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Explain Plato's use of the metaphor of the shadows in his analogy of the cave.

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Introduction

Elena Solaro 12e 1) Explain Plato's use of the metaphor of the shadows in his analogy of the cave The works of Plato had such a profound effect on the world of philosophical thought and debate, that he is often referred to as 'the father of philosophy'. Born in Athens around 428 BC, Plato was the student of another great thinker, Socrates. He had a keen interest in mathematics and physics, considering them to be the key to understanding the universe. Plato also appreciated the logical reasoning and reliable certainties of these subjects, and on the basis of these principles he began to doubt and challenge what our senses perceive as reality. From his observations, he deduced one of his major concepts: the Theory of Forms, or Ideas. Plato said that questions such as 'what is beauty?' or 'what is honesty?' cannot be properly answered, as human language cannot properly define them. Concepts such as these are abstract, in that, we cannot see or feel 'beauty' or 'honesty'; we cannot hold them in our hands. All that we can do is point to examples of these concepts, such as beautiful flowers, or honest people. However, we will each have a different opinion on what is beautiful. What one person considers beautiful, another may consider repulsive. ...read more.

Middle

The philosopher discovers the truth, yet his friends will not accept his incredible ideas, because our world does indeed seem real, and it is far simpler to believe our senses. The sun represents the Form of the Good from which all the other Forms receive their perfection and very existence, much in the same way that everything in our world ultimately owes its existence to the sun. In conclusion, Plato came up with his analogy to explain his ideas, which he did by using each part of the story to represent part of his theory. As I have mentioned, the shadows are symbolic of the objects we take as real in our world. However, by making these objects shadows, Plato illustrates his belief that they are not real. They are just imperfect silhouettes or outlines of something greater and more perfect, which we cannot see: they are reflections of the Forms. 2) On what grounds might Plato's understanding of human reasoning be criticised? As with every philosophical theory, Plato's Theory of Forms can be questioned and disputed, because there is no evidence to prove its verity. Plato acknowledged the criticisms of his contemporaries, yet he refused to accept or even consider them, remaining steadfast in his conviction that he had discovered the ultimate truth about human reality and existence. ...read more.

Conclusion

There is no real evidence to support Plato's heavenly realm, we cannot see it or feel it, so how can it be real? The realm of the Forms seems to be a fairly hazy concept to the average person, as well as quite a difficult one to interpret, particularly as Plato's dialogues do not go into much detail about it. A man called William of Ockham devised a theory, which stated that if we are presented with two explanations of the same phenomenon, both equally supported by evidence, we will almost certainly choose to believe the simplest one. It stands to reason that we would rather trust our senses, which we can actually feel, than an unnatural realm of Forms, which seems incomprehensible to us, as we will never be able to experience it. To conclude, there have been many criticisms of Plato's theory of Forms over the years. Each claims that they can disprove Plato's ideas, which were certainly not one hundred percent foolproof or infallible in the first instance. Much of Plato's theory is unclear, for example, if it is found outside of our time and space, then where exactly is the realm of the forms? What does it look like, and more importantly, what do the Forms really look like? Considering this, it is hardly surprising that Plato's ideas have been hotly contested and criticised by his contemporaries as well as the philosophers who have studies his works over the centuries. ...read more.

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