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Socrates and Plato - Track 1301

I gave yesterday which was somewhat terse but we found difficult to difficult and at times we take a journey off a little so that you may relax a little and that relaxation can be useful. So I thought we shall read something from Plato which is not so difficult and which having read will give you a further light on what we spoke on yesterday. This is a passage which comes in a book called Republic. Republic as you know is the main book written by Plato in a form of a dialogue and this particular passage begins with a question: What is a philosopher? Yesterday I had told you the difference between the man in the street and a philosopher and I said that even when a man of street uses universals in his thinking, he is not aware of it whereas a philosopher is aware of it, he knows where exactly he is using universals and then he tries to reconcile and bring together universals in a kind of a symphony. Many of you are musicians so you know what is a symphony and these harmonies of universals, there are hundreds of universals like cattiness, horseness, so many universals in the world, chairness, kaleidoscope of the ideal bad and all other are copies of an ideal bad, it is a universal bad as it were. So there are hundreds of universals then combine those universals until you come to a great large synthesis of three greatest universals of Truth, Beauty and Goodness.  And then again you reconcile these three universals and come to the Supreme universal which he calls The Good and then this Good is the Supreme Idea, Supreme Universal and then I told you yesterday Sri Aurobindo’s concept of Real Idea, the Supreme Good, Supreme Universal manifested by ht Reality itself in which the Idea expresses exactly what is in Reality so there is no contradiction between the two, no distortion, it’s a straight ray as it were on Reality without any distortion, no crookedness. Now this whole idea which if you repeat becomes very simple afterwards and we shall repeat several times. And I want to repeat again and again because to be in company of Plato is one of the greatest honours of human life. It is like visiting one of the greatest cities of the world and Plato is one of the greatest cities of the world himself. If you look into his ideas and if each idea is like an object in a city and then the whole city is full of ideas of Plato, so if you sit with Plato in a big city it is a tremendous honour and that is why I choose very often Plato as an illustration of a mind in company with whom you feel yourself elevated and you feel a tremendous joy. So now it is this Plato who has in order to explain his own philosophy he has given a kind of analogy, earlier I have explained to you analogical argument, analogy is a simile, you compare one object with the other and then say just as this object is like this, this object is like this, this object has this quality that object has this quality; then you say since this quality is exists here this quality also should be existing here this is called analogical argument.

Now Plato in order to explain his philosophy he has given an analogy, it is called The Simile of the Den or The Simile of the Cave. If you enter into a cave he says then you find in the cave – pillars. Now to each pillar there is one human being or one slave as it were tied to the pillar and in tied in such a way that the slave can see only on one side, he cannot turn back and see what is behind. He can only see what is in the front, it’s an analogy between a man of perception and man of reason. A man of perception is tied only to his senses and he cannot turn back and see what is behind so he has only perceptions and nothing more. Now if there is a big fire behind the prisoners then they will see what is on the wall. You can imagine supposing there is a fire behind and the prisoners are tied to the pillars, what will they see on the front in the wall? You will only see shadows. So perceptions are always perception of shadows according to Plato, they will not even know themselves, the prisoners will not know. They will only see that there are shadows and nothing more than that. Now suppose one day one prisoner comes out of the imprisonment, somehow he unchains himself, he breaks the knot by which he was tied to the pillar then he looks behind and Lo and behold, he sees the great fire, which he had not imagined ever; there is no comparison between fire and shadows, he had only seen shadows he could not have even imagined there could be something like fire and he could not have imagined that it was because of the fire that shadows are created. So the origin of shadows he could have never imagined and then as he moves out of the cave he finds the huge sun outside in the sky in comparison with this fire is nothing, it’s a huge fire which you call the ball of the sun in the light of which everything is so clear and so wonderful. Similarly if you unchain yourself from the sense perception, look behind with reason and you find the light behind, you find the universals and you go behind the universals and you see the Supreme Universal – the sunlight. And then you feel compassion for those who are imprisoned and you come back and tell everybody: Look! My dear friends this is not all, this is nothing, this is only a kind of a trivial thing that you are seeing, splendid things are behind. So the whole philosophy of Plato is explained in the form of a story. 8.14 So if you know the story quite well, if you know this simile quite well it will be very easy for you to remember Plato’s theory. So let us read now this Simile of the Den page number 129. This is taken from The Republic, of Plato it is a dialogue in which the main speaker is Socrates and the other one who is talking to him and hearing and talking to him is Glaucon, another friend of Socrates, it’s a dialogue between the two, may be there may be many others also at the same time in the dialogue. There is a introduction to this and let us read first a few lines of the introduction.

This is a more graphic presentation tells us about two states of mind called by Plato in another analogy (the Line analogy) Belief and Illusion. We are shown the ascent of the mind from illusion to pure philosophy, and the difficulties which accompany its progress. And the philosopher, when he has achieved the supreme vision, is required to return to the cave and serve his fellows, his very unwillingness to do so being his chief qualification.

As a modern philosopher pointed out, the best way to understand the simile is to replace "the clumsier apparatus" of the cave by cinema, though today television is an even better comparison. It is the moral and intellectual condition of the average man from which Plato starts; and though clearly the ordinary man knows the difference between substance and shadow in the physical world, the simile suggests that his moral and intellectual opinions often bear as little relation to the truth as the average film or television programme does to real life.

This is only an introduction not a very brilliant one but still something, anyway let us go to the main text. In text when it begins the word ‘I’, I want to go on to picture the enlightenment Glaucon that I refers to Socrates, Socrates is speaking to Glaucon. He says “I want to go on to picture the enlightenment or ignorance of  our human condition somewhat as follows.


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