On Forms and Ideas and How Your Art Sucks: Plato’s The Republic Book X

The Art Institute of Chicago’s real life recreation of Van Gogh’s painting of his bedroom in Arles, France.

The blog prompt we are exploring today has to do with Plato’s expressions of forms and ideas. The gist of this expression is that forms reveal ideas and in turn ideas create reality. Plato also expressed that only forms are the creation of the divine and cannot be created by a person, however a person – lets call them the artificer – can draw on the divine essence of the form by way of the idea. The artificer then can materialize the idea into reality as we humans can sense it.

To demonstrate this transcending mode of becoming from the divine form to reality Plato uses the examples of beds and tables. Plato said “there are beds and tables in the world” and then he said that “there are only two ideas or forms of them –one the idea of a bed, the other of a table.” With this latter proposition, Plato is differentiating a physical object – in our case a table or bed – from the idea or form of the physical object. What? Insert mental constipation here.

What Plato is trying to demonstrate is material reality is based in “accordance with the idea”. The idea is based on form, which is absolute truth – which is also of the Divine or godly. Also, this is a one-way street as Plato goes on to state: “no artificer makes the ideas themselves: how could he?” Because the artificer is of a material reality, the artificer can never come up with the idea only the because the Divine can do so. The artificer can only demonstrate the idea’s mode of bringing a thing into material reality and since the artificer is following the Divine form’s idea, he or she is partially, in a transcendental way, responsible for bringing truth to reality. The bed or table appearance is true because of this artificer.

However, there is one type of person whom Plato thinks is full of shenanigans and baseless ungodly imitation: the Artist. Hater’s gonna hate. The Artist only demonstrates untruthful appearances, via imitation, is what Plato states. The aspect of appearance only, be it in a painting or poem for example is so far from true form, or divine, it is in discordance with the idea of form and therefore is untruthful and deceptive. Plato then says because of this presentation of deception by the Artist understanding and knowledge fall short of truth.

In Plato’s opinion the Artist has no idea or complete understanding of the true nature of what they present therefore “he will no more have true opinion than he will have knowledge about the goodness or badness of his imitations”. Plato feared that this presentation the Artist is pushing will rub off on Joe or Jane Public, and not for the better.

So what are we to think about this? Is this a fair assessment of what the Artist presents? I will say no, this is not a fair assessment of what the Artist presents.

Art is an instrumental abstract presence of ideas. Plato says the divine form’s idea, which is absolute truth, can only be followed in accordance by the artificer to create something real. However, Plato never thought about something the artificer most likely would have done possibly before during, during and/or after following the accords of the idea and this is to ponder. The act of pondering an idea is to play with the abstract aspects of the idea itself. The real world is dynamic, not all things go as planned. Lets say the artificer must make a bed and it has to be metal. The artificer taps into the abstracts of the idea and plays with it; will the bed be gold, will it be silver, will it have a headboard or not.

Likewise the Artist, being of the same material reality as the Artificer, has the same access to mental abstracts. Unless the Artist has a debilitating mental condition that prevents him or her from thought the absolute truth’s form-idea will be just as accessible as it is to the Artificer because they are both human beings.

The Artist may not follow through with the bringing forth of a material object form but they do play within the transitional pondering of bringing that object forth into reality. The Artist plays on the interplaying cusp of the abstract and the real but the underlying ‘idea’ is still divine, it does not make the Artists ‘imitation’ any less true. This is the point where we drop the mic. Exit stage left.


Plato’s Allegory Of The Cave: Life’s Sock Puppet Show Versus Reality

Plato’s Allegory of the Cave has been assigned to us, the good students, by our professor to examine and I gladly welcome this like an old friend. This allegory is one of the first bits of philosophical query I experienced so I’m a little biased when I say that I think everyone should examine this allegory at least a few times a year as a catalyst for refocusing one’s own life’s imagery. It’s a step in the direction of the light – of enlightenment – and outline the grades of pains and knowledge a person may acquire during their time of ascension toward expanding their knowledge and consciousness about everything around them and within them.  However, what I think is good for me may not be as much for the next person in the moment. Also this is me speaking from the entrance of the cave into the darkness and a person, who could be ascending looking toward the entrance of the cave and the light like I once did, may hear my voice spouting good pleasantries about the world outside cave but only see my silhouette against the abrasive light of day flooding in from the cave entrance.

So at this point, a person reading this may ask what the jibber-jabber are you talking about? The animated visual below should create fair ground to which I am referring to.

Now that the visual has been seen this is the blog prompt that has been proposed by the Professor:

  • Is there a parallel between the status of the prisoners in Plato’s cave and the spectators in a cinema?

My response is yes. Yes, very much so on a few levels. How so and to which levels am I referring to? Let me try to explain to the best of my abilities and as far as my understanding will allow me at this point in time with respect to the allegory.

