The Glaucon, and Socrates, another Athenian philosopher in


The human intellectual journey in terms of Plato

In this essay, we are
going to be examining the human intellectual journey utilizing the elements
found in Plato’s, allegory of the cave and the divided line. In order to
understand the complexities of Plato’s works, we must first understand who
Plato was. Plato was an ancient Greek philosopher, who studied under Socrates,
taught Aristotle, and founded the Academy, which “by some accounts” is regarded
as “the world’s first university” (Meinwald, 2017; “Plato,” n.d.). The Athenian
philosopher was fascinated with the “distinction between ideal forms and
everyday experience, and how it played out both for individuals and for
societies” (Meinwald, 2017). This fascination was conceptualized in Plato’s
theory of forms. This theory of forms is reflected in Plato’s Republic,
a Socratic dialogue, concerning “what the virtue of justice is and why a person
should be just” (Sheehan, n.d.). The theory of forms lies at the heart of
Plato’s philosophy. Plato used three images to explain this theory, two of them
being the divided line and the allegory of the cave. Technically both the
divided line and the allegory of the cave are written as dialogues between
Plato’s older brother, Glaucon, and Socrates, another Athenian philosopher in
the Republic. It is easiest to grasp these two concepts if one were to
visualize them as images. The divided line illustrates the division between the
visible and the intelligible, or rather the divide between material and ideal; whereas
the allegory of the cave is intended to illustrate “the effect of education and
lack of it on our nature” (“Plato’s Allegory of the Cave,” n.d.). Now that we
have a general understanding of Plato and his background, let us examine in
depth the divided line and the allegory of the cave and their association with
the human intellectual journey.

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divided line


Plato’s divided line
illustrates the division between the visible realm, what we detect through our
senses, and the intelligible realm, what we discover using our intellect. Plato
believed that the closer one comes to the intelligible realm the closer one
arrives at the truth and reality of everything (Pesenti, 2016); therefore, the
visible realm is where one is least likely to get to the truth and where one
will be farther away from reality (Pesenti, 2016).


The visible realm is divided
into two subcategories: illusion (images) and belief (objects) (Pesenti, 2016).

Illusion, the first of the two subcategories, consists of images such as
shadows and reflections and is the farthest from the truth (Pesenti, 2016). It
is farthest from the truth because if one were to observe the shadow of a
building, for example, he or she would not be able to know the actual shape of
the building, just the shape that he or she would perceive based on the
cast-shadow. Belief, the second of the two subcategories, consists of objects
such as animals or man-made items (Pesenti, 2016). In this category, one uses his
or her senses, but Plato believes that one cannot gain true knowledge based on
one’s senses alone, and that is why this category is classified as belief
(Pesenti, 2016). The two subcategories combined give us opinion.


The intelligible realm
is divided into two subcategories as well: mathematics and intelligence. Mathematics,
the first of these two subcategories, consists of mathematical forms and
geometry (Pesenti, 2016). Plato believes that mathematical truth is one of the
closest things we can get to knowledge in our world (Pesenti, 2016). Intelligence,
the second of the two subcategories, consists of the “forms” or ideas. The two
subcategories combined give us knowledge.


The divided line provides
us with “a way to visualize the distinction between different states of mind”
(Serva, n.d.) and a way to learn which
states of mind are more accurate and valuable than others. The farther one
travels up the divided line, transitioning from the visible realm into the
intelligible realm, the closer one will come to understanding the true nature
of reality.


My experience with the divided line



            My father is one of the most
intelligent people that I know. He is deeply fascinated by all things relating
to mathematics and philosophy. Growing up, he would use every opportunity to
teach me, not just about these specific subjects but about the world in
general. I admit that most of the time I would tune him out and not digest what
he was teaching me. Sometimes he would pick up on this but that did not stop
him from continuing to teach me. I did not understand, nor did I really care why
he would take the time to print out articles or passages of texts for me to
read. I did not see the purpose of his lectures and long tangents. It would always
frustrate me whenever I would ask a simple question and he would reply with a
five-minute-long answer. At the time, I did not realize that my father was
simply attempting to expand my mind and to enlighten me.


Since I now have a better
understanding of the world, I can actually appreciate whenever my father tries
to make me think about things in a different light. I value his opinion greatly
and endeavor to absorb every last bit of information that he provides me with.

I regret that I did not wholeheartedly value his thoughts when I was younger.

Now I realize that I not only have a father, but a lifelong teacher.

            I think his love of philosophy is
due in part to his experience with his own father. My grandfather, was a
professor of Persian Literature in Tehran. He would have philosophical
discussions with my father, just like the ones that my father has with me. In this
situation, I like to view my grandfather as Socrates and my father as Plato
because Socrates was Plato’s teacher just like my grandfather was my father’s
teacher. I like to view myself as Aristotle because Aristotle was Plato’s
student, as I am my father’s student.


