Plato And The Invisible Realm

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As both ancient and modern philosophers continue to challenge the ideas of everyday thought, attention continues to be brought to the truth and validity of these theories. As Plato and Socrates try to navigate in a world full of uncertainty their thoughts are consistently challenged (just as they challenge others) about the truth that their reasoning holds. With that being said, I do not agree with Plato’s position on the invisible realm, arguing that there is no invisible realm for truths to exist.

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In Meno’s dialogue, Socrates is desperately searching for the true meaning of virtue and hopes that Meno will deliver an adequate answer due to the fact that he has delievered numerous speeches on virtue prior to their interaction. When Socrates enlists Meno’s help to define virtue, Meno replies by saying “it is not hard to tell you, Socrates. First, if you want the virtue of a man…” and continues to provide the virtues of women and children as well (Meno 60). Meno claims that virtue varies from gender to age, stating that a man’s virtue is to “manage public affairs”, a woman’s to “manage the home well, preserve its possessions” and a child’s “is different again, and so is that of an elderly man”. While Meno is providing Socrates with a response to his initial question, the response fails to properly address what virtue is; Meno is giving Socrates examples of virtue rather than defining virtue itself. Socrates continues on by creating an analogy of shapes and colors to help Meno understand how he should try to explain the nature of virtue; a swarm of bees can possess different qualities but they derive from the bee family. Thus, virtue can take a variety of forms, just as Meno was explaining previously, but those forms are all derived from the essence of virtue. By Socrates walking Meno through a series of prompts, he is able to gain a better understanding for the explanation Socrates is looking for.

As Socrates realizes that Meno does not know what virtue is, despite his claimed expertise, he is quite perplexed and feels the need to keep searching for an answer. However, Meno does not understand how Socrates can search for something when he does not know what it is, leading to the paradox concerning knowledge inquiry. Meno offers the point that we either know it or we do not know it, whatever “it” may be in the scenario. But Socrates has “heard wise men and women talk about divine matters” and is confident that the sufficient definition of virtue exists and he is still on the quest to finding it, even though he has yet to discover what it is. Even though Socrates claims that he is wise because he knows nothing, he also makes the argument that the soul is all-knowing and has seen everything, collecting information along the way. In other words, the soul is a recollection of previously learned information and it is the job of the individual to uncover that information and bring it out of the soul, concluding that nothing is learned because it is already known within the soul. Socrates exemplifies this theory by asking Meno a series of geometry questions, allowing him to recover the answers from his soul more easily. Going back to the paradox it appears as if Meno already knew the answers to Socrates’ geometric questions but needed some guidance to approach the correct answer. His solution does appear to be adequate as Socrates was simply guiding Meno’s thoughts in order to achieve the correct answer, not explicitly telling him or necessarily hinting at the answer. Considering the fact that the soul is not a physical property of the body (unlike the brain, heart, organs, etc.) one can conclude that the soul exists in the invisible realm that Plato discusses in Phaedo. The soul is not a tangible object and therefore contains more truth than material objects; earthly matters can be deformed and re-made, losing aspects of its original content and therefore varying the truth. But the extent to the truth we believe depends on the amount of exposer we have regarding life experience.

Plato’s The Allegory of the Cave depicts how education and enlightenment impacts the extent of truth that one beholds. Prisoners are trapped in a cave and cannot see anything aside from the shadows of puppets that are reflected onto the cave wall. After one prisoner is set free, he then learns that there is more to the world than just shadows: real animals instead of projected images, trees, fire, other people, the sun, etc. Similar to the rest of the prisoners, the prisoner to be set free was trapped with his head straight forward leaving no room for movement; at this point the only thing the prisoner can see is the shadows and hear echoes from other cave members. This early stage in the prisoner’s ascent out of the cave reflects the childhood beliefs individuals hold, especially before they become too wise to understand otherwise. When the prisoner is unchained and begins to explore the cave he is then exposed to the puppetier who is controlling the shadows that are reflected onto the wall as well as the firelight that fuels the projections. By gaining a deeper understanding of the “behind the scenes” of the shadow puppets, the prisoner was exemplifying independent thought; as children grow up they begin to think for themselves and grow to understand that their previous beliefs may have been a fabrication of the truth. Children can learn this discovery on their own or through an adult exposing this next layer of truth. Once the prisoner steps out into broad daylight, he realizes that there is a world outside of the cave with natural daylight, not just artificial light fueled by fire. The existence of such naturalities represents the “forms,” or the basis from which varieties spur. In the world outside of the cave, real shadows exist by the sun reflecting an object onto another surface but the shadows the prisoners experience are created by light that is not necessarily natural- yet the prisoners believe that the truth lies in the fire-generated shadows because that is all they are exposed to. The last stage in the prisoner’s ascent is the recognition of the sun, representing the form of the good. Plato defines the form of the good as “the cause of all that is correct and beautiful in anything” as it “controls and provides truth and understanding” (Plato, Republic, 161). The sun is what fuels the earth and provides the natural essentials that humans need in order to survive; without the sun life would be much more difficult and much shorter. Humans reach their upmost understanding of something once they have been exposed to the root of where it stems from or have reached the peak of their knowledge. However, when it comes to human intelligence the forms exist in an invisible realm, just like the soul. The soul turns to the forms in order to access “what is pure, ever existing, immortal and unchanging” (Phaedo 118). By doing so, Plato claims that the truth of all things can be accurately accounted for.

Plato believes that the truths about all things exist in an invisible realm because the invisible realm is concrete and does not change, therefore providing the upmost truth. While material objects can contain aspects of truth, they are not the truth itself because composite figures exist on behalf of the truth. Despite Plato’s theory about the invisible realm, I do not agree with his position on the fact that the truths about all things exist in that invisible realm. Plato defines the invisible realm as “always [remaining] the same” in which everything is in its most vulnerable form. Since the invisible realm contains no material objects and is occupied by conceptual ideas, there is no physical matter that can be reshaped or reimagined in order to define another truth. However, I would argue that truth can be found in a visible realm, in material objects and the world itself. As individuals grow older they begin to base their knowledge on life experience. For instance, if a war soldier were to live in a barrack for days it would be difficult for a bystander to tell the most raw truth on what that experience is like since they have never actually been in such a position; the soldier knows the essence of war-like living conditions and therefore knows the truth. Plato may argue that this is false because experiences vary person to person, not creating a stable foundation for the essence of the truth. If things are constantly changing, contrary to his definition of the invisible realm, then Plato might say that the full truth is not being presented. On the contrary, Socrates was able to assist Meno in solving the geometry problem through asking a series of questions. Even though Plato claims that the soul exists in the invisible realm and that is where Meno’s knowledge came from, the evidence in the solving of the problem is written down and proven through a series of mathematical concepts. These concepts were once documented and recorded, showing that the ideas themselves are not completely conceptual since they can be worked out using numbers, formulas, shapes, etc. The mind does not automatically know the answer to such geometry problems because it first has to seek the proper techniques in order to work through the “truth” and end with a final answer. If the soul truly knew everything in an invisible realm then most concepts and ideas would be recognizable to human knowers, in which they are not always.

Through a series of Plato’s work it is clear that he is confident that an invisible realm of truths exists. While there is no way to prove his argument since the realm is invisible, Plato’s dialogues continue to be published and distributed to expose individuals to his various theories. As I do not believe the invisible realm exists, it is still a recognizable idea that continues to be studied by philosophers.

Sources

  • Plato. Five Dialogues. 2nd ed., Hackett Publishing Company, 2002.
  • Plato. “Book VII.” Republic.
16 December 2021

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