DividedLine - 1 P L AT O The Divided Line Plato of Athens...

Info iconThis preview shows page 1. Sign up to view the full content.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
This is the end of the preview. Sign up to access the rest of the document.

Unformatted text preview: 1 P L AT O The Divided Line Plato of Athens (c. 429–347 B.C.E.) stands with Aristotle as one of the two most important philosophers of Antiquity and as a major shaper of the Western intellectual history as a whole. Descended from a wealthy and aristocratic family, his intellectual outlook was decisively formed by his teacher, Socrates. Socrates’ judicial murder at the instance of political opponents helped turn Plato into a critic of democracy and a supporter of aristocracy, in his special sense of the term, that is, rule by the wise and virtuous (or “philosopher-kings”). From Socrates Plato learned a mode of inquiry that consisted of subjecting received opinions to systematic cross-examination (“dialectic”), as well as certain moral doctrines such as the view that the source of wrongdoing is ignorance, or that the gods’ approval or disapproval does not render actions right or wrong. Plato attempted to put his political ideas into practice by serving as counselor to Dionysius II, tyrant of Syracuse, but the young ruler’s sporadic enthusiasm for philosophy did not survive political reality, and the two men were finally estranged. Plato was more successful as the founder of a philosophical school, the Academy, which he established in a grove dedicated to the hero Academus outside Athens during the early fourth century B.C.E. The school continued for several centuries and was instrumental in preserving Plato’s teachings and writings. Plato’s surviving writings are cast in dialogue form, to force the reader to make up his or her own mind about the positions and arguments presented. Plato himself never appears, though students of the dialogues often assume, perhaps correctly, that his point of view is represented by Socrates. Modern scholarship largely agrees in dividing the dialogues into three broad groupings: early, middle, and late. Attempts to coordinate these groupings with known events in Plato’s life or with the development of his thought, however, are more controversial. The Republic, Plato’s most famous dialogue, is considered a work of Plato’s mature, or middle period, where his ethical and political beliefs have struck root in more fundamental metaphysical and epistemological convictions. The major question animating the dialogue is the nature of justice. Plato’s Socrates defends the view that justice consists in a harmony of soul stemming from a vision of transcendental Good, which in turn provides a “The Divided Line,” from The Republic, by Plato, translated by Desmond Lee, revised second edition, copyright © 1974 by Desmond Lee, 249–255. Reprinted by permission of Penguin Books Ltd. 2 THE DIVIDED LINE standard for rational control of the passions and appetites, leading to happiness. In this famous passage from Book VI, Socrates compares cognitive experience with the nature of reality; he concludes that knowledge and opinion correspond respectively to intelligible and sensible objects of cognition, and argues that sense-objects are derivative from objects of the intellect. §6. THE DIVIDED LINE The analogy of the Divided Line is, Plato makes clear, a sequel to the Sun simile, its purpose being to illustrate further the relation between the two orders of reality with which the Sun simile dealt. But it does so from a particular point of view, that of the states of mind (pathemata: 511d, [in ¯ the second to last paragraph of this selection]) in which we apprehend these two orders or realms. The purpose of the Line, therefore, is not, primarily, to give a classification of objects. Both of the two states of mind correlated with the intelligible realm deal with the same kind of object (the forms), though each deals with them in a different way; and though in the physical world there is a difference between physical things and their shadows, that difference is used primarily to illustrate degrees of ‘truth’ or genuineness in what is apprehended—we know very little about a thing if our knowledge is confined to shadows or images of it or, for that matter, to its superficial appearance. . . . Broadly speaking, the mental states comprised by the four subdivisions are: (A) Intelligence. Full understanding, culminating in the vision of ultimate truth. This understanding is reached by philosophy, or as Plato often calls it ‘dialectic’; a term whose modern associations are quite misleading in interpreting the Republic, but which, with that caution, remains a convenient translation. (B) Reason. The procedure of mathematics, purely deductive and uncritical of its assumptions. (C) Belief. Commonsense beliefs on matters both moral and physical, which are a fair practical guide to life but have not been fully thought out. (Later, in the Timaeus, Plato includes the natural sciences in this sub-section, as they can never reach ultimate truth, being concerned with a changeable world.) (D) Illusion. All the various illusions, ‘secondhand impressions and opinions’, of which the minds of ordinary people are full. In this section ‘illusion’ merely appears as the perception of shadows and reflections. But the wider interpretation is demanded by the Cave simile, which elaborates in a more graphic form the classification set out in the Line. And it is also clearly implied in Book X that all works of poetry and art are to be