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Research Paper

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Research Paper

  1. 1. Nick Meyers Individual Research Paper Spring 2015 “The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.” Alfred North Whitehead “Plato is Philosophy, and Philosophy is Plato… Out of Plato comes all things that are still written and debated among men of thought.” Ralph Waldo Emerson (Pojman and Vaughn). Plato was born into an Athenian aristocratic family at the end of the Periclean Golden Age of Greek democracy in 427 B.C. During this period, Pericles was the Athenian general and statesman who developed a humane democracy that brought Greece immense prosperity. Athenian general was once a student of Socrates, who was the founder of the first university of philosophy aptly named the Academy in Athens. Plato’s goal was to conceptualize his idea of an “ideal state”, which he greatly expressed in Book V of the Republic. This particular volume also included discussions of justice in the world among philosophers. Most of Plato’s books are comprised of dialogues, in which Socrates is the lead in the discussions in search for an understanding of the conceptual works. After Socrates was executed in 399 B.C., Plato spent twelve years traveling between southern Italy, Sicily and Egypt, studying with other philosophers including
  2. 2. followers of Pythagoras. Plato began a lasting relationship with the ruling family of Syracuse, who would later ask for his advice on shaping their city’s politics. Around 387 B.C., Plato returned to Athens, Greece and founded his philosophical school just outside the city walls. In his “open-air Academy” he gave lectures to students throughout the city. The Greeks were keen on paving the path to the “ideal world”, and strived to continue progress in the creation of a more advanced and politically driven culture that exceeded other states of this era. These philosophers were the key at discussing and exploring these potential “reasons of being”, as well as ways to alter lingering perceptions and habits of the community (local, or globally). Furthermore, the Greeks had continued to strive for “the good life.” Their efforts for achieving this goal begged the question, how do they know what “the good life” is? How does one gain the knowledge to pursue this life; to know the difference between what is good and what is “less good”? Lastly, what about the foolish, ignorant others that lack the wisdom to see what is less good, but rather perceive as being good? This was the foundation of Plato’s philosophical ideas (Bluck, 1949). Because of the dialogues contained within the Republic, the Hellenic culture became one of the most powerful and successful civilizations of the western-world countries and states between 525 B.C. and 350 B.C. which was the period during the lifespan of Plato and Socrates. Throughout this period, Athens became the strongest military and political entity in the history of ancient Greece. The Greeks had transitioned from an oral culture to a literate one, and had moved away from a
  3. 3. religious and mythological belief system to one centered around the inventions and creations of art as well as rational thought (Pecorino, 2000). As a student majoring in Communication Studies, the philosophical aspect of the Greek society may be viewed as the birth of this social science. Discussions involving the ideas of humans, the many cultures, and the reasons to why people behave as they do, are what Communication Studies focuses to explain. The Dialogues of Plato dive into the quest for truth and understanding of what is “good”. Plato stated that one universal truth exists to which a human being must recognize and try their best to live by. This truth was embodied in the “Realm of Forms”. Plato’s Theory of Forms states that “there is a higher realm of truth and that our perceived world of the senses is merely a reflection of the greater one.” These dialogues are very informal. A transcript of two philosophers simply having a conversation between one another. This helps the Greek society to feel more comfortable with the text. As often times, the general public back then, was uneducated. This made it easier for all to relate to and understand, rather than being a scholarly article. For example: if someone were to look at a horse, and say that this particular horse is beautiful, they are referring to how closely that particular horse follows the “Form of Beauty” in the realm of Forms. In order to recognize the “Form of Beauty”, one needs to be able to realize that this perceived world is an illusion, and what one calls beautiful on earth is not beautiful on its own, but is only beautiful because it corresponds with the “Form of Beauty”. So the old saying that “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” would be unacceptable to Plato.
