Plato: the Good Life
Plato describes that the ‘good life’ consists of knowing the Form of Good. According to Plato, the material world, as it seems to us, is not the real world but it is only a shadow or an imitation of the real world. In his theory of forms, Plato makes a distinction between objects that are real and concepts that exist in our minds. He believed that there is another eternal world which is more real than the world which we live in and we experience through the senses. He suggests that these forms are the object that provides knowledge and not opinion. Plato’s has used the well-known metaphor of ‘allegory of the cave’ analogy and ‘the divided line’ to explain the forms of the good to others.
Plato presents the ‘allegory of the cave’ to illustrate the world we see versus the actual world through the effects of education on the human soul and ultimately brings him to the form of good. In the ‘allegory of the cave’ analogy, prisoners are chained in such a way that they can only see the back wall of their cave. They see shadows on the wall of the cave that are cast by objects being moved between a large fire behind them and the wall in front of them. Even though the objects on the wall are simply shadows, they think they are real moving creatures. When the prisoner is freed and encounters the light of the sun, the prisoner realizes that what he sees now are things more real than the shadows that he has always taken to be the reality. Finally, he would be able to understand that the sun is the ultimate source of knowledge and is the cause of everything that he sees around him. The sun represents the form of the good. Plato claims the form of good is last to be understood and is reached with great difficulty but once you grasp it, you conclude that it is the cause of all that is correct and beautiful.
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Plato argues that the purpose of education is to drag the prisoner as far out of the cave as possible. One should not aim to put knowledge into the soul but to turn the whole soul towards the sun, which is the Form of the Good. In this allegory, humans are the prisoners of the world. Shadows on the wall represent the world that we see around us which we assume to be real which in fact is an imitation of the real world. Humans perceive the things that they see around them to be real but they are mistaken that because the things they perceive are the shadows of the true form of things that make up the world. They don’t understand the true reality of the world. Plato’s divided line analogy provides a way to visualize the distinction between different states of mind and to learn which states of mind are more reliable than others. He starts with a division between an intelligible world and a visible world. The visible world is understood with our senses such as physical objects and the intelligible world is focused on our intellect and ability to reason. Ultimately, Plato says that just as the sun illuminates the entire physical world so does the idea of the good illuminate all of reality. Hence, the entire material world that we usually see is less real than just immaterial.
Prisoners believed that the shadows they saw on the walls are the absolute truth. He has argued that reality is tainted and spoiled but once they are brought into the light of the outside world, they are presented with the truth and goodness of the world. Reality only exists in mind. Our perceptions are based on reality. The outside world is nothing without our perceptions. It is the humans that give those objects meaning and life. For example, what is a book without the interpretation and meaning given through the humans who read it? Without humans, the book is just a collection of paper and ink. Thus, humans are the ones that make a book with the importance and weight we give to it. Prisoner in the cave thinks shadows to be real. They exist because prisoners think they exist because they believe them to be a reality and that is what they are.
Because of the lack of education, they are comforted by the lies and think them to be real. I think another problem with Plato’s theory is that Plato’s form of good does not clarify the events in the physical world. He isn’t clear about how specific forms are to certain items in the physical world. Plato’s Form of the Good does not characterize things in the physical world that are great, and hence needs connections to reality. Plato’s Form of the Good need guidance or ways for the person to be great. Plato’s Form of the Good isn’t relevant to human morals since there is no characterized strategy for which goodness can be achieved. Plato constructs his arguments using elaborate dialogues which are filled with metaphors and mysteries. From this kind of use of metaphors, we get some idea regarding what forms may be, yet Plato never gives distinct answers. Therefore, People have no reason to trust that form of good exists. Plato claims that the form of good is last to be understood and reached with great difficulty which brings up the issue that how are we expected to perceive good and where does that leave evil.
Plato’s thought of the forms versus physical reality is an interesting topic. I believe very similar to what Plato thinks about the forms and physical reality. Plato claims that there is nothing in this world that we currently live and experience is perfect. It is impossible to reach the forms in our current reality. We are only able to gain perfect knowledge and achieve truth after our spirit leaves our body and goes to the following realm where we can progress toward becoming or accomplish the ‘Forms’. We can’t attain perfection while we are here on earth. I believe that in every life soul are slowly on their way to becoming perfect. Plato’s idea of Forms reminds me of the religion of Hinduism.
As in the religion of Hinduism, humans are viewed as the highest form of life, and their soul is reborn again and again until they attain moksha or liberation which they think as the highest form of good. They are reborn because their soul has repeatedly failed to learn lessons in their previous lives. They believe that death is the fulfillment of this life and a chance for a better reincarnation meaning a chance to learn new karmic lessons which will move them closer to moksha. Throughout our lives, we are striving to achieve those forms which are perfect ideals or thoughts.
In conclusion, Even though Plato has received many criticism from Philosophers like Aristotle on his theory forms and the Form of Good, he has successfully made a point that the visible world, what we perceive and experience around us is just an illusion and the true reality in which we are supposed to dedicate our lives is the theory of forms through the allegory of the cave analogy and the divided line. He believes that whoever will discover the form of good and the true knowledge will never return to the world of shadows.