            My father has invested so much time
and effort into facilitating my mental development. He has guided me through
the epistemic states of the divided line. I do not think I have transitioned
entirely from the visible realm to the intelligible realm but I am certain that
I would be farther from the intelligible realm if it were not for my father and
his constant teaching. I believe that trying to transition from the visible
realm to the intelligible realm will be a lifelong process but at least I will
have my father, my own personal philosopher, with me the whole step of the way.


The allegory of the cave


            Plato’s allegory of the cave visualizes the two different realms
of reality (“Plato’s Allegory of the Cave,” n.d.). The first realm being the
realm of our perception (inside the cave) and the second being the realm of
absolutes (outside the cave). The realm of our perception “is ever-changing,
based upon what we’ve been taught, and shaped by our experiences” (“Plato’s
Allegory of the Cave,” n.d.). The only relative truth in this realm is that it
is the only reality that we know (“Plato’s Allegory of the Cave,” n.d.). The
realm of absolutes “is unchanging, perfect, and true” and “contains perfect
goodness,” justice, and beauty (“Plato’s Allegory of the Cave,” n.d.). This
reality is “rarely perceived by the average person” (“Plato’s Allegory of the
Cave,” n.d.). According to Plato, “an ideal life’s journey would take one out
of the first realm to discover the second” (“Plato’s Allegory of the Cave,”
n.d.). The allegory of the cave is about the difficult journey up and out of
the shadows of sense-opinions.


        Those inside the
cave have been there since childhood, “shackled by the legs and neck,”
remaining in the same position “so that there is only one thing for them to
look” at: the stone wall in front of them (“Plato’s Allegory of the Cave,”
n.d.). These people are “imprisoned” because they are chained, literally and
metaphorically, to their sense-based opinions. Behind these people there is an
elevated surface in which others walk to and fro on “carrying all sorts of
things that reach up higher than the wall” (Sheehan, n.d.). A fire lit behind
these “puppeteers” allows for shadows to be projected onto the wall in front of
the prisoners. These shadows are the only things that the prisoners see thus
making it their reality. The prisoners are unaware that there is a fire lit and
that there are people acting as puppeteers, projecting shadows onto the wall in
front of them, because their bonds don’t allow them to turn their heads. The
prisoners are therefore imprisoned in a realm of ignorance.


In Plato’s Republic,
Socrates engages in dialogue with Glaucon about the theoretical situation in
which one man, by chance, discovers a way out of the cave. At first the man is
overwhelmed by the sunlight. He has never encountered pure sunlight as he has
only seen the walls of the cave illuminated by the glow of a man-made fire.

Once his eyes adjust, he is then exposed to the true forms of the shadows. For
example, instead of seeing a shadow of a rabbit in the cave, he is now seeing
the true form of the rabbit. It takes him some time before finally able to
discern between the shadows and the actual objects themselves.

Plato explains that the
man previously “had been looking merely at phantoms; now he is nearer to the
true nature of being” (Jowett, n.d.). This newly enlightened man decides to
return to the cave to inform the others of what he has seen. Since the man has
become used to the sunlit world outside, he struggles to familiarize himself
with the darkness of the cave. As the man attempts to compose himself, the
others look on at him unimpressed. When the man finally reaches the others, he
begins to give a detailed account of what he has encountered beyond the cave. As
the man continues sharing his observations of the outside world, the others
grow angry and eventually end up plotting to kill him.


The story of the cave
is an allegory for the life of all enlightened people. Everyone starts out in
the cave with no knowledge of the outside world. The cave dwellers are humans
before philosophy. Those who manage to journey out of the cave are the select
few who become enlightened in the true reality of everything. These enlightened
individuals are typically philosophers even though everyone has the ability to free
themselves of their sense-based opinions and to live an intellectual life. Plato believed that
through philosophical consideration, human beings could eventually free
themselves from the cave. Of course, those who view the world philosophically
are philosophers themselves and therefore are usually the only ones to leave
the cave.                                                               


My journey


            While I was
growing up, I experienced a journey up and out of the cave per say. My parents
told me that one of my family members had passed away in a car accident. With
this being the only information I had been presented with at the time I was
certain that this must have been the truth. However, in my early teens, my
parents finally revealed to me that this family member did not die in a car
accident and that he had actually committed suicide. A wave of mixed emotions
washed over me in this moment; I felt anger towards my parents for withholding
the truth from me but also extreme sadness because of how this family member
had passed.


            In this
situation, I can be compared to one of the “prisoners” in the cave. During my
childhood, I was metaphorically shackled by this fabricated story of my cousin
passing away in a car accident. I was conditioned to believe that this was my reality.