included in this sub-section. THE DIVIDED LINE 3 To look forward for a moment, Plato is not entirely consistent in his use of terms. In Part VII the contrast is frequently between doxa and gnosis, another word for knowledge. Noe is sometimes used of sub-section A of ¯sis the Line, but, perhaps because the content of the whole ‘region’ AB is called noeton, it is also used of intellectual operations more generally. And ¯ at one place episteme is used of sub-section A. The content of CD, com¯¯ monly referred to in the Line as to horaton, the visible, is in this diagram ¯ also called the physical world. Though there is an emphasis in the simile on purely visual terms, Plato instances animals, plants and manufactured objects as examples in sub-section C, and for example a donkey eating hay in a barn is not a purely visual object. Besides, it is made quite clear in Part VIII that CD is the world perceived by our senses (aisthe ), the world ¯ton of material change (genesis). The diagram assumes that both noesis and ¯ dianoia deal with forms and that dianoia has no separate type of object. It 4 THE DIVIDED LINE is sometimes claimed that Plato implies that there are special mathematical objects in sub-section B; but his language at 510d suggests rather that the mathematicians deal with forms, but in a not fully adequate way. This brief dogmatic summary can hardly do justice to the problems raised by the Line and its two companion similes and to the controversies which they have occasioned. Some suggestions for further reading will be found in the bibliography. But the reader should first study what Plato himself has to say about the way in which the similes are to be interpreted and linked. ‘You must suppose, then,’ I went on, ‘that there are these two powers1 of which I have spoken, and that one of them is supreme over everything in the intelligible order or region, the other over everything in the visible region—I won’t say in the physical universe or you will think I’m playing with words.2 At any rate you have before your mind these two orders3 of things, the visible and the intelligible?’ ‘Yes, I have.’ ‘Well, suppose you have a line divided into two unequal parts, and then divide the two parts again in the same ratio,4 to represent the visible and intelligible orders. This gives you, in terms of comparative clarity and obscurity, in the visible order one sub-section of images (D): by “images” I mean first shadows, then reflections in water and other close-grained, polished surfaces, and all that sort of thing, if you understand me.’ ‘I understand.’ ‘Let the other sub-section (C) stand for the objects which are the originals of the images—the animals around us, and every kind of plant and manufactured object.’ ‘Very good.’ ‘Would you be prepared to admit that these sections differ in that one is genuine,5 one not, and that the relation of image to original is the same as that of the realm of opinion to that of knowledge?’ ‘I most certainly would.’ ‘Then consider next how the intelligible part of the line is to be divided.’ ‘How?’ ‘In one sub-section (B) the mind uses the originals of the visible order in their turn as images, and has to base its inquiries on assumptions6 and proceed from them not to a first principle but to a conclusion: in the other (A) it moves7 from assumption to a first principle which involves no assumption, without the images used in the other sub-section, but pursuing its inquiry solely by and through forms themselves.’ THE DIVIDED LINE 5 ‘I don’t quite understand.’ ‘I will try again, and what I have just said will help you to understand. I think you know that students of geometry and calculation and the like begin by assuming there are odd and even numbers, geometrical figures and the three forms of angle, and other kindred items in their respective subjects; these they regard as known, having put them forward as basic assumptions which it is quite unnecessary to explain to themselves or anyone else on the grounds that they are obvious to everyone. Starting from them, they proceed through a series of consistent steps to the conclusion which they set out to find.’ ‘Yes, I certainly know that.’ ‘You know too that they make use of and argue about visible figures,8 though they are not really thinking about them, but about the originals which they resemble; it is not about the square or diagonal which they have drawn that they are arguing, but about the square itself or diagonal itself, or whatever the figure may be. The actual figures they draw or model, which themselves cast their shadows and reflections in water— these they treat as images only, the real objects of their investigation being invisible except to the eye of reason.’9 ‘That is quite true.’ ‘This type of thing I called intelligible, but said that the mind was forced to use assumptions in investigating it, and did not proceed to a first principle, being unable to depart from and rise above its assumptions; but it used as illustrations the very things (C) which in turn have their images and shadows on the lower level (D), in comparison with which they are themselves respected and valued for their clarity.’ ‘I understand,’ he said. ‘You are referring to what happens in geometry and kindred sciences.’10 ‘Then when I speak of the other sub-section of the intelligible part of the line you will understand that I mean that which the very process of argument grasps by the power of dialectic; it treats assumptions not as principles, but as assumptions in the true sense, that is, as starting points and steps in the ascent to something which involves no assumption and is the first principle of everything; when it has grasped that principle it can again descend, by keeping to the consequences that follow from it, to a conclusion. The whole procedure involves nothing in the sensible world, but moves solely through forms to forms, and finishes with forms.’ ‘I understand,’ he said; ‘though not fully, because what you describe sounds like a long job. But you want to distinguish that part (A) of the real and intelligible (A + B) which is studied by the science11 of dialectic 6 THE DIVIDED LINE as having greater clarity than that (B) studied by what are called “sciences”.12 These sciences treat their assumptions as first principles and, though compelled to use reason13 and not sense-perception in surveying14 their subject matter, because they proceed in their investigations from assumptions and not to a first principle, they do not, you think, exercise intelligence on it, even though with the aid of a first principle it is intelligible.15 And I think that you call the habit of mind of geometers and the like reason but not intelligence, meaning by reason something midway between opinion (C + D) and intelligence (A).’ ‘You have understood me very well,’ I said. ‘So please take it that there are, corresponding to the four sections of the line, these four states of mind; to the top section intelligence, to the second reason, to the third belief, and to the last illusion.16 And you may arrange them in a scale, and assume that they have degrees of clarity corresponding to the degree of truth possessed by their subject-matter.’ ‘I understand,’ he replied, ‘and agree with your proposed arrangement.’ EXPLANATORY NOTES 1. The form of the good and the sun. 2. The Greek words for ‘visible’ and for ‘physical universe’ (or more literally ‘heaven’) bear some resemblance to each other, and it has been suggested that there was some connection between them. 3. Eidos: a good example of Plato’s non-technical use of the term, to mean ‘kind’, ‘sort’, ‘type’ (as also at 511a, ‘type of thing’). The technical (theory of ‘forms’) use is a natural sequel because things of a particular kind have a particular form. 4. See diagram. 5. Lit: true. 6. Greek hypothesis, of which the English ‘hypothesis’ is a transliteration. But the English word means ‘something that may be true but needs testing’: the Greek word ‘something assumed for the purpose of argument.’ 7. 510b6, omit το ′ 8. Eidos, non-technical again. 9. The translation is intended to bring out the strong visual metaphor. More literally, ‘seeking to see those very things that one cannot see except with the reason’. The word translated ‘reason’ (dianoia) will be appropriated later in the passage as a quasi-technical term to designate the mathematical reasoning of sub-section B. ‘As images’: as we might say ‘as illustrations’. 10. Techne see note [12]. ¯: 11. Episte ¯. ¯me THE DIVIDED LINE 7 12. Lit: ‘the so-called technai’. The wide range of meaning of techne was noted ¯ on p. 15 [of this source text]. Here the reference is to sub-section B of the line, and techne has already (note [9]) been used in the phrase ‘geometry and ¯ kindred technai’, which describes its contents. Plato certainly does not mean the arts or practical skills, and Adam’s ‘mathematical sciences’ gets the reference right. 13. Dianoia. 14. A strongly visual word—‘gazing at’. So also the word translated ‘studied’ has a basic meaning ‘looked at’, ‘contemplated’. 15. Plato uses ‘intelligible’ to describe the whole section A + B, which is the ‘intelligible order’ or ‘region’. But here he seems to be referring to subsection A only and to be indicating the deficiency of sub-section B, which is none the less dealing with material which if rightly handled is ‘intelligible’ in the full (A) sense. The meaning of the phrase is, however, uncertain. It reads literally ‘it is intelligible (noe ¯ton) with (with the aid of? in conjunction with?) a (first) principle’ or ‘and has a first principle’. The interpretation here suggested gives a particular meaning to this more general wording. It is worth adding that, at 511a and 511e, Plato emphasizes degrees of clarity, linked at 511e with truth; and that his four ‘states’ or ‘habits’ of mind are said to entail different degrees of clarity and truthfulness and apprehension, which need not correspond to a difference of object. Both shadow and object throwing it are in a sense physical things; it is our fault if we confuse them. If we speak of shadow and reflection as less true or genuine than their original this is really a comment on our own tendency to misapprehend them. Similarly, here, the mathematician has, compared to the philosopher, a defective apprehension of the same realities (the forms). 16. The words used for ‘belief’ and ‘illusion’ do not (with the possible exception of a use of pistis in Book x [of this source text]) occur elsewhere in Plato in the sense in which they are used here. Pistis, ‘belief’, conveys overtones of assurance and trustworthiness: ‘commonsense assurance (Cross and Woozley, p. 226). Eikasia, ‘illusion’, is a rare word whose few occurrences elsewhere in Greek literature give us little guidance. It can mean ‘conjecture’, ‘guesswork’, and some prefer so to translate it here. But ‘illusion’ is perhaps more appropriate for a ‘state of mind’. ...
View Full Document

This note was uploaded on 11/17/2010 for the course PHL 301 taught by Professor Bonevac during the Spring '08 term at University of Texas at Austin.

Ask a homework question - tutors are online