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Saturday, May 4, 2019

Allan Bloom on Plato’s Allegory of the Cave

Plato's Allegory of the Cave by Jan Saenredam (1604)
In his interpretive essay on Plato’s the Republic, Allan Bloom offers an interesting interpretation of the Platonic Allegory of the Cave. Here’s an excerpt:

“After initiating Glaucon into the mysteries of this divine beauty, Socrates turns to an elaboration of the relationship of the philosophic soul to the city. The divided line described the soul's progress from its lowest level of cognition, imagination, to trust, thought, and finally intellection, its highest level. But now Socrates makes clear that this is not a simple movement depending only on talent and effort. There are powerful forces that stand in the way of the philosophic quest. The discovery of that quest has the character of a liberation from bondage. In the most moving of all his many images, Socrates compares our situation to that of prisoners in a cave. We are surrounded by darkness, our only access to ourselves and the world coming from the observation of shadows on the wall. But, although there is darkness, there is also a light in the cave; the pale shadows we possess are made possible by that light. Moreover, a few human beings can emerge from the cave. Our lives are a combination of ugliness and sublime possibility. The Enlightenment, taken literally, believed that the light could be brought into the cave and the shadows dispelled; men, in that view, could live in perfect light. This Socrates denies; the philosopher does not bring light to the cave, he escapes into the light and can lead a few to it; he is a guide, not a torchbearer. The attempt to illuminate the cave is self-defeating: a part of man craves the shadows. The light would be dimmed and distorted; it would not provide real clarity within the cave. And, at the same time, those who have the urge to ascend to the light would be discouraged from the endeavor by the myth, apparently based on reason, that there is no other light to which they can ascend. Thus the only source of liberation and inspiration would disappear from the cave. The Enlightenment teaches that the cave can be transformed; Socrates teaches that it must be transcended and that this transcendence can be accomplished only by a few.” ~ (“Interpretative Essay”; The Republic of Plato by Allan Bloom; Page 402-403)

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