The Essence of Truth Portrayed in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave
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Heidegger notes that Plato’s ontology presents the beginning of “the double meaning of the concept of truth” (2002, p.12). This is evident if one considers that Plato’s ontology is characterized by a dualist conception of reality, which necessitates the separation of material entities from mental entities. Such a conception of reality can be traced to his Theory of Forms, which states that the realm of abstract reality transcends the ordinary world of particular objects. Such a conception of reality is characterized by a metaphysical epistemology wherein the intellect supervenes the senses.
Such a theory of knowledge must be understood in line with Plato’s conception of reality. For Plato, the realm of abstract reality is only accessible to the intellect since the realm of the senses [ordinary world of particular objects] is privy to imperfection. The double conception of truth here lies in the initial “hiddenness” to the “correctness” of truth (Heidegger, 2002, p. 13). This characteristic intertwining of truth as hiddenness to truth as correctness evident in Plato’s epistemology can be best understood in line with Plato’s Allegory of the Cave at the beginning of Book VII of The Republic.
Within the aforementioned section, Plato compares knowledge acquisition to the travel from darkness to light. This is evident if one considers that Plato perceives man [at the initial level of knowledge acquisition] as privy to the deception caused by the images within the world of the senses. Plato states for human beings [within the world of the sense], “the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images” (1984, p.312). He further states that this is evident if one considers that “the world of sight” is “the prisonhouse” that prevents “the ascent of the soul into the intellectual world…the world of knowledge (where) the idea of good is seen… (along with) the immediate source of reason and truth in the intellect” (1984, p. 315-16). He notes that such a discovery enables the individual to “act rationally either in public or private life” (Plato, 1984, p.316). In this sense, the Allegory of the Cave may be understood as presenting Plato’s conception of the discovery of truth. The world of the senses may be understood as presenting an individual with the clues necessary for the discovery of truth in the intellect. Truth, in this sense, may be understood as a concept whose discovery involves the gradual transition from “hiddenness” to “correctness” [in the allegory from darkness to light”].
Heidegger, M (2002). The Essence of Truth: On Plato’s Cave Allegory and Theaetetus. New York: Continuum.
Plato. (1984). The Republic. Trans. W. Rouse. Eds. E. Warmington & P. Rouse. New York: Mentor Books.