Nevertheless, of course, Plato recorded his thoughts, but not in the form of an oral or written treatise, but in that unique literary form that he himself invented, the philosophical dialogue. Like the Apostles, whose lives were transformed not by reading Old Testament texts, but by meeting in person the very living embodiment of those texts, Plato experienced a radical periagoge , a turning or reorientation of the soul, and a metanoia , a change of mind, by listening to and speaking with Socrates in the Agora.
Republic (Plato) - Wikipedia
Like the writers of the Gospels, Plato wanted to convey to those not privileged to meet this master something of his experience so they too could be transformed. To do this, Plato invented the philosophical dialogue, and he wrote over thirty of them, some of them book length.
It restores the common order of the spirit that has been destroyed through the privatization of rhetoric. Plato wrote his dialogues not just for the purpose of personal periagoge , the conversion of individual Athenians, but for the conversion of the entire Athenian polis, which was radically in need of it, having suffered a tremendous defeat against Sparta in the Peloponnesian War, ending in , after twenty-eight years of fighting and five years before the execution of Socrates by that same defeated Athenian so-called democracy.
The public political culture of the Athens of his day was dominated by a cynical desire for power among the young aristocracy, of whom Plato was an illustrious member, and by a ruling class of politicians and educators, or sophists.
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These, for a large fee, would deign to teach the aspirant politician the secret of political success, namely, the manipulation of the populous through clever, self-serving rhetoric. It was a situation not unlike our day, with expensive education ordered to career success and power instead of the good of the soul and wisdom, and with politics a game of struggle for dominance ordered to the preservation and extension of private freedom or empire, instead of the common good and virtue.
This is what Plato had to say about his beloved polis in his Seventh Letter :. Finally, it became clear to me, with regard to all existing communities, that they were one and all misgoverned. For their laws have got into a state that is almost incurable, except by some extraordinary reform with good luck to support it. And I was forced to say, when praising true philosophy that it is by this that men are enabled to see what justice in public and private life really is. Therefore, I said, there will be no cessation of evils for the sons of men, till either those who are pursuing a right and true philosophy receive sovereign power in the States, or those in power in the States by some dispensation of providence become true philosophers.
In other words, unless philosophers rule, politics fails, and it was for the purpose of making philosophy and the good, not sophistry and might, the ruling religion of the state that Plato set out to write his dialogues. Plato sought to replace the reigning educational curriculum of Athens, an incoherent and unstable synthesis of the older, informal education of music, stories, and gymnastics and the newer, formal education of sophistical rhetoric and a dialectic of cleverness with his own curriculum, combining the best of the old and the new, but arranged in proper order in the light of the highest wisdom.
Socrates had discovered this wisdom and Plato systematized and developed it. Education, or paideia, was to be ordered to the good of the soul, which is nourished on the Good, the True, and the Beautiful. Plato was not alone in desiring educational reform, being part of the fourth-century movement towards a more systematic and rigorous formation of the Greek citizen by the state. But he was way ahead of his time in the moral, intellectual, and spiritual depth he sought in this formation.
Richard Tarnas puts it this way:. This ideal of man was the pattern and model toward which all Greek educators and poets, artists and philosophers always looked. It was this universal ideal, this model of humanity which all individuals were to imitate. As this ideal was to be embodied in the community, and the goal of education was to make each person in the image of the community.
Education, therefore, for Plato is in the service of the soul and the divine. Under Plato, the classical paideia assumed a deeper and metaphysical dimension in his Academy, holding forth the ideal of inner perfection realized through disciplined education. For Plato, what began with an unkempt bricklayer walking around the marketplace bothering people with his incessant questions was to end, through the establishment of his Academy and hopefully schools modeled on it throughout Athens, with a vast educational system producing rulers for Athens who, being brought into intimate soul-contact with the Real, the Good beyond being, would, like an artist gazing upon the beauty in his mind and incarnating it on canvas, incarnate the just political order by gazing on the eternal and immutable Forms and effecting a constitution mirroring its eternal wisdom in this time-bound and mutable world.
For Rousseau, the chains were political ones, to be broken only by the revolutionary institution of his social contract. For Plato, however, and this is the essential meaning of the Cave allegory, they are chains of the soul, only to be broken by an intimate encounter with the Real, culminating in a vision of the Good.
The Real is bright and undeniable as the Sun, but we the unenlightened seemed doomed to mistake the shadows it casts for the Real itself. The teaching of Plato that we discover in the cave allegory is that our true exile is from ourselves, who, though divine and destined for immortality, have somehow forgotten our true identity. And the way to recover our true selves, and thus the true world that is our home, is through the spiritual exercise of philosophy.
