Philosophy – Plato

Hello! My first piece of revision is for Philosophy and I’ll focus on Plato. I hope you enjoy it!


Plato was born into a wealthy and noble family in Athens in around 428 B.C. He was preparing for a career in politics when the trial and eventual execution of his teacher Socrates changed the course of his life. He abandoned his political career and turned to philosophy. Unlike his teacher Socrates, Plato was both a writer and a teacher.

Plato’s most famous teaching is known as the Analogy of the Cave. It can be found in Book VII of Plato’s best-known work, ‘The Republic’. In the analogy, Plato described symbolically the predicament in which mankind finds itself and proposes a way of salvation. The analogy presents most of Plato’s major philosophical assumptions:

  • The belief that the world revealed by our senses is not the real world but only a poor copy of it, and that the real world can only be apprehended intellectually – he is idealistic and rationalistic (let women into his school).
  • The concept that knowledge cannot be transferred from teacher to student, but rather everyone needs to see what is correct individually.
  • His conviction that the universe is ultimately good – the ‘real world’.
  • The conviction that enlightened individuals (philosophers) have an obligation to the rest of society, and that a good society must be one in which the truly wise are the rulers (philosophers).

Plato’s CaveImage result for plato's cave

  • The cave – The physical world of illusions.
  • The prisoners – People who accept things at face value and never ask questions or try to understand. Their lives are meaningless.
  • The shadows – Objects in the physical world which are mere imitations of the Forms.
  • The outside world – The World of Forms, which is reality.
  • The sun – The Form of the Good, which is the source of and illuminates the other Forms.
  • The released prisoner – The philosopher who wants to discover reality.
  • The prisoner’s return – The realisation that life in the physical world is an illusion.

Key Meanings

  • Empirical knowledge (knowledge through senses) is flawed and cannot show us reality. Appearances are deceptive. Although we try to understand what our senses tell us, it is futile. A priori knowledge gained from logical reasoning will lead us to a philosophical understanding of the truth.
  • The best person to lead society is the philosopher. He rejects sensory experiences, is open to reality and can apply his intellect to understanding the real world.
  • The inmates reject the released prisoner, preferring to live in ignorance, and even threaten to kill him.

Plato’s Forms

  • Our world is constantly changing and so cannot be relied upon.
  • The real world is outside the one we live in and it is unchanging and eternal. In this world, there are perfect Forms of the things we know on earth, such as tables, plants, people.
  • The Form is not a shape but is the essence of an object. So all dogs have a degree of ‘dogginess’ that enables us to recognise them from cats.
  • We all recognise concepts such as beauty, truth and justice. This led Plato to claim that there is a Form of these concepts which we have a dim recollection of from our soul’s prior existence in the world of Forms.
  • The soul is eternal and, before it became tied down by a body, it was connected with the real world of Forms. For Plato, education is not about learning new things, but rather recollecting the knowledge which our soul has already experienced.
  • Plato is negative about the body. The body’s need for things (food/water) means that we have no time for philosophy. Plato said that we need to be liberated from our bodies to contemplate things with our souls. This is the journey from the cave.
  • Plato’s argument is absolutist, as it is a fixed truth that applies universally.
  • Because Forms exist beyond our physical world they cannot be proved empirically.

The Form of the Good

  • Some Forms are greater than others. Ideal Forms have something in common, which is that they all have the presence of Good in them. Plato said the Good is the most important Form and that it is ‘the Form of the Forms’. It is the ultimate ideal of these ideal Forms.
  • Once you can understand Good, it will enable you to understand other Forms such as Justice and Beauty, because they are all aspects of goodness. The Good illuminates everything else.
  • Knowledge of the Good is the highest knowledge a human is capable of.
  • Forms are perfect – their perfection or goodness is something that they share.
  • The Sun in the Analogy of the Cave gives light to the real world, so the Form of the Good illuminates the other forms.
  • It enables owners to ‘see’ the Forms.
  • It is the ultimate end in itself: the aim of everything is goodness.
Strengths Weaknesses
Encourages people to think beyond what they know. Outdated in terms of society.
It helps us to understand why there are imperfections in the world around us. You can’t prove Plato’s ‘real’ world of the Forms actually exist.
Makes people see other people’s point of view. Plato contradicts himself – believes in a dual world but also in logical thinking.
Can make people more appreciative of the nonmaterial things. The fire could be a ‘good’ thing like the sun, which contradicts.
The analogy puts ideas in a way that is easy to understand (good for now and then) –so people who couldn’t read them had pictures which are easy to show things/teach things. It makes all people (the prisoners) out to be ignorant and in denial and says that philosophers are better, so his ideas may be bias.
It was a new concept and still a different one. Very elitist (belief or attitude that some individuals are better due to ancestors or education).
It explains why we all recognise the same central element in something. Says that the physical world is not important but uses a physical world example which contradicts.
  The prisoners would have to eat, meaning they have some idea of 3-D things and taste.
  Goodness is subjective so there is no absolute value of good.
  It is unlikely that everything in existence has an ideal Form. Is there an ideal slug or type of cancer?
  Plato’s argument is no help from making sense of the world we live in.
  Plato rejects the a posteriori, but sensory experience is a valued way of gaining concrete knowledge. Humans have relied on their senses for survival for thousands of years.
  Too many Forms for everything.
  Bad forms like Ugly and Bad.

Plato wasn’t speaking in general terms. He literally meant that the entire visible world was an illusion and that the World of Forms was the only true reality we should seek. Plato paints a gloomy reality in the cave. Remember that the cave is meant to represent the physical world.

Plato appears to underestimate the physical world around us. It is far more beautiful than Plato makes out.

Plato believed that all matter was inherently evil as it was subject to change – he will argue that you are being duped by the physical realm and that you should change yourself to understand the spiritual realm.

Buddhism agrees with Plato that the physical world is in a constant state of change. The true reality exists beyond the physical realm.

Plato’s analogy tries to explain that there is a spiritual/metaphysical realm beyond the physical (cave = physical realm; outside = World of Forms). However, there is an obvious problem with his analogy – Plato fails to make the distinction between the visible world and the World of Forms because his analogy contains physical objects.

So there you go! If you copy and paste this into a word document, this is exactly how I revised it and I got a B for AS level (although I’ve never got anything other than a D in essays for anything…). Either way, I hope you enjoy! Comment anything I have missed or any discussion points you come up with, and reference my first post for info on the spec. Hope this helped! Next for Philosophy will be Aristotle!

Image result for funny plato


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