  4. 4. “If Person A claims a horse is beautiful and Person B claims that the horse is not, one of them needs to be right and one wrong in their claim because they can’t both be correct. According to Plato, the one who is right will be the one who understands and recognizes the Form of Beauty as it is expressed in that particular horse. This claim, of course, stands in direct opposition to Protagoras’ assertion that ‘Man is the measure of all things’ and, it seems, it was supposed to. Plato devoted most of his life to trying to prove the reality of the realm of Forms and to disprove Protagoras' relativism, even to the last dialogue he wrote, the Laws. In all of Plato’s work, the one constant is that there is a Truth which it is the duty of a human being to recognize and strive for, and that one cannot just believe whatever one wants to (again, a direct challenge to Protagoras). Even though he never conclusively proved the existence of the Forms, his standard inspired later philosophers and writers, notably Plotinus, who is credited with founding the Neo-Platonic school which exerted significant influence on early Christianity.” (Mark). The “Republic” is an exploration of the soul of a nation as well as of an individual. Plato finds a three-part hierarchy between rulers, auxiliaries and citizens, and, within each, emotion and desire. Just as reason should be more important in the individual, a wise ruler should be the one to control a society. Only those with wisdom (a master of philosophy) are able to comprehend the true nature of things. The experiences of the lower levels of the state and of the soul are related to true knowledge the way the shadows on the wall of a cave are related to the forms that created them, i.e. The Allegory of the Cave (Murphy, 1951). “And now, I said, let me show in a figure how far our nature is enlightened or
  5. 5. unenlightened: --Behold! human beings living in a underground den, which has a mouth open towards the light and reaching all along the den; here they have been from their childhood, and have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see before them, being prevented by the chains from turning round their heads. Above and behind them a fire is blazing at a distance, and between the fire and the prisoners there is a raised way; and you will see, if you look, a low wall built along the way, like the screen which marionette players have in front of them, over which they show the puppets. And do you see, I said, men passing along the wall carrying all sorts of vessels, and statues and figures of animals made of wood and stone and various materials, which appear over the wall? Some of them are talking, others silent. You have shown me a strange image, and they are strange prisoners. Like ourselves, I replied; and they see only their own shadows, or the shadows of one another, which the fire throws on the opposite wall of the cave? True, he said; how could they see anything but the shadows if they were never allowed to move their heads? And of the objects which are being carried in like manner they would only see the shadows? And if they were able to converse with one another, would they not suppose that they were naming what was actually before them? To them, I said, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images. And now look again, and see what will naturally follow it. The prisoners are released and disabused of their error. At first, when any of them is liberated and
  6. 6. compelled suddenly to stand up and turn his neck round and walk and look towards the light, he will suffer sharp pains; the glare will distress him, and he will be unable to see the realities of which in his former state he had seen the shadows; and then conceive some one saying to him, that what he saw before was an illusion, but that now, when he is approaching nearer to being and his eye is turned towards more real existence, he has a clearer vision, -what will be his reply? And you may further imagine that his instructor is pointing to the objects as they pass and requiring him to name them, -will he not be perplexed? Will he not fancy that the shadows which he formerly saw are truer than the objects which are now shown to him? And if he is compelled to look straight at the light, will he not have a pain in his eyes which will make him turn away to take and take in the objects of vision which he can see, and which he will conceive to be in reality clearer than the things which are now being shown to him? And suppose once more, that he is reluctantly dragged up a steep and rugged ascent, and held fast until he’s forced into the presence of the sun himself, is he not likely to be pained and irritated? When he approaches the light his eyes will be dazzled, and he will not be able to see anything at all of what are now called realities. He will require to grow accustomed to the sight of the upper world. And first he will see the shadows best, next the reflections of men and other objects in the water, and then the objects themselves; then he will gaze upon the light of the moon and the stars and the spangled heaven; and he will see the sky and the stars by night better than the sun or the light of the sun by day? Last of he will be able to see the sun, and not mere reflections of him in the water,