But such contemplation must be translated into action, though the contemplators would have it otherwise, and by being formed in an educational system and state ordered by and to the Good, we the exiled in mortal bodies can best prepare ourselves for the liberation of the soul unto the life that never ends. The Cave, then, is not an actual place but a state of mind or consciousness, one in which the soul, our true self, is eclipsed by the false self and the illusory world it mistakes for reality.
It is akin to St. The flesh, for St. John, meant a life intent on the goods of the body at the expense of the soul; the world connoted the desire for prestige above truth; the Devil was, well, the Devil. For Plato, the true evil we face is deception, in whatever form and through whatever agency, through the abuse of language, an evil against which the philosopher must fight incessantly with the sword of dialectic and passionate philosophical inquiry.
In short, the material world we live in is not the cave—the cave is our unenlightened perspective of this material world. If we look with the eyes of the soul, which requires great discipline and ordered desire, we would see, not a dark, suffocating cave full of flickering shadows cast by lying manipulators upon the eyes of slaves, but an infinite and eternal heaven of truth, goodness, and beauty overseen by a mysterious transcendent source whose nature is pure giving. If this sounds like Christian theology, then you are beginning to understand something of the miraculous wisdom of Plato.
But how do we look with the eyes of our soul? Who can show us how to do this? Who can break the chains of us prisoners? And how did the mysterious person described in the allegory who descends into the cave to liberate the prisoners break his own chains? Does Plato give us answers, or even hints? Read Plato and find out, especially his vivid description in Book II of the Republic of the perfectly just man deemed unjust by all and crucified. That Plato had an intimation of the Just Man is indubitable. Finally, turning to the Ladder of Love selection from the Symposium : I am tempted just to quote the passage itself, one of the most profound and beautiful in all literature.
The particular, changeable, and multiple realities that appear to us are —they exist—precisely because they, to a certain extent, are not. I mean that the things of this material world are real, but only as real as shadows, real to the extent that they borrow reality from something else that possess reality in itself, as a reflection, imitation, image, and copy are parasitical, so to speak, on their original hosts. But there are not two realities: the individual material things in this world, on the one hand; the universal forms of which they are the reflections, on the other.
There is only one reality, the reality of the Forms, which appear to us as particular things due to our unenlightened state. The material things we see are just the Forms, though perceive on a lower level of consciousness. To use the Symposium example, it is Beauty itself that appears to us in beautiful things, but we just cannot easily see it. We are exiles from Being only because we do not see what is right in front of us.
But how are we are to escape this myopic exile, and is such escape even possible? These are questions that Plato the pagan, however noble, was not able to answer adequately, for only Divine Revelation can tell us these things. What he did teach the world is that the examined life is worth living, and that such questions are the very life of the soul—and he taught us how to ask them.
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Language in the Cave *
Classifying Plato as a philosopher rather than an artist, perhaps the greatest artist ever, is a kind of injustice given the racket that philosophy became in our time. His dismissal of poetry was a shortcoming, imho. It can be a place of mysticism and wisdom. As long as you have mystery you have health; when you destroy mystery you create morbidity. I think you draw a dichotomy between philosophy and poetry that Plato does not hold, nor does Prof. Plato, and Aristotle after him, criticize poetry not per se, but the false sort that leads listeners to a false anthropology.
This is quite evident in the Republic, especially where Plato laments the common account of poetry that gives false ideas about the gods. In Book II of the Republic, Plato critiques the normative opinion that conceives injustice as most profitable, and something to which even the gods affirm. Poetry, in this light, fosters the opinion that it is more profitable to unjust, or at best, to appear just. The point, however, is not a critique of poetry, but only a poetry that is in opposition to true philosophy and mysticism.
A philosopher, in the true sense, is akin to a real artist, precisely because both point to that which beyond and outside of themselves. This is nothing other than the Good. So the Cave allegory that Prof.
Kozinski so lucidly explicates is an image for human beings, philosophers and artists as well. We need to acutely aware of those who would aim to convince that us that we should stay put in the cave. This is the hope of the sophist, who is neither a philosopher, nor an artist.
So in this way, art and philosophy are meant, as you say from Chesterton, to keep men sane. This requires though that we get out of the Cave. It would seem odd the pot calling the kettle and all. He may not have had a quarrel with poetry informed by a better theology I suspect.