From Socrates To Sartre; #3; Shadow and Substance
I. Have seen Plato the father of Western Philosophy despised democracy as a form of government. It is not hard to understand why knowing what we do about what had happened during the war to Athenian democracy and to the noble and wealthy class to which Plato belongs. Athenian democracy had sunk into moral corruption into a muddle headed confusion and disorganization. And as for the wealthy classes they have supported the democracy. If they had paid for the war effort and now they saw themselves financially wiped out because of the democratic government's bungling of the war. After the death of Socrates Plato was more than ever convinced that a Democratic state a state ruled by many is doomed to disaster because he believed the money can never know what is good for the state and for these reasons the many lack the necessary level of intelligence and training. They are concerned only
with their own immediate pleasure and gratification and they are ruled by unstable volatile emotions which render them easy prey to clever demagogues or to mob passions. Plato believed that such a government a democratic government run by the many cannot produce good human beings and internal he believed that good people would find life impossible under a democratic government Duplay those attacks upon democratically governed cities make you uncomfortable. You see touching a raw nerve. What about your own city and its democratic government or what about the democratic government of the United States. Twenty four hundred years ago did Plato tell it like it is. Having arrived at these conclusions about democracy Plato withdrew from the public life of Athens. He saw that the real challenge was to philosophy to provide a true definition of justice a philosophy of a just and good society and a
theory of the best form of government for such a society. And so he came to pin his hopes on the possibility of a society governed by a philosopher king who would have knowledge of true justice and the best form of government might develop the theory that not until philosophers became kings or Kings became philosophers with the same person uniting within himself. Knowledge and power would a society based upon justice be possible in order to accomplish this goal. Plato saw his own task as the development of a true philosophy and the education of potential philosopher kings in his academy. In pursuing these goals I don't take that to be his mission in life to carry on the philosophic work of Socrates from the point of view of their respective personalities. This was a strange alliance. Plato the aristocrat quiet reserved aloof from the Democratic scene in
Athens code a literary artist as well as a philosopher using philosophy to serve the ideals of excellence of his social class and on the other hand Socrates middle class in origin gregarious a mixer with all types and classes in the city. Short and stocky build pudgy and ugly a face with bulging eyes and broad nostrils but his intellectual brilliance his wit and good humor were able nevertheless to win the love of any young man of Athens who happened to strike his homosexual fancy. All of Plato's philosophic writing was done in the form of dialogues conversations in which almost always the principal speaker is Socrates. These are the first philosophical dialogues of the Western world so far as we know Plato himself invented the dialogue as a literary form most of the dialogues use the philosophic method which Socrates invented the Socratic
method sometimes called the method of dialectic sometimes called the lengths which means boxing in. It is a form of seeking knowledge by question and answer. SOCRATES opens up a conversation with someone and catching him off. God put the question to him about his work or remain in it's usually it is a general question of the form what is courage what is piety what is justice. This forces the respondent to answer with a definition. For example Justice is paying your debts. SOCRATES Then proceeds to refute each definition by offering a counter example designed to show that the definition which was offered is too narrow too limited or that it is biased or uninformed. You can see the Socratic method beautifully at work in book 1 of the republic. SOCRATES asks supperless a wealthy and honorable old merchant. What is justice. Cephalus replies from the point of view of the ethics of a businessman.
