Plato and Descartes
Plato and Descartes are the most influential philosophers due to their knowledge in systematic doubt, and cave’s allegory concepts in philosophy which are very widely known in this field. Plato faced resistance from the Sophist philosopher’s growing influence in his writing of the cave allegory who had put priority in rhetoric and semantics over truth. Descartes introduced radical skepticism to the field of philosophy which was challenging to the traditional scholarly work in philosophy that had dominated philosophy over the years. Although differences in ages and space separated the pieces of writings, they shared many similarities amongst them. This paper aims to try to analyze and compare the writings of Plato and Descartes by explaining Descartes’s systematic doubt and Plato’s Allegory of the cave then finally scrutinizing their work’s similiarities.
There is a similarity between Plato ideas about the prisoner who was released from the prison in his allegory of the cave and this has the similarity with what Descartes believe. When the prisoner is released from the prison after undergoing a lot of pain and when he begins to see that what he dad cast in the cave about the shadows was not the reality of life. After his release, there is the freedom that has been brought upon him which is the new reality of life and he accepts it. Therefore the prisoner adapts to the new environment and thus starts a new beginning. This is similar to what Descartes believes in because, upon the release of the prisoner, he has to start from the beginning. All that the prisoner believed to be true is taken away from him, and this is following Descartes beliefs in Cogito.
Secondly, the similarity between Plato ideas and Descartes ideas is the illusion argument. Those beliefs that human beings are unable to abandon or leave them behind are the beliefs that they grasp with their senses. Descartes through his mediation states that everything that he has taken as the most truth either was as a result of the senses or through the senses. This is very common with Plato’s allegory of the cave whereas everything appears on the walls of the cave is taken to be the reality by those prisoners. It can be argued that it is the Descartes ideas of doubt that led those prisoners to doubt the existence of what appeared on the wall but their senses are the key that unlocked the reality in them. Furthermore, both Plato and Descartes ideas in the systematic doubt and cave’s allegory present a condition where the philosophers have to abandon everything that they have experienced in their past life. The journey to knowledge and create greater understanding of existence in cave’s allegory of Plato. This is also true for Descartes’ systematic doubt of external realities, and neither is without difficulty.
Descartes firstly through his meditation has an introduction of Radical doubt concept that places intuition and appearance of things in the senses. Through radical doubt, Descartes casts doubt in all of his beliefs and states that it is slightly questioned then the idea must be dealt with. Descartes wants to “reject as absolutely false anything in which I could imagine the least amount of doubt.” (Descartes, 2016). This is what is known as radical skepticism in which all the beliefs have to be challenged. He conceded that physical senses are not to be trusted because the physical senses deceived him before and this experience deems him to doubt any beliefs that were all about the world externally and the knowledge that is being assembled by the common senses of human beings. He furthermore uncovers the demon hypothesis where he thinks the reality which is external is viewed to be an evil demon which seeks to deceive him, and hence he confirms that past memories that are about oneself may be imaginations and not be grounded in any reality of human life. Radical doubt makes Descartes stop believing in the existence of anything at all. When he finally discovers the cogito, the thinking changes that save him from uncertainty which allows him to prove his existence.
In Allegory of the cave by Plato, he introduces us to prisoners who are locked in depths of a cave. Throughout the day the prisoners are situated in front of the cave wall and behind the prisoners is a fire that is used to reflect light shadows on the wall. The prisoners do not know that the puppeteers are the ones that are reflecting the firelight to reflect their shadows on the wall and they mistakenly think that the images on the wall are the real images. But one day a prisoner was released off his chains and given a chance to walk through the cave freely. It confuses him to see the puppets and the fire, and this forces him to accept it as the more explicit version of reality, and then he goes through the cave and spends there a day and a night under the sun and the stars (Duarte, 2012). When he familiarizes with the world around him, and above him, he realizes that the sun is the one that gives light and he realizes the cast’s shadows and his entire life in the cave was entirely an illusion. Therefore Plato suggests that the prisoner should go back to his old friends in the cave and help them due to this intellectual awakening in the prisoner.
Through Plato’s analogy of the cave, it is much more concerned with the human condition that lacks enlightenment. The prisoners in Plato’s analogy of the cave is a representation of the ordinary people that hold false beliefs which to him are shadows, and senses show the reality to the people. The darkness symbolizes the ignorance of the people while the light symbolizes intellect and reason. The outer world that the prisoner discovers is a symbol of true knowledge, and the cave represents the world of appearances and false beliefs in people. Plato’s cave analogy and Descartes’ systematic doubt have much in similar (Pojman, 2007). They are both concerned with the illusory nature of the human senses and the external reality. As for Plato discovers that people place a lot of emphasis on the appearances of things and the senses that are being illustrated by the shadows hence leading them holding on false beliefs that easily misled them. While for Descartes the mind through cogito is the only thing that can never be doubted that finally in his later meditations allows him to prove the existence of the outside world. Furthermore, the cave analogy illustrates how people have possessions that are false, and it shows how you can overcome it through reason and knowledge while Descartes’ systematic doubt is an instruction on how you can discard false beliefs. The prisoner ascending through the cave to the intellectual world is the final point for Plato while for Descartes it is the cogito is what the starting point for his further investigation becomes.
Both Plato and Descartes through their attempts to challenge the existing doctrine that was in their existence in their respective years, they were able to introduce the most influential concepts in Philosophy. It is through Descartes examination of the systematic doubt that he discovers the limitations of physical senses to acquire knowledge which makes him challenge memory, dream and evil demon hypothesis further to understand external reality. Plato, on the other hand, is much more concerned about the appearance of things, how the senses deceive humanity and how human beings live in a state of ignorance due to the lack of mind to reason and acquire knowledge.
Descartes, R. (2016). Descartes’ Meditations. Author’s Republic.
Duarte, E. (2012). Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave”. In Being and Learning (pp. 69-106). SensePublishers, Rotterdam.
Pojman, L. P., ; Fieser, J. (2007). Introduction to philosophy: Classical and contemporary readings.