Transcending the Bodys Limitations Mind, Cave and Divided Line

Although a philosopher, the best way to characterize Platos analytical approach in the Allegory of the Cave and the Divided Line is as a medical doctor diagnosing an illness, identifying the causes of that illness, and prescribing a suitable treatment in order to alleviate or otherwise eradicate that illness.  The illness is ignorant state of the human mind when it relies on nothing more than the senses to make judgments about the external environment.  The causes are misperceptions caused by a false belief in images that do not, in fact, constitute actual reality and a lack of proper education through which those false perceptions might be remedies.  The illness and the causes are most clearly illustrated by Plato in the Allegory of the Cave whereas the prescribed treatment is more specifically set forth in the Divided Line dialogue.  This treatment envisions a type of mental therapy in which the higher intellectual capacities of the human mind can be employed in order to be cured of the state of ignorance and to reach a healthy state of understanding and enlightenment.  In order to demonstrate this thesis, that Plato is essentially proposing a solution for a problem in these two dialogues, this paper will examine the nature of human ignorance, its consequences, and how understanding and enlightenment can be obtained by transcending the physical constraints of the bodys reliance of sensory perceptions through intellectual means and intellectual development.

    As an initial matter, Plato defines the problem as one of ignorance or an unenlightened state in the human mind.  He represents this ignorance in the form of the caves darkness.  The prisoners are portrayed as physical beings wholly reliant upon their senses for stimulation and perception.  Thus, they believe that what they can hear or see is an accurate representing of physical things and the world in which they exist.  The reader knows, however, what is unknown to the prisoners.  Specifically, the prisoners are looking at shadows rather than the real objects.  Plato characterizes these shadows as images or representations of reality.  The implication is that human beings, through the physical senses, cannot ever escape this state of ignorance.  Plato is thereby suggesting that distinctions be made between the physical body and the mental abilities of the human mind.  The illness, to be sure, is an inability to grasp or to understand the real world.  This disease, however, is not fatal.  Indeed, Plato states that ignorance can be cured if they are allowed to escape from a dependence on the senses and the consequent shadows.  He does this by having the prisoners leave the cave and walk up to the caves entrance.  Outside, in the sunlight, the prisoners recognize that they have been misled and that their external world was far different than they had ever imagined when trapped in the bowels of the cave.  The Allegory of the Cave, in effect, serves several purposes for Plato in terms of creating an analytical framework for understanding and pursuing knowledge through understanding.  The first purpose is to demonstrate the knowledge transcends sensory perceptions.  There must therefore be higher cognitive powers needed to understand the world accurately.  A dependence on the senses dooms the human being to a constant state of ignorance.  The second purpose is to argue that it is possible for the human mind to identify these false images, to reject them as being misleading, and to find a road to real understanding and verifiable types of knowledge.  These highest truths, also referred to as the forms by Plato, are fixed and permanent laws or facts of the external world.  It is hear, the disease of ignorance having been identified along with its main causes, that it is necessary to examine how the divided line functions as a type of prescribed treatment to lift the human being out of the state of ignorance.

    Plato describes through the divided line a series of different types of intellectual activity.  More particularly, these different types of intellectual activity co-exist along a continuum ranging from ignorance to enlightenment and knowledge.  By educating people about these different steps, not directly but by helping them to progress mentally, the ignorance of the cave can be escaped and human beings can transcend the limits of their physical bodies.  The first type of intellectual state on the divided line is an imagining state.  This state is informed by the senses and perceives images rather than reality.  The caves prisoners were in this state while watching the shadows.  The second type of intellectual state is belief.  This is where ideas become conceptualized and adhered to without subsequent analysis or testing.  Human beings may therefore belief without any evidence or any verifiable reasons.  This type of verification and testing arises in the third mental state.  This third state is a critical thinking process and it is here that ignorance can be most clearly revealed.  Thought is about testing theories in a methodical way and even about creating models for testing purposes.  Mathematics, for instance, can be created and tested as a potential truth in and of itself or in order to test the veracity of other beliefs.  The fourth state is what Plato views as understanding. 
Understanding is a true vision and knowledge about the outside world and the things being viewed or considered.  Plato envisions absolute truths and the human mind is capable of discerning these truths only through higher mental processes.  Gaining this knowledge is not inevitable, as the prisoners in the cave attest, but Plato argues that enlightenment and the escape of ignorance are possible.

    In conclusion, Plato uses the Allegory of the Cave to present the problem of ignorance among human beings and to show how that ignorance is caused.  He then addresses this problem by proposing a solution.  The Divided line is then cleverly used to present the potential of the human mind and how it might be used in a progressively sophisticated manner in order to find the true nature and knowledge of the world.


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