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  1. 1. TERM PAPER ON PLATO'S PHILOSOPHY SUBMITTED BY: JOSEPH P. SANOPAO The theory of the Ideas is the base of Plato’s philosophy: the Ideas are not only the real objects
  2. 2. ontologically speaking, but they are the authentically objects of knowledge epistemologically speaking. From the point of view of ethics and politics, they are the foundation of the right behaviour, and anthropologically speaking they are the base of Plato’s dualism and they even allow him demonstrate the immortality of the soul. Plato defends a clear ontological dualism in which there are two types of realities or worlds: the sensible world and the intelligible world or, as he calls it, the world of the Ideas. The Sensible World is the world of individual realities, and so is multiple and constantly changing, is the world of generation and destruction; is the realm of the sensible, material, temporal and space things. On the contrary, the Intelligible World is the world of the universal, eternal and invisible realities called Ideas (or "Forms"), which are immutable and do not change because they are not material, temporal or space. Ideas can be understood and known; they are the authentic reality. The Ideas are hierarchically ordered; there are different types and they do not have all the same value. The coherency of the arguments Plato uses for defending the existence of the Ideas would have lead him to claim there are Ideas of all those general words of which we can find an example in the sensible world, that is to say, of all the universal terms such as "justice", "rightness" or "man", but also terms as "table", "hair" or "mud". In spite of it, the population of Ideas postulated by Plato is limited enough by value considerations. Sorts of Ideas that are included in the intelligible world: the Idea of Rightness and other moral Ideas (Justice, Virtue, etc.); Aesthetic Ideas (specially the Idea of Beauty), Ideas of Multiplicity, Unity, Identity, Difference, Being, Not being, mathematical Ideas and other Ideas (the Idea of Man, etc.). Plato locates the Idea of Rightness on the highest position of that intelligible world; sometimes he identifies it with the Idea of Beauty and even with the idea of God. The Idea of Rightness is the origin of the existence of everything because human behaviour depends on it and everything tends to it (intrinsic purpose in the nature). I. Plato’s arguments in favour of the Theory of the Ideas In essence, this theory defends there are certain independent, universal, immutable and absolute beings which are different from the sensible world. a) Critic of the sensible knowledge in the dialogue "Theaetetus": Plato shows evidence does not rise from sensible knowledge. This kind of knowledge leads to relativism, which is, in essence, absurd (critic of sophist philosophy). Besides, we have knowledge not based on the senses. Conclusion: science (knowledge strictly talking) based on sensation as criterion for truth is not possible, because we cannot have science of changeable things (of the sensible world) which just appears to our senses. Science has to be based on reason, which studies the nature or essence of things ("Ideas"). b) The use of the language and the problem of the reference of the universal terms. Linguistic terms as nouns ("table"), adjectives ("good") and abstract nouns ("beauty") of which many
  3. 3. examples can be shown lead to think about the existence of beings different from the individual and sensible ones. The objects to which names (such as "Socrates" or "Napoleon") refer are individuals; but we have certain problems about the objects to which other terms (nouns, abstract adjectives and abstract nouns) refer. We call them UNIVERSAL terms because they do refer to a plurality of objects. For that reason Plato deduces there must be universal beings matching up those universal concepts of which there are plenty of individuals or examples; “The Green” would match the concept of "green", “The Kindness” would match the concept of "kindness", “The Beauty” would match the concept of "beautiful", “The Truth” would match the concept of "truth". Those beings which match universal concepts are called Ideas or Forms. II. THE MYTH OF THE CAVERN, COMPENDIUM OF PLATO’S PHILOSOPHY In the VII book of the "Republic" Plato displays his well-known myth of the cavern, the most important one as it embraces the cardinal points of his philosophy. He wants it to be a metaphor "of our nature regarding its education and its lack of education", that is, serves to illustrate issues regarding the theory of knowledge. Nevertheless, he clearly knows this myth has important consequences for other fields of philosophy as ontology, anthropology and even policy and ethics; some philosophers have seen even religious implications. The myth describes our situation regarding knowledge: we are like the prisoners of a cavern who only see the shades of the objects and so live in complete ignorance worrying about what is offered to our senses. Only philosophy can release us and allow us come out of the cavern to the true world or World of the Ideas. Plato requests us to imagine we are prisoners in an underground cavern. We are chained and immobilized since childhood in such a way we can only see the far end wall of the cavern. Behind us and elevated there is a fire that lights the cavern; between the fire and the prisoners there is a path on which edge there is another wall. This second wall is like a screen used in a puppet theatre; puppets are raised over it to be shown to the public. People walk along the path speaking and carrying sculptures that represent different objects (animals, trees, artificial objects...). Since there is this second wall between the prisoners and the people walking, we only see the shades of the objects they carry projected on the far end wall of the cavern. Naturally, the prisoners would think the shades and the echoes of the voices they hear are true reality. Plato argues a liberated prisoner would slowly discover different levels of authentic reality: first he would see the objects and the light inside the cavern, later he would come out of it and see first the shades of the objects, then the reflections of those objects on the water and finally the real objects. At last he would see the Sun and conclude it is the reason of the seasons, it rules the realm of visible objects and is the reason of everything the prisoners see. And remembering his life in the cavern, remembering what he thought he knew there and his captivity comrades he would feel happy for being free and would feel sorry them; prisoner’s life
  4. 4. would seem unbearable for him. But in spite of it and in spite of the dangers, his clumsiness and the prisoner’s laughs and scorns, he would return to the underground world to free them. These are the keys Plato gives us to read the myth: we should compare the shadows of the cavern with the sensible world and the light of the fire with the power of the Sun. The escape to the outer world to contemplate real beings (metaphor of the World of the Ideas) should be compared with the path our souls take towards the intelligible world. Plato declares the most difficult and the last object we reach is the Idea of Rightness (symbolized by the metaphor of the Sun, the last object the released prisoner sees), which is the reason of all the good and beautiful things of the world; it is also the reason of the light and the Sun in the sensible and visible world and the reason of truth and understanding in the intelligible world; is the reality we need see to live with wisdom. III. THE THEORY OF THE IDEAS AND PLATO’S EPISTEMOLOGY The theory of the Ideas answers the question about the possibility of knowledge strictly talking. This theory divides the world in two realms of reality completely different ontologically speaking which will match two different wisdoms. Types of knowledge: SCIENCE; which take care of the immutable Ideas and is divided in dialectic and discursive thought and OPINION; which is the knowledge of the sensible and changeable world and is divided in belief (which occupies on the "animals surrounding us, plants and the whole of artificial objects) and conjectures (which occupies on "shades" and similar things). Plato distinguishes between discursive thought and dialectic in what he calls SCIENCE. The first one is mainly identified with mathematics (geometry and arithmetic), and in spite of its extraordinary value, it has two important deficiencies: it uses sensible symbols and leans on hypothesis (careful; "hypothesis" in Plato’s philosophy does not mean the same as for us): mathematicians do not reflect on the being of the objects they deal with (the numbers, for example) nor settle down any thesis ontologically speaking, and that’s why this science is incomplete. Dialectic is a superior knowledge, studies the World of the Ideas, that is to say, the immutable, universal and eternal being, and is identified with philosophy. Plato, The Republic, tr. by G. M. Grube (Hackett, 1992)