-05; view: 170

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