  7. 7. but he will see him in his own proper place, and not in another; and he will contemplate him as he is. Clearly, he said, he would first see the sun and then reason about him. And when he remembered his old habitation, and the wisdom of the den and his fellow-prisoners, do you not suppose that he would felicitate himself on the change, and pity them? And if there were a contest, and he had to compete in measuring the shadows with the prisoners who had never moved out of the den, while his sight was still weak, and before his eyes had become steady (and the time which would be needed to acquire this new habit of sight might be very considerable)…” (Plato, Jowett). As you can see, Plato’s Allegory of the Cave discusses the perception of reality. Whether or not the way one views our world is actually how it is. If one only knows what they can see, how is it known to be true? If one is able to see what is beyond their immediate sight, whole other worlds open up. If one does not have the knowledge of common items, they will create their own meaning. However, once they are shown what is, they can then create a whole new meaning. Not just a direct meaning of new concepts, but new personal meaning and discovery. This thought process and contemplation revolves around how the Greeks interpret their governing bodies and the world around it. If others do not realize the benefits of this democracy then how do they conceptualize reality and life that it creates? “Plato’s recurring fascination was the distinction between ideal forms and everyday experience, and how it played out both for individuals and for societies. In
  8. 8. the “Republic,” his most famous work, he envisioned a civilization governed not by lowly appetites but by the pure wisdom of a philosopher-king.” (History.com). We see the political implications of the cave, starting with the people operating the puppets as the political leaders, manipulating the people by using cultural myths to draw them in. If this were the “just city”, the puppets would be "noble lies" and the puppet masters would be philosopher-kings on political duty. If it were an “unjust city”, then the puppets would be stereotypes, prejudices, and the puppet masters professional politicians, working for tyrants. The first return to the cave is fueled by pity and ends in disaster, as the escapee uncovers the world for his fellow prisoners. The second return is fueled by fear of being governed by the tyrant like politicians (the puppeteers). (Protevi). Just as the allegory revels into the metaphysical question of “what is real,” The Matrix ponders this exact same question, much like Plato’s written account. While both are documented thousands of years apart, and the form is very different, they essentially mimic each other nearly identically. True, there are various differences, with the stories being very different. But the notion of a false reality, and only knowing and understanding what one is familiar with, is the entire premise of both works. The allegory explains how certain individuals are essentially locked into a false world. They know nothing other than what they are shown by the others acting as a higher power (although they are only human as well). The Matrix, as many of you may know, begins by the main character (Neo) being told that the
  9. 9. reality that he knows is simply a dream world. Once he is shown the real world, and is removed from the matrix (the so-called dream world), he finds it difficult to understand what he is seeing for the first time. Eyes difficult to adjust since he is using them for the first time, not having seen light before. As does the prisoner in the allegory, Neo sees the sun for the first time and cannot adjust immediately. These two share the idea that one’s ability to understand something foreign is not an easy task for the mind, nor to the individual’s intellect. The attempt to persuade each culture is not as explicit as one would expect. They strive to get people thinking more critically and with an open mind. The idea that there is more to oneself, and to life, than what is taken at face value, is something greater than the individual. Rather, these are important to get a society thinking alike. If the artifacts can show that a society is stronger having recognized the significance of life, and the greater idea that there is potential to broaden the knowledge of even the lesser educated, then both have served its purpose as a form of rhetoric to the demographic they were intended for. These two artifacts both have religious influences as well. How can the notion of a reality more that what we perceive be understandable without some sort of theological undertone? Although each artifact contains a different religion, the fact that religion ties into these two is important to the understanding of these different forms from different cultures and time periods. Even if you are not Christian, you would be aware of who the Son of God is and the basics of what he did. In case you aren’t familiar I’ll summarize it in a
