Plato’s Idealism

20 May

With the progression of new ideas through the Presocratics, the Sophists and Socrates, many things were apparent in Plato’s mind as he attempted to answer everyday questions. The previous established philosophies laid the foundation of many questions that later philosophers were relied on to answer. The trial and death of Socrates created ideas and then more questions that only Plato was left to answer as Socrates was put to death. Plato taught (he would prefer the word facilitated or directed) his students to live harmoniously and wisely. His ideas and philosophies answered questions created by Heraclitus, Parmenides, Protagoras and Socrates. Plato led many to understand the processes and ideas to live a knowledgeable, wise and harmonious life.

The philosophy of the Sophists was highly questioned as Plato came up with answers. Presocratic and Sophistic ideas were disproved as Plato revealed his ideas of epistemology and metaphysics. Plato’s ideas of what knowledge and opinion were answered the many questions. Melchert uses an example describing the belief of a blind person and one who could see. The blind person believed (had an opinion) that she should turn a certain way just because that was her opinion. The person who had sight believed that he should not because he would fall off the cliff. He did not turn that way because he knew the outcome (knowledge). The blind person’s opinion is not knowledge but the result of that person’s perception. Plato stated the difference between opinion and knowledge. He laid out the spectrum of knowledge, opinion and invincible ignorance.  Plato defined knowledge to be what teachers teach or facilitate or direct their pupils toward.  Specifically, knowledge is the result of instruction. Instructing material to minds that have the capacity is what gives one knowledge. Plato explains the basis of knowledge as reason. The facts behind knowledge can always be explained by reason. Knowledge also never stops being true. Knowledge is not in flux like opinions can be. Knowledge, being ‘what is’ cannot become ‘what is not’. Along with always being true, knowledge is explained by Melchert as always enduring. Knowledge always remains once established. The other side of the spectrum being invincible ignorance is just the opposite of knowledge. It can be described as Parmenides’ definition of ‘what is not’. If there is nothing there, one cannot learn it or know it so the lack of knowledge is invincible. Plato’s midway between knowledge and invincible ignorance is opinion.  As stated by the Sophistic rhetoricians, opinion can be swayed towards any side of any issue. Plato states that opinion is the result of persuasion. Rhetoricians persuaded people to have different opinions. Different from knowledge where it is the result of instruction, persuasion can cause any opinion to arise. Plato also defines opinion as possibly being true or false. Everyone has their own opinion swayed by other influences or enculturation and opinion is only classified as fact upon the individual. Rhetoricians’ jobs were to change opinions so clearly opinion is changeable unlike knowledge is. Plato lastly defines opinion as not being backed by reason. Those keeping their opinions may feel that they have reason behind what they believe as does Melchert’s example of the blind woman does for walking off of a cliff. Plato would obviously state that there is no reason behind walking off a cliff to one’s death.

Another interesting thing about knowledge was when Socrates was teaching the slave boy and he drew the cubes and triangles in the sand. Socrates drew a large cube with four cubes inside it but then a diagonal cube also inside it creating a plethora of triangles. The concept that one of the smaller cubes inside the large cube can be doubled by slicing the cube in half and adding three more triangles of the same size to the sides. This doubles the cube. This leads to Plato’s explanation of objects of knowledge. Melchert explains that when Socrates drew the geometric shapes in the sand and possibly stated the areas of the cubes, he could only have been representing the cubes as the stated areas. Plato creates the idea of the objects of knowledge from the fact that Socrates could not have possibly drawn perfect cubes of perfectly round areas. They might have been close by a certain number of decimal points but he could not have made them perfect geometric shapes of perfect areas. Plato presents the concept of error to show that everything cannot be perfect values but they are all close within a certain range. With this idea Plato presents the idea of forms. Forms are specifically defined as objects of knowledge. The not perfectly round numbered geometric shape is described as the form of whatever shape it is. It is the Form of for example a 7cm area square. A square Socrates drew in the sand might not perfectly have a 7 cm area but it represents a 7cm area square. A form of one thing includes everything that is similar or equal to what the form is classified as.  Forms are not perceived by the sense. Today one might define a form as a generality. Lots of things within a form may be slightly different due to a possible margin of error by measurement (not that all forms are measured as a square would be). In the beginning of Plato’s philosophy, he answers some questions asked after the Presocratics and Sophists. Protagoras’ ideas of relativism and skepticism state that humans do not know enough to understand what goes on beyond earth and that we do not have sufficient knowledge. Plato disproves the Sophist idea that the senses mean nothing. Plato stated that senses are the way we see reality. Only knowledge is what lacks use of senses. Skepticism is disproved by our knowledge about other worlds. Relativism is no longer necessary to explain things because our knowledge replaces this ignorance. Some would be happy that Plato disproved the ignorance established by the Sophists in skepticism and relativism. Skepticism and relativism are only excuses. Plato’s explanation of opinion through senses and his explanation of knowledge through forms is what allowed Plato’s elaboration on the spectrum of knowledge and opinion.