Justice is speaking the truth and paying one's debts. But Socrates replies with the counter example sometimes paying one's debts may be unjust. For example when you owe a friend a weapon but since then he has become insane would it not be unjust to return it to him. Cephalus agrees his own definition is demolished a new and Lladro definition must be constructed to cover this type of case. A definition must be able to cover all examples. A definition must state what all the cases all the examples instances particulars have in common as examples of courage or justice etc.. Socrates believed that by this Socratic method in which each succeeding question corrects what was wrong with a previous definition that finally a true definition could be coaxed out of anyone he saw himself as a midwife helping with the birth of the baby. The true definition coming out of the
mind of the respondent. What was the philosophic significance of the Socratic method for Socrates. Definition is the foundation of knowledge and morality. Definition which is what the Socratic method achieves gives us the true and enduring meaning of our concepts such as Justice Man courage. And these definitions give us as well true moral ideas or standards by which to live. Plato's primary intention as a philosopher was to find definitions for the following concepts. What is the best type of stage. What kind of government is just what is justice. These questions led him into more fundamental questions such as what is knowledge what is the nature of reality. What is the nature of the physical world. What is the highest good for human beings. What is virtue or right conduct. How then did Plato go about constructing his philosophy. Like all philosophers who
came after him he philosophized in response to what had been thought by philosophers in the past. Plato built not only upon the philosophy of Socrates but also upon the philosophies of earlier philosophers the so-called prie. So Craddick philosophers the earliest philosophers of the Greek world of the sixth century had wrestled with the problem of explaining physical nature by asking What is the one basic physical material out of which the world is made. They all agreed that the many different kinds of things we see in the world are all changes. Transformations of only one kind of thing but they disagreed as to what the one fundamental material out of which the many are formed is. Is it water or air or fire. In this way a second major philosophic problem took shape. The problem of change of the transformations of the one into the many
does is the one change into the many. Then how is it on. Are the many all merely variations transformations changes of the permanent and changing one. Then how are they many. The two sides of this debate were carried on by two outstanding pre-Socratic philosophers Heraclitus and Parmenides. Heraclitus was a solitary pessimistic member of the nobility of the city of thesis. Heraclitus argued that the fundamental character of reality is change itself. Everything in reality is that Heraclitus is in process in flux is changing. He wrote one cannot step twice into the same river since it is endlessly flowing changing moving with fresh waters by claiming that everything is change or flux Heraclitus denied that anything can stay the same that anything can be identical with what
it has been or what it will be. And plus he denied any prominence any immutability in the world. He denied the unchanging one and affirmed the changing many. But in the fiercest opposition to Heraclitus stood amenities of Ylia in southern Italy who wrote his philosophy in the form of poetry. PA It is argued that not change but permanence is the fundamental character of reality reality he said is unitary single permanent unchanging. How can a thing change into something else. How can it be and not be whatever is must be what it is identical with itself unchanging PI amenities therefore claim that reality is a single unchanging one and he branded change as an illusion. He denied that anything can change. He denied any process or development
in the world. He denied the many and affirmed the one. Change is mere appearance to the senses pomme entities were saying whereas truth is unchanging and is known by reason one responds to this philosophic conflict between Heraclitus and amenities was that of the SES. The Sufis were philosophers from many different societies outside Greece who travelled about from city to city and came to Athens in the fifth century B.C. where they made a reputation as teachers of rhetoric the art of making persuasive public speeches. The art of rhetoric was enormously useful in order to achieve success in politics in democratic Athens in which debate in the public assembly was open to all citizens. The Sophos announce the sense of reason produce such conflicting claims as those of Heraclitus and amenities. One has to doubt the power of reason
to lead to truth at all. And thus the office became the first exponents of skepticism the philosophic position of doubting the possibility of any true knowledge. And so the thought was thought this through suspicion upon all preceding Greek philosophical attempt to discover the true nature of reality. But more importantly the sothis may be said to have turned Greek philosophy in a new direction away from the older philosophizing about the physical universe and toward the study of human beings and their moral social and political life. The Sophos were intellectual sophisticate who had travelled about a great deal. They knew many different cultures and their differing customs differing morals laws and governments much to the dismay of many Athenian citizens who believed that traditional Athenian morals laws and democracy were absolute true of which
they were very proud. The Sophos denied that the moral ideals of Athens were absolute truths. The sulfurous were moral relativists and they argued that all moral beliefs are relative to the group which believes them. No moral belief has any absolute truth. Moreover the Sophos claim that the laws of cities are not natural and unchangeable but are merely the product of custom or convention. Therefore some of the more radical Sophists argue one is not obliged to obey the law. One should obey the law only if it is to your advantage to do so in book 1 of the republic some because the softest argues that might makes right that laws serve only to protect the interests of the powerful of the ruling party and therefore he concludes. Only a fool obeys the law. If it is not to his advantage to do so. There are many people in our contemporary world who are very close to the softness in
