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November 9th, 2009
Aristotle??™s Opinion on The Allegory of the Cave and the Divided Line Theory
Plato, one of the most famous and well known philosophers in Ancient Greece, made his views of the world very clear in The Republic. Plato believed that forms and the transcendent world are much more real than the natural world. He called this separation the world of Being (forms) and the world of Becoming (natural world). Plato outlined that the world of Becoming is always changing, and that senses cannot be trusted, therefore anything perceived by senses is not necessarily real. It is forms and the world of Being that is real, because they are impermanent. For example, a basketball perceived by the senses is not necessarily real, but the form of roundness is reflected within the basketball and that is unchanging. Another person could perceive the basketball as a soccer ball or a beach ball, so the senses do not always portray the right things. It is the forms of roundness, orange, bouncy, etc. which make the basketball real, not the way it looks, feels, smells, etc. It is these major points that are the key elements of Plato??™s theory, and this theory is reflected in The Allegory of the Cave and the divided line theory. However, another philosopher and a student of Plato named Aristotle disagreed with this theory. Aristotle believed that the forms exist, but that they are a part of every object, and that our senses ultimately tell us what that object is. He was something of an early materialist. Plato??™s theories are most definitely expressed through The Allegory of the Cave and the divided line theory because they are very similar, but Aristotle would have a very different view on this matter.
It is clear that The Allegory of the Cave and the divided line theory reflect many of same principles, one of them being the definite split between the intelligible world and the visible world in the eyes of Plato. In The Allegory of the Cave, the visible world is the cave. Plato meant for this to show that the visible world is much less real than the intelligible world, because the only things in the cave are shadows. What Plato is trying to say is that the shadows are not real objects, but reflections of things. These ???things??? are the real objects being reflected by the light. This is an analogy regarding the forms, because Plato stated that the forms are not part of an object, but reflected in them. This is exactly like an object and its shadow. The object is not part of a shadow, it is just being reflected. Also, the intelligible world is represented by the world beyond the cave in The Allegory of the Cave. When the man who has been released leaves the cave, he sees things that are considered much more real. He becomes aware that the shadows are not things, but only reflections of the many strange objects he comes across in this new world. This means that the objects he sees are more real than the shadows and things he saw in the cave. This is another direct reference to forms. The things he sees outside the cave are all reflected in the cave by shadows, and the shadows cannot exist without these things. This is much like how objects cannot exist without forms, and forms are reflected in our world by objects. This concept of two worlds is also present in the divided line, one half being the visible world and the other being the intelligible world. Section A is the shadows and reflections, and B is the object. This represents things that are much less real (visible world). Section C is ideas and mathematical thought, while section D is the forms. This represents things that are much more real (intelligible world). Plato??™s theory of these two worlds is made perfectly clear through these two explanations.
Another teaching of Plato that is apparent in the divided line and The Allegory of the Cave is the ultimate form of good. In The Allegory of the Cave, the form of good is made clear when the escaped prisoner enters the intelligible realm. The prisoner has now encountered something much more real than his previous life, and he now realizes that everything right and good reflects this form. The Sun represents the form of good in The Allegory of the Cave, because the released prisoner now realizes that the sun is the reason that he can see anything at all. Also, he has come to a state of understanding because he realizes that it is this permanent form of good that allows him to see and allows anything to exist. Plato makes it clear that it is the goal of education is to bring people through each stage on the divided line, and ultimately to the form of good. Once a person has become conscious of this form, it is their duty to help others reach the same consciousness. The Allegory of the Cave is a metaphor depicting just this. At first, the man is stuck in the visible world, seeing only shadows and reflections. He then moves closer to the end of the cave and understands that the shadows were merely reflections of other things, so they were not real at all. Next, the man leaves the cave and realizes that there are objects of greater reality, so he has reached a speculative state of thought and ideas regarding his world. Finally, the man sees the sun, and realizes that without it nothing could exist. That is the main connection between The Allegory of the Cave and the divided line. They are both the journey of a philosopher on the road to a greater understanding, or consciousness of the forms.
In The Allegory of the Cave, the man who escaped cannot think of his previous existence the same way. He knows that the things he sees in the cave are not real, and that there are things of greater reality out there to be explored. This is a direct reference to the mind of a philosopher, as Plato believed. Plato believed that once someone became conscious of the forms and began thinking philosophically that they would continue to do this for the remainder of their lives. Also, it would be their duty to aid others in reaching this same high level of thinking. This is portrayed in The Allegory of the Cave because if the man tried to sit back down and resume his life as it was, he would be blind in the darkness. This means that if one starts thinking philosophically and grasps the form of good, then this will influence how they think and live their lives. The man would never be able to sit there and stare at shadows again, for he had begun to think like a philosopher and had reached a higher level of thinking. This concept is also present in the divided line because once someone has crossed the line into a higher stage, then they cannot go back and live thinking at a lower and less real level.
Although Plato was a very insightful philosopher, there will always be those who disagree. In Plato??™s case, it was Aristotle who opposed his theories on forms and the transcendent world. Aristotle was a student of Plato??™s for over twenty years, and he believed that Plato had everything backwards. Plato was so caught up in his transcendent world and forms that he did not notice the changes in the natural world, as he deemed them ???less real???. However, Aristotle focused on the natural world. Aristotle contradicted Plato the most on his theory of forms. He believed that forms existed, but that they were imminent and existed within things. Aristotle also stressed the difference between form and matter. He believed that forms were in things, but its physical properties that ultimately decided what it was. For example, Aristotle would believe that the form of a chair was present, but that the matter and physical materials making up the chair defined its being. So, unlike Plato, Aristotle relied on his senses. Aristotle would indeed criticize Plato??™s The Allegory of the Cave and the divided line. He would say that the prisoners living in the cave could only possibly be conscious of what their senses tell them. So, they would find life in the cave normal, because that is all their senses have shown them their whole lives. However, when the man escapes the cave, he would be simply discovering new forms and new materials, because that is what his senses would show him. He would not be on a search for some divine form of good. Also, Aristotle would argue that the ascent out of the cave was a natural change of environment, so the man would have to adapt physically to his new surroundings. Aristotle believed that the world was constantly changing, as it is. Change was the basis of his study, and he was fascinated with change in the material world. This can only be perceived by the senses, which is why Aristotle disagreed with Plato on the fact that senses can be trusted. Also, Aristotle would disagree with the divided line. He would say that there is no such thing as an intelligible world beyond the natural. Even though forms do exist, Aristotle says that they are part of everything, unlike Plato who claimed forms to be merely reflected and perfect. Finally, Aristotle would not characterize physical objects as ???less real???. He would consider them real, because they are made up of forms and matter. Aristotle was most definitely an early materialist, and it was his thinking that led to many other philosophical ideas about the natural world.
The Allegory of the Cave and the divided line are the two greatest interpretations of Plato??™s teachings. They both fully encapsulate the passionate flow of philosophical ideas that Plato addressed, mainly surrounding Plato??™s famous theory on forms. The Allegory of the Cave is the perfect metaphor for showing the journey from plain existence to philosophical consciousness, and the divided line further portrays the steps to this. Although Aristotle disagreed with this theory, it still remains one of the most famous and well respected philosophical ideas to this day.