Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Meaning of Truth and Allegory of Cave in Plato's Republic


Plato was the most famous Greek philosopher. He was born in Athens, in a noble family. He was the student of Socrates and the teacher of Aristotle. From Socrates, Plato learned the Socratic or dialectic method, which used logic (the use of reason in thought processes) to achieve clear thinking. Plato says that senses are not enough to have the exact knowledge, only through education one can have the exact knowledge.

Plato, in his book the ‘Republic’, has mentioned the Cave allegory. Allegory means something that uses symbols to explain something which is hidden . Cave allegory is basically the search for the ultimate truth. In cave allegory he has used the Sun as the symbol of the ultimate truth; for it is the Sun that gives existence to all physical reality, and likewise it is the God the ultimate truth who illumines the spiritual world.  The true source is sun, which enables everything to exist. However, in a lower realm of understanding, fire is regarded as the source of existence instead of the sun. Similarly in the allegory vision is the symbol of understanding.

In this allegory people were away from truth and reality, they were living with understanding of shadows. For them actual source of living was fire. One person came out from the cave and passed through the whole journey to discover the truth and he discovered that the sun is the actual source of living. This person after becoming enlightened or educated with the knowledge of the ultimate truth, comes back to the cave to liberate the fellow human beings from darkness.

The purpose of the whole journey from the darkness to light was to enlighten the souls of the people, to come out from dark and to become aware of the truth and reality. Human beings learn through imaginations and shadows but Plato says that, through imaginations one cannot have the exact knowledge. If they learn by looking at the real things, senses are involved in it but  senses are not reliable.

Plato says through ‘definitions’ (Mathematics, physics, science etc), one can have the true knowledge. People are able to reason and judge things. Then there is dialectics, it is the science which overthrows all the previous hypotheis. Dialecticians bring revolutions in mind in a positive way. Contemplation and Vision of God is above dialectics. Prophets are the real dialecticians, because they do not give any reasons for their sayings or laws.

According to Plato, the aim of education is for the growth and development of the individual and welfare of the society. The purpose of education is to train the human being, to know his physical, mental and emotional needs. As human being is a social animal, to fulfill physical needs, they need food, clothing and shelter as these are the basic necessities of life.

Plato talks about cardinal virtues of temperance, courage and wisdom. One should also have the self control over excessive desires to become a perfect human being. Emotional needs are related to feelings and expressions. Moreover, if something is good or bad, one must have the courage to speak the truth. Mental needs are related to knowledge. Education develops these virtues in those who naturally possess such tendencies.

One should have enough knowledge to be able to survive as an effective member of the society. However, education prepares individuals to accept the challenges and to perform their duties well; and education is the only source which brings justice in the society.

According to western people Plato was the first one who introduced curriculum. Plato assigned a Greek education for both military and governing classes, which included two divisions of Greek education, music and gymnastics. Music is for the training of soul and gymnastics for the training of body. Plato says that education should become mandatory for all the children and to develop skills and abilities in them. For example, the future carpenter should learn to measure, the future warrior should learn riding etc.

The curriculum designed for the early training, that occupied first seventeen years of life, was compromised of music and gymnastics. Music included poetry, history, drama and oratory. For gymnastics he included dances, hunting and field exercises. Plato did not mention arts in curriculum because he did not feel the importance of manual arts.

He emphasizes on the study of numbers that is arithmetic, it sharpens the mind. Warriors should have the knowledge of arithmetic to be aware of military tactics. He considered geometry as the second branch of education. Geometry elevates the soul and creates the mind of philosophy. Plato recommended another subject for higher education, that is, astronomy.

It is necessary for military purpose and navigation. For Plato the highest study would reveal the absolute truth. He says that children till the age of six should stay at home with their parents and they should teach values to their children. They should tell them good moral tales to have good and positive impression on their minds and should enrich their souls with these moral values.

The second stage is from seven to seventeen. In this stage, individual’s physical and mental development takes place because youth is the time to study. Third stage is from seventeen to twenty years of age, new era of education will begin and the youth are brought to the ground of battle.

The fourth stage is from twenty to thirty years of age. In this age, individual undergoes through various experiences and then at the age of thirty selection was made was the study of dialect. Individual is mature enough for dialectic studies and is also ready to become a ruler.

When the person reaches to fifty years of age, he is invited to mould the lives of youth as he did for himself in his time. He is invited to resolve the state affairs and then let him return to the end of all things and he shall be honoured with sacrifices.
About the method of teaching, Plato says that when education which becomes burden for child is of no use, it does not have long lasting effect on child’s mind. Education should be a fun for child rather than teaching traditionally. In his Republic, Plato has emphasized that; individual should be given choices to select the field for himself according to his own skills and abilities. In this way education will have a long last effect in individual’s mind and could be traced for centuries.

Therefore, Whiteland criticized that Plato neglected the technical education but on the other hand he also realizes that Plato has maintained the harmony in different subjects. Plato was a great philosopher and educator. His works are the corner-stones in their respective fields.


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