Plato’s idea of forms allowed him create another spectrum of knowledge. The ideas of relativism and skepticism are explained to not be correct when Plato presented his Divided Line. The inability of humans to physically show everything that they explain creates the need for forms. Forms make up all of the spectrum created by the Divided Line. First, the Divided Line is explained as A, B, C and D. Each letter representation has a certain amount of space unequal to the other. Plato does this because each form that each letter represents may be bigger than the one next to it so he decided to make the areas for each letter different sizes. A and B together make one form called the visible. Plato explains that everything the senses perceive may not always be reality or knowledge. Humans accidentally see things that are not real. Plato does not totally discount the senses but he does state that everything the senses perceive has to be clarified further to be classified in C and D. The visible form includes A and B and the visible is divided that way. A is classified as the form of likenesses as Plato explains. A likeness is defined in most cases as a resemblance, sight or picture. A likeness seen by a human could either be an actual picture, entity or a hallucination. Due to the possibility that the human mind at any time could produce a sight or likeness without something real actually being seen, he explains a likeness to be at the bottom of the spectrum of knowledge. Imagination is how Plato describes a likeness.  Hallucinations are in no way a contribution to the explanation of any question. In the B side of the visible form, Plato uses ‘things’. All of the things that make up the visible world are what causes people to have questions and causes philosophers to have to explain them. Plato states that this part of the visible form is what causes opinion. Everyone has one and they all change on a daily basis so they stay in the visible form and stay on the bottom part of the Divided Line or the spectrum of knowledge.

The C and D spot is the higher level of thinking that gives some explanation that the visible form cannot give. Plato describes C and D as the intelligible form. This higher part of the spectrum has less changes involved and answers the questions from the visible form. Again the intelligible form is divided into two parts. C is described by Plato as the lower forms. Lower forms are described by Plato as science. In science, many things are discovered and much more progress is made as some questions are answered but the things that science has difficulty answering are ‘taken for granted’ as Melchert explains. The science is the lower form because of these things taken for granted that are not explained such as the origin of the earth.  The D side of the intelligible form solves the questions created by the things that science ‘takes for granted’. The higher form is described by Plato as the dialectic. The higher form in the intelligible form includes dialectic and the Form of the Good. Plato created the Divided Line to clear up everything that causes everyone to worry and question everything. At the end of the line, dialectic allows everyone to not worry anymore because their questions and worries have been solved. Dialectic solves everyone’s questions because it allows explanation of a Starting Point. With dialectic, people can have knowledge. Plato explains another form that allows dialectic to exist and allow people to have knowledge and not worry about unanswered questions. The Form of the Good is described as being at the very end of the intelligible form and being the most intelligent. The Form of the Good is described as what allows certain phenomena to occur to cause questions along with having the answer by presenting dialectic to answer the questions and allow knowledge. Melchert describes the Form of the Good to include knowledge and dialectic because knowledge and dialectic are good and yield a better society. Dialectic is a great thing for anyone to be exposed to so it must be a part of the Form of the Good. The Starting Point along with the ability to explain most of everything only gives good things. If everyone does not strife because they do not know certain things, they will rest because they have knowledge. Plato says that this result must be from the Form of the Good. The Form of the Good is basically what creates the phenomenon that goes along with the Divided Line. The Form of the Good creates the visible form creating questions and it creates the answers to the visible form that it exposes. The reality increases as you go to the right on the Divided Line. Going to the left creates the things that cause question and going to the right creates the answers. Being a very complicated subject, once understood most would agree with what Plato was saying once paired with their own opinions and ideas but really pairing Plato’s Divided Line with one’s own opinions and ideas brings you back to the visible form.