their beliefs like the office many of us are skeptics doubtful about any claims to knowledge. Especially when authorities are in conflict and the authorities fight among themselves. For example at the present time how to teach children to read on how to stop economic inflation like this office there is some little claim that the laws protect only the rich and powerful that they are not based upon justice and therefore need not be obeyed. And many people today are moral relativists who deny that morality is valid other than for the group which believes in it. Do you agree with this office. SOCRATES And Plato found the skepticism and the moral relativism of the Sophos so hateful that there is considerable doubt that the Sophos views were given a fair presentation in Plato's writing the Sophos claims were in head on collision with Socrates and Plato Socrates and Plato defended reason and argued that reason does indeed provide true knowledge of reality
and a true and absolute morality. How could the sawfish scepticism and moral relativism be answered. How could the dispute between our lightest and prime entities about permanence and change the song the way in which Plato solve these problems is to identify what is true what is legitimate in each conflicting philosophy and to marshal the strengths of each philosophy into a single unified original philosophy of his own. Plato stands forth in the history of philosophy as one of the great synthesisers of the past conflicts of other philosophers from his synthesis of many points of philosophic view comes the richness the variety the depth and the scope of Plato's philosophy. The major line in the Plato's synthesis takes is to show that Harry isn't pomme entities were on the wrong track in supposing that one or the other
either flux or permanence must be true of all of reality. Reality says Plato is not all of one piece of one nature. Reality is not monistic that is characterized by a single unitary quality such as flux reality. Plato urges must be seen to be twofold dualistic in its nature. Plato offers a dualistic metaphysics. Metaphysics is the name for that branch of philosophy which reflects upon the nature of fundamental reality and asks What are the characteristics. What is the true nature of reality. Plato's metaphysics claims that there are indeed two kinds of reality. The reality of physical objects in space and time which are objects of the senses and which are in flux and growing decaying coming into being going out of bean changing as Heraclitus as a river does haricot as was right but only
about one kind of reality. Not about all reality but there is also another kind of reality. The reality of pure true concepts pure forms or essences which are objects of thought like a triangle and which are not in space and time. The idea or essence of a triangle which includes for example the property that its internal angles add up to 180 degrees. This is a universal and unchanging and immutable truth. There is as Plato a realm of eternally true ideas such as this which reason can know the truth about the permanent and unchanging reality that PA amenities was talking about. But it is true only of one kind of reality. There is one of these world of universal and unchanging truth which is knowable by reason and there is also Heraclitus is a world of flux and change of things perceived by the senses.
But Plato does not give equal value to these two kinds of reality. He has in fact little use for a change for the repetitious changes of the physical world or for the physical changes of public opinion. Like panentheism and Socrates before him Plato values another kind of reality the permanent and unchanging reality of ideas which are absolutely true and definable by reason. But this knowledge is not available to the ordinary person but only to those of superior intelligence and education and only those who have this knowledge are fit to govern. Plato illustrates his dualistic theory of reality by his famous allegory of the cave at the beginning of book 7 of the republic. Now then said Socrates as it introduces the allegory imagine mankind as living in an underground cave which has a wide entrance open to the light. Deep inside are human beings facing the inside wall of the
cave with their necks and legs chained so that they cannot move. They have never seen the light of day or the sun outside the cave behind the prisoners. A fire burns and between the fire and the prisoners there is a raised way on which a low wall has been built such as is used in puppet shows as a screen to conceal the people working the puppets. Along the raised way there walk people carrying all sorts of things which they hold so that they project above the wall statues of men animals trees the prisoners facing the inside wall cannot see one another nor the wall behind them on which the objects are being carried all that they can see are shadows of the objects that are being cast on the wall of the cave. The prisoners live all their lives seeing only shadows of reality and the voices they hear are only echoes from the wall.
But the prisoners cling to their familiar shadows and to their passions and prejudices. And if they were freed and able to turn around and see the realities which produced the shadows they would be blinded by the light of the fire and they would become angry and they would much prefer to go back to their shadow world. But if one of the prisoners were freed and turned around gradually to see in the light of the fire the cave his fellow prisoners and the roadway. What's the object of being carried. And then if he were dragged up and out of the cave into the light of the sun he would then see the things of the world as they truly are. And finally he would see the sun itself. What would this person think now of the life in the cave and what people back there in the cave know of reality or of morality. And if he were to descend back into the cave would he not have great difficulty in getting used to the darkness so that he could not compete any
longer with those who would never left the cave and would he not be subject to their ridicule and their scorn and even their physical attack. In all the history of Western thought the allegory of the cave is the allegory most often cited and discussed but what is an allegory and allegory is a kind of story in which what is talked about is being compared to something else which is similar. But what that something else is is left unstated and allegory is accordingly defined as an incomplete simile. The reader must complete what is similar to the events described. What then is the allegory of the cave to be compared with the people living out their lives in semi-darkness chained by the neck and legs unable to turn around never knowing that what they see before them on the wall of the cave are only shadows. They are in bondage but unaware of it they remain ignorant of
