Colloquium 2 Saving the Appearances of Plato’s Cave

Proceedings of the Boston Area Colloquium of Ancient Philosophy 36 (1):31-56 (2021)
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This article considers Plato’s view of philosophy depicted in his cave analogy in light of Arendt’s distinction between Socratic and Platonic philosophy. Arendt argues that philosophy functions, for Socrates, in an immanent world, characterized by examining and considering—in addition to refining opinions through persuasion about—the currency of politics, which thereby closely associates philosophy with politics. On her view, Plato makes philosophy transcend politics—the world of opinion—when Socrates fails to persuade the Athenians. The cave analogy seems to support Arendt’s view that Plato disparages the immanent philosophical project she associates with Socrates. I argue that Plato depicts in the cave analogy particular difficulties in judging the assertion of the one who claims to have left, since, in the cave, that assertion becomes an opinion among opinions because it cannot be evaluated with reference to a transcendent truth by those in the cave. As a result, those in the cave cannot discern whether the one claiming to have left has the knowledge required to rule justly or is a tyrant claiming to have such knowledge in order to secure power. I conclude that Plato depicts the cave and its difficulties to invite the reader to engage in a philosophical project of judging for oneself, rather than accepting the rule of another who claims to know.



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Adriel M. Trott
Wabash College

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