The Divided Line can be explained by Plato’s Analogy of the Cave. The Cave is presented as an example of what occurs as one with capacity to gain information, gains knowledge and moves right across the Divided Line. The people in the cave only able to stay in that lower area had no idea about anything around them or what was outside the cave. All they saw were the shadows of what was going on above them. This was only likenesses that they were able to see. They may have thought that the shadows they saw were real but really the shadows were only visibilities dependent on another being. Once released and were able to ascend the cave, they saw the fire and the people along with the pathway to the top. These are not just likenesses but things that the oblivious people knew nothing about and were able to make opinions and assumptions. Once being able to ascend the pathway to the top, lower forms can be explained. They knew nothing about what was ahead of them but ‘assumed’ that something fathomable was there. Once outside the cave, they would have to take a few minutes to take in all that was before them and to take some time to understand it. This last stage can be described as dialectic because all of their questions about everything were slowly but surely answered. This is the preferred model that students were to take to gain knowledge towards dialectic. Along with this, Plato had other ideas regarding things other than knowledge.

Melchert somewhat explains Plato’s ideas of love with Socrates’ conversations with Diotima.  To Socrates and to Plato, love is a part of another spectrum. The spectrum begins with ugliness and ends with beauty. Love is in the middle just as opinion is between knowledge and ignorance. Love exists because it wants beauty. People have love because they desire beauty. Love is a type of desire that people have. Love would not exist if it had total beauty. One could also argue that beauty is a part of the Form of the Good which is another reason why love chases beauty. It is also stated that immortality includes beauty and that is another reason why love exists. This love that exists because of desire can exist for one individual or even for a whole culture or society. Plato’s Ladder of Love is his representation of how full beauty is reached. On the ladder, beauty begins on the outside (the beautiful body). The next step up the ladder is having all beautiful bodies within a population. After this step it is realized that a beautiful body is not all of what matters to full beauty. The next step is having beauty on the inside (beautiful souls). The next step is beauty within a structural society (beauty of laws and institutions). The next step up the ladder is when beauty and knowledge come together in beauty of knowledge. The next step up the ladder is the Form of Beauty or Beauty Itself. The form of beauty existing upon a population includes a wide range of beauty so obviously the Form of Beauty existing in a population is a large achievement.

Not only is beauty and knowledge important to live harmonious lives among a population but the soul must take part upon individuals. Plato uses the Myth of the Charioteer to explain the way the soul works. A chariot includes horses and a man that pushes and guides the horses. The man guiding the horses represents the guide for the soul. The two horses include desire and spirit. The desire horse is black and crooked because of the desire. If all of us lived just by desire we would not have any friends and possibly be in prison. The other horse is white and straight. This horse prevents our desires from taking over and this horse in our soul probably prevents most people from acting on desire and ending up in terrible situations. The guide prevents either horse from acting totally on what each wants. Without the guide, the soul might be anarchy. Plato also describes the soul as being the self mover unlike the body. The soul can move form world to world while the body itself cannot. He describes the body as being a sort of prison of the soul and the soul being released at death. The soul is immortal by itself. Along with the structural Myth of the Charioteer, the spirit horse takes a big part in satisfying the soul. One might believe that one should act upon what is best for the individual but Plato says that one should act morally to satisfy one’s soul even if it does not directly satisfy one’s desires or wants. Today one might think of the two horses as being the white angel and the devil on your shoulders as they show in the movies debating on what to do. The only difference from this is the guide that prevents total fighting and anarchy between the two sides. Plato seems to state that the white straight horse wins most of the time in order to satisfy what the soul really wants. Everyone feels two sides to every decision and issue. People would agree with Plato’s Myth of the Charioteer. Most would appreciate this different look on what the soul really consists of.

The idea of the intelligible form might release everyone’s reliance on science to explain everything. The Christians (extremely large population) having an opinion might take them back to the visible form when really it could be a version of dialectic and the Form of the Good. Lots of people believe this version of dialectic. The agnostics and atheists rely on science to explain everything including the Starting Point when really Plato says that science is too much of a Lower Form and takes too many things for granted to understand a possible Starting Point. Christians would agree with the Divided Line because Christians believe that science has little ability to explain the Starting Point and for them, the religion is their dialectic. Plato’s Divided Line would only enforce the beliefs of Christians and it would not take Christians back to the visible form. Christians would have very little objection to Plato’s ideas. The Form of the Good would also enforce the beliefs of Christians. To them, God gives the dialectic regardless of how imaginational or opinionated it may sound.


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