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Simile_of_the_Cave - 1 P L AT O The Simile of the Cave...

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P L AT O The Simile of the Cave 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 oppo- nents helped turn Plato into a critic of democracy and a supporter of aris- tocracy, 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 Syra- cuse, but the young ruler’s sporadic enthusiasm for philosophy did not sur- vive 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 dur- ing the early fourth century B . C . E . The school continued for several cen- turies 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 group- ings: early, middle, and late. Attempts to coordinate these groupings with known events in Plato’s life or with the development of his thought, how- ever, 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 1 “The Simile of the Cave,” from The Republic, by Plato, translated by Desmond Lee, revised second edition, copyright © 1974 by Desmond Lee, 255–264. Reprinted by permis- sion of Penguin Books Ltd.
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provides a standard for rational control of the passions and appetites, lead- ing to happiness. In this famous passage from Book VII, Plato illustrated his metaphysics and epistemology using the famous simile of the Cave, which shows the obstacles philosophers face in their search for truth, and emphasizes the obligation philosophers are under to use their knowledge for the good of the state.
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