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The ancient Greeks were emphatic that philosophy was not just
an elaborate abstract exercise.
It was, they felt, a deeply useful skill
that should be learned and practiced by all,
in order to help us to live and die well.
No one believed this more than Plato.
Who was passionate in his defense of philosophy
as a kind of therapy for the soul.
One of the most forceful stories he told on behalf of the utility of philosophy
Was what has become known as "The Allegory of the Cave".
It is perhaps the most famous allegory in philosophy.
This was a story that was intended, as he wrote,
to compare "[t]he effect of education and the lack of it on our nature."
At the start of Book 7 of his masterpiece, "The Republic",
Plato tells us about some people living imprisoned in a cave
They've always lived there and don't know anything of the outside world.
There is no natural light in this cave, the walls are damp and dark
All the inhabitants can see comes from the shadows of things thrown up on the wall by a light of a fire
The cave dwellers get fascinated by these reflections of animals, plants and people
Moreover, they assume that these shadows are real and that if you pay a lot of attention to them
you'll understand and succeed in life
And they don't, of course, realize that they are looking at mere phantoms
They chat about shadowy things enthusiastically
and take great pride in their sophistication and wisdom
Then one day, quite by chance, someone discovers a way out of the cave
out into the open air
At first, it's simply overwhelming. He is dazzled by the brilliant sunshine
In which everything is, for the first time, properly illuminated
Gradually his eyes adjust and he encounters the true forms
of all those things which he had formerly know only as shadows
He sees actual flowers, the colors of birds, the nuances in the bark of trees
He observes stars and grasps the vastness and sublime nature of the universe
As Plato puts it in solemn terms:
Out of compassion, this newly enlightened man
decides to leave the sunlit upper world and makes his way back into the cave
to try to help out his companions who are still mired in confusion and error
Because he's become used to the bright upper world, he can hardly see anything underground
He stumbles along the damp wet corridors and gets confused
He seems to the others totally unimpressive
When he in turn is unimpressed by them and insists on explaining what the sun is
or what a real tree is like
The cave dwellers get sarcastic, then very angry and eventually plot to kill him
The story of the cave is an allegory of the life of all enlightened people
The cave dwellers are humans before philosophy
The sun is the light of reason
The alienation of the returned philosopher is what all truth tellers can expect
when they take their knowledge back to people who have not devoted themselves to thinking
For Plato, we are all for much of our lives in shadow
Many of the things we get excited about, like fame, the perfect partner, a high status job
are infinetly less real than we suppose
they are for the most part phantoms projected by our culture onto the walls of our fragile and flawed minds
but because everyone around us is insisting that they are genuine
we are taken in from a young age
It's not our fault individually
No one chooses to be in the cave
That's just where we happen to begin
We're all starting from a very difficult place
If, like the man in Plato's story, you bluntly tell people they're wrong
You get nowhere, you cause deep offense and may endanger your own life
Athens had, after all, recently put Socrates, Plato's friend, to death
Plato knew from close experience just what the cave dwellers might do to those who claim to know the sun
The solution, Plato says, is a process of widespread carefully administered philosophical education
By which he understood the method of inquiry pioneered by Socrates and known to us as the "Socratic Method"
It's a very gentle process. You don't lecture or harang or force someone to read a particular book
You just start with a general declaration of intellectual modesty no one knows very much
It's always good to insist: "wisdom starts with owning up to ignorance"
Confess that you don't know exactly what the government should do, what wars meant to achieve or how good relationships work
You then get the other person to say what they think and gradually together you investigate the answers
Most likely the other person will be confident or rather painfully overconfident
They may tell you it's all quite simple really and everyone knows the answer already
You must be supremely patient with this kind of bravado
If they go off topic, you must cheerfully double back
You must take a lot of time and be ready to have chats over many days
This method of talking is founded on a lovely confidence that with the right encouragement
people can eventually work out things for themselves and detect errors in their own reasoning
If you carefully and quietly draw their attention to tricky points
and don't cast blame or ever get annoyed
You'll never teach anyone anything by making them feel stupid
Even if they are,
at first
We have all started in that cave
but it is Plato's deepest insight that we don't have to stay there
And the road out is called, quite simply, philosophy
This is the sun whose light we can follow and by whose rays
the proper nature of things can become clear
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world literature, philosophy, cinema, history and more
All delivered with a playful beguiling sense of humor
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Based around shared values about making education compelling
We'd love you to befriend us both in turn.


【The School of Life】柏拉圖的山洞預言 (PLATO ON: The Allegory of the Cave)

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VoiceTube 發佈於 2016 年 6 月 28 日
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