  10. 10. sentence or two. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, suffered from beatings and was stabbed in a way to sacrifice himself to save the Christian religion and the people of today. He can also be referred to as “The One.” Really that is all one would need to know to sufficiently understand how this modern day movie about false realities and a dream world state of being is actually a take on Jesus’ missions but portrayed through a post-apocalyptic world and a modern day human being. As is the summary on the religious tale, the basic summary of The Matrix would be necessary to preface my argument and tie these two artifacts together. The Matrix is about a software engineer / programmer named Thomas Anderson (aka Neo) that is offered the chance to view the “real world” and essentially save the human race. He is taken out of The Matrix to save the human race from the dangers that are disturbing its very existence. The main character is named Neo, which is actually an anagram of “One”. This is a simply noted and understandable factor. However, later in the film many of the current warriors of Zion, the last remaining human city, are praising him by showing their excitement for his arrival and his ability for being the only one able to save them. Zion is referred to being the spiritual point from which reality emerges. This further shows how the false sense of reality that is portrayed in the film, is brought to life by the inhabitants of Zion. The ship that these crewmembers and Neo are on is called the Nebuchadnezzar. Nebuchadnezzar was an ancient king that took over and ruled the city of Babylon. This city is known as the holy city in historical and religious texts. Essentially, he was a ruler of the biggest city around 600-700 B.C. On this ship there is a title stone that has carved on it the name (Nebuchadnezzar), the place and year it was made (USA, 2069), and a bible verse
  11. 11. written on it (Mark 3:11). This bible verse is written as so: “Whenever the unclean spirits saw Him, they would fall down before Him and shout, ‘You are the Son of God!’” Once again, these religious aspects show the two broad differences between the culture of ancient Greece contrasted with modern day America. Among the many ties between these accounts, there are many more similarities that these stories share. The main similarity is the acceptance of truth about themselves that Neo and the freed prisoner must face. They must accept this truth before they can even understand the deeper knowledge about more intellectual truths. To gain this knowledge, both individuals must experience the idea that the senses are weak and that they can be easily deceived. Another similarity among these stories is that both worlds are controlled by a greater power. Neo lives in a world which is controlled by the matrix, controlled by the agents. Plato’s prisoner lives in a world controlled by the form holders, or puppet masters. They both escape from the simpler world that they are familiar with and come to see the world as it really is. Neo comes to realize that the life he has been living is nothing more than the life of a slave, just as the prisoner is more explicitly portrayed as a physical slave rather than a mental slave. Although, outside of the matrix Neo is quite literally a physical slave as well. Plato’s prisoner comes to realize first that the shadows he is looking at are not the truth, but they are just shadows cast on the wall by the puppet masters. The characters in both stories realize that they are prisoners to their respective worlds and are completely unaware that the reality they believe that they know is false. Both stories also share the gift of learning new feats. Neo, in
  12. 12. the Matrix, is able to perform physically impossible feats once he learns to manipulate the matrix. The prisoner in the Allegory of the Cave learns infinite wisdom once he breaks free from the cave (The Matrix, 1999). Whether or not The Matrix intended to revamp the ideas that Plato had originally recorded, the two share the same persuasive elements and agendas for each culture. Religion and politics are the driving factors in the rhetoric for each artifact and neither would be comprehensive without these elements, nor would any other similar or future attempts be as successful to a society as these have been from the beginning, thousands of years ago, to now.
  13. 13. Works Cited Bluck, R.S. Plato’s Life and Thought. Bristol: J.W. Arrowsmith Ltd, 1949. Text. Pp. 15- 34. Mark, Joshua J. Plato. Web Ancient History Encyclopedia. 2 Sept. 2009. Web. 18 May. 2016. <http://www.ancient.eu/plato/> Murphy, N.R. The Interpretations of Pato’s Republic. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1951. Text. Pp. 130-150. Pecorino, Philip A. Introduction To Philosophy. 2000. Online Text. 18 May. 2016. <http://www.qcc.cuny.edu/SocialSciences/ppecorino/INTRO_TEXT/Chapter%202 %20GREEKS/Greek_Culture.htm> Plato. History. Web. 16 May. 2016. <http://www.history.com/topics/ancient- history/plato> Plato. Republic. Book VII. Trans. Benjamin Jowett. Web. 17 May. 2016. <http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/republic.8.vii.html> Pojman, Louis P. Lewis Vaughn. Classics of Philosophy. Ed 3. Plato. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011. Pp. 22-24. Text.
  14. 14. Protevi, John. Notes on Plato’s Republic. Louisiana State University. Pp. 13-14. Web. 18 May. 2016. <http://www.protevi.com/john/FH/Republic_complete.pdf> The Matrix. Dir. The Wachowski Brothers. Perf. Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishbourne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving, and Joe Pantoliano. Warner Bros., 1999. Film.

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