themselves and the reality. The question tantalizes and torments us. What is the relevance of the allegory of the cave to our present world with what in our lives may it be compared. Some interpretations of the allegory are specifically relevant to our own society and to the present time. First the allegory of the cave may be interpreted as a devastating criticism of our everyday lives as being in bondage to superficialities to shadow rather than to substance. Truth is taken to be now whatever is known by the senses. A good life is usually taken to be one which satisfies our desires. We are unaware that we are living with illusion with false and superficial knowledge and with false and conflicting ideals. Our lives are dominated by the shadow play on the walls of our cave made by newspaper
headlines by radio broadcasts by the endlessly moving shadows on the television screen by the babble of echoing voices of opinion makers. The allegory of the cave may be taken also as Secondly a equally devastating criticism of much of the science of our time with its emphasis upon that which is known by the senses. Science too is changed so that it can see only shadows. The basis of science is in sensory observation its conclusions are only in the form of correlations of observations. Science does not venture into true causes or into long range consequences. The empirical scientist is not so different from the winner on TV quiz shows. Who knows the dates of all the Humphrey Bogart films. Nor is he so different from the prisoners in the cave who excel in identifying the sequence of shadows on the wall. It is a criticism
also of our scientific technology and industry developing and producing to make superficial needs without regard for our true needs without regard for moral or environmental considerations. Thirdly the allegory of the cave may be interpreted as a political allegory. The life in the cave is the life of politics. Both the leaders and the people are ignorant and corrupt without true knowledge of themselves or of the world. They are motivated by greed power and self-gratification. They are trained in bondage to endurance and passions to mob history or for or against fleeting issues. Believing in current ideologies which happened to be the illusions the shadows of the moment on the walls of the cave and fourthly the allegory of the cave may be seen to be an allegory of the philosopher king the liberated one having made the sense to know the truth and the good. He has a mission to return to the cave to bring
enlightenment to bring the good news the glad tidings. Even though he may be killed for his services Plato was thinking of Socrates we think of Jesus. For Plato those who had completed the ascent of the divided line of knowledge are thereby alone fitted to govern to be the philosopher kings of society to be its guardians. But here suddenly the allegory of the cave comes into conflict with contemporary views of ourselves the world and politics. On this point we cannot say of course this is the way it is with us. The allegory applies to us however painfully. Two questions are at issue here. First is there as Plato believes a single absolutely true immutable and eternal concept of justice of virtue of the ideal society of the ideal human being. And are these concepts such that only a few persons of superior intelligence can be educated to know them. Plato's
answer is of course yes. Second the second problem. Would this knowledge justify political absolutism an authoritarian government who ruled with absolute unchecked power. By this a Leite of intelligence and virtue. This would be in total opposition to democracy which is governed by the many with checks and balances. Plato wants a yes to both questions. This was Plato's solution to the intellectual and moral decay of his time and authoritarian government by a small elite educated to true knowledge and virtue which are fixed in their essences for all time. After Plato's time the rest of the history of Western Philosophy struggles with these two questions and for the most part as most people do today answers No we do not claim to have knowledge of the absolute meaning of truth or justice or morality. Nor do we believe that if we had such knowledge it would justify a political
absolutism of unchecked absolute political power. Finally for us as for Plato the allegory of the cave is an allegory of despair and hope like Plato we live in a time of loss of meaning and commitment. A time of crumbling standards of truth and morality of corruption in political life and decline in personal integrity. This is our despair. But there is a hope that we share with Plato's Allegory the hope of sending to truth and values which are at least the best that we can know as guides to the good life for us as for the prisoner freed from his chains the first step is to recognize illusions for what they are. The current. Flickering shadows on the wall of our case. I.
Will. Tell you all. Were. Recorded to Julio's of the Maryland Center for Public Broadcasting.
- From Socrates To Sartre
- Episode Number
- Shadow and Substance
- Producing Organization
- Maryland Public Television
- Contributing Organization
- Maryland Public Television (Owings Mills, Maryland)
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- Episode Description
- Plato II: The Republic; the Socratic Method: the Allegory of the Cave - Plato the synthesizer of the previous conflicting philosophies of the Greek world. The pre-Socratic philosophers: Heraclitus and Parmenides; the Sophists. The dialogue form. The Socratic method. Republic, Book I as instance of Socratic method applied to question; What is Justice? Confusion and failure of the discussion. Plato's metaphysic and its expression in The Allegory of the Cave and its contemporary relevance.
- Series Description
- "From Socrates to Sartre is an educational show hosted by Dr. Thelma Z. Lavine, who teaches viewers about the theories and history of philosophy."
- Asset type
- Media type
- Moving Image
Copyright Holder: MPT
Host: Thelma Z. Lavine, Ph.D.
Producing Organization: Maryland Public Television
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Maryland Public Television
Identifier: 36571.0 (MPT)
Format: Digital Betacam
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- APA: From Socrates To Sartre; #3; Shadow and Substance. Boston, MA: Maryland Public Television, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-394-54kkws89