I had no way of knowing that they were lying about how he had died because I
chose to believe what they had told me; I didn’t have a reason not to believe
them. The day that my parents decided to tell me the truth can be compared to
the day that one of the prisoners is, by chance, released from his restraints
and allowed to wander up and out of the cave. My parents can be compared to the
sun or “the good” because they provided me with the information or the
“sunlight” to finally be able to realize the true reality of my cousin’s
passing. After coming to this realization, I felt disoriented, like the newly
enlightened prisoner retreating back into the cave, trying to return to the way
things were before I knew the truth. I kept wondering if there were other
things that my parents had not told me the truth about. I started to question
whether my “reality” was in fact reality. I could not believe that my parents
had kept this from me but at the same time I understood why they had. A child
could not be expected to understand the concept of suicide nor should they ever
have to. My parents kept me in this realm of ignorance to protect me from the
harsh reality of the world.


            While this is the
first instance where I can remember “journeying” up and out of my sheltered,
preconditioned existence, I can imagine that I’ll continue to experience
instances of enlightenment, like this one, several more times in my life or at
least I hope I will. I think that this is how we are intended to live our
lives. I feel like we are supposed to constantly question things and strive to
seek the true reality of everything. Socrates is famously quoted as saying “an
unexamined life is not worth living” and I simply could not agree more.


The divided line and
the allegory of the cave comparatively



            Although the
divided line and the allegory of the cave are technically two different
conceptualizations of the theory of forms, they both represent the journey of
gaining knowledge and discovering truth. Each epistemic state of the divided
line can be compared to a component of the allegory of the cave. The visible
realm of the divided line can be compared to the inside of the cave and the
intelligible realm can be compared to the outside of the cave. The four
epistemic states that make up the divided line, are all states that a prisoner
would go through on his journey from the inside of the cave (the visible world)
to the outside of the cave (the intelligible world). The first state, illusion,
would be the prisoner viewing the shadows on the wall in front of him. The
second state, belief, would be the prisoner trying to discern between the
shadows and the physical objects that were creating those shadows. The third
state, mathematics (objective knowledge), would be the prisoner leaving the
cave and attempting to distinguish the intelligible world from the visible
world. The fourth and final state, intelligence, would be the prisoner
recognizing that the forms are truth and that everything in the cave (the
visible world) is distortion.


All in all, the divided
line “explains both the nature of things in existence and our corresponding
mental states when we engage with those things” and the allegory of the cave
“explains how we come to have knowledge” (Gillis, n.d.). Everyone starts out in
the visible realm or inside the cave. Although everyone has the ability to
transition from the visible realm to the intelligible realm, or from inside of
the cave to the outside, not everyone one completes the transition. A
successful transition requires that one gains the ability to think
philosophically. But unfortunately, most people do not devote themselves to
thinking like philosophers do. That is why the majority remain confined in the visible
realms or “the caves” for the duration of their lives. The word “confined”
might make it seem like these “prisoners” are being forced to remain in the
visible realm or in the cave, but in actuality they have complete control to
leave if they so desire. Despite having the ability to enlighten themselves
philosophically, most of the prisoners choose to stay where they are because,
quite frankly, they are comfortable in their ignorance; hence they are hostile
to anyone who points out their blindness. Those who point it out are
philosophers. The reason that the prisoners are hostile to philosophers is
because they fear new ideas or the thought of having their beliefs challenged. Socrates
was a perfect example of these philosophers. Socrates was sentenced to death by
the Athenian government, for disrupting the social order through moral
corruption and impiety. People rejected Socrates’ anti-democratic teachings
because they “were seen as a threat to the Athenian rulers” (“Socrates
sentenced to death,” n.d.). Although Socrates lived hundreds of years ago,
there are still certain individuals in present day who have been condemned for
attempting to enlighten others. A notable example is Nelson Mandela.


Nelson Mandela



Nelson Mandela was a
social activist and the former president of South Africa who helped bring an
end to the apartheid rule. For advocating racial equality and the overthrow of
the apartheid, Mandela was tried, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison
(Nelson Mandela, n.d.). Although he was not a philosopher, Mandela certainly tried
to enlighten his people and to lead them out of the darkness of racism. He,
like Socrates, was interested in implementing justice and was willing to die
for his beliefs.




We do not need to be
like Socrates or like Plato, but we should feel the need to question our
existence and our reality. We should not take comfort in believing that what we
are seeing and perceiving is true. We must attempt to push beyond what we
currently know, detaching ourselves from our sense-based opinions in the
process, and chase after everything that we potentially could know. We have to
decide whether we want to stick with comfortable and familiar illusions, or
whether we want to struggle towards the light.


We also must not be
quick to dismiss those who attempt to enlighten others or to do what is morally
right. If everyone were to have an open mind and to value each other’s opinions,
our world would be a much sounder place.


Philosophy endeavors to
clarify the proper nature of things of reality. As we go about our lives, can
we be confident in what we think we know? (Gendler, 2015). This is the question
we must ask ourselves.