When a person becomes a cinema spectator they will, to a certain degree, give themselves away to an understanding. The understanding being that of becoming part of the story, assuming the reality of what lies before them – the projection on the large all consuming screen. In seeking that immersion the story becomes the spectator, and as a group, they start to make decisions according to the objects on the screen before them in pace with the story and objects before them. An exchange of visual and aural information is at an interplay between the spectators and the ‘reality’ before them within the walls of the cinema whether the information is true or not. Just like the prisoners in the cave (except the cinema spectators are free to physically move around whereas the prisoners are not).

There is another layer to this scene too which depends on a social aspect. Again referring to the interplay of aural and visual information between the cinema spectator and the ‘reality’ on screen; it will resonant with the participants within the self contained walls of the cinema and words and phrases will only apply to that enclosed world at that time which the spectator will share, some deeper than others – depending on how culturally close in proximity the people are to the essence of the movie and it’s informational interplay, they will become more involved in that world around them because they can relate better by magnitudes. After the reality within the cinema is over they may or may by magnitudes take their experience with them, changing their world view (regardless of whether the information that was at play with them and the reality within the cinema was true or not – it will give them pause to consider the world around them like the prisoner exposed to the light of day and reality of objects outside of the cave exposed by the light).

Now, lets assume these cinema spectators left the theater, they have taken their experience with them, which may or may not have been presented to them as fictional or non-fictional, that experience will resound within their mind’s eye and may influence their reality about them. Should we pity any one of them who takes this experience to heart more than another because what they saw on the screen was fictional or non-fictional? Should we pity the one who takes this experience to heart more than another because what they saw was only an imitation, and if non-fictional then a lesser experience of the true and real event? Because only so much of the real truths, assuming the truths within the cinema were solid truths, could be conveyed with the small time frame within the imitated reality of the cinema movie itself. Some may say truth is stranger than fiction but what they saw was only a movie. Whereas can we say only reality experience outside of the cinema is the more solidly the truth in essence because the senses are not being fooled by an imitation of reality on a screen? Does anyone have the right to point this out to them by reason?

In regards to these questions, Plato had asked somewhat of the same questions in regards to those being educated, the Educators, the State and War. But in regards to a parallel or parallels between the prisoners of the cave and cinema spectators, I say there are, for the reasons I stated above.

I hope this blog post has somewhat piqued an interest in the Allegory of Cave. Again, I sincerely think this particular allegory is a grand philosophical tool mainly because of the picture it paints and the objects used to express inquiry within the allegory and everyone should read this allegory, especially for newcomers to philosophy.

Asides and Afterthoughts

Loss of Time and Place

This time last week I was being released from the hospital. Prior to that my release I had suffered an acute pulmonary edema which was caused by walking pneumonia. It worst event ever. Had I not been admitted to the hospital in time my respiratory system and pulmonary system would have had a completely shut down, I came damn close though.

I was admitted on a Sunday night, which I barely remember between coughing up blood and gasping fits and falling unconscious, and I woke up on Tuesday evening. When I awoke I thought it was a Monday until the nurse told me what day it was. I spent a couple more days in the hospital then I was released on a Friday to care of my family. Thank goodness for family.

My eyes were in so much pain from coughing and gasping, blood vessels in my eyes burst turning them completely red, I had IV’s in my left and right arm yet when the nurse told me the date a hollow confusion filled my chest. After a bit, I realized that I had lost time and I had a feeling of being out of place. This blank space in my consciousness in regards to that particular missing time is still resounding in my mind. Why it matters to me, to know that experience of what was happening to me during that time, I’m also trying to figure that out too. I mean, during that time I was well taken care of (otherwise I would have likely died or maybe even severely crippled from lack of oxygen or a blood clot). Buy why do I need to know.

What is it about a need to know where one is at in time and place? Is it about being and presence? I thought about if my situation that time had become more complicated and I had expired. I would have never known but then again does one really want to be able to experience one’s own expiration? What would, if any, be the meaning of that?

Actually, now that I think of it, being present and conscious is important to me because (even though I don’t express it enough) doing so lets me know that I’m alive. Not knowing and being aware of where I was in place and time for me is akin to death. And that frightens me, the loss of my self and being.

‘Things’ have definitely changed for me, caused me to take pause and assess how I interact with my surroundings both logically and physically. Also, I feel stupid and guilty for not taking more action to experience this lifetime but it’s not too late. It took an event like this to make me realize this. Also, I want to pour more of myself into Philosophy. Because what is experience for if you can’t express to yourself and other what the experience is you are actually experiencing. Within that maybe we can find the better being within and reach an ultimate good before we expire. I think within Philosophy the tools to express experience are there and I plan to find them and use them.

Philosophy, Uncategorized

W.K. Clifford, The Ethics Of Belief


This week’s blog prompt is to read and assess William Kingdon Clifford’s essay The Ethics of Belief. The essay is about using ‘belief’ as evidence for truth versus thorough investigation to find evidence for truth. To quote W. K. Clifford: “it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.” By that statement, we can see that Clifford was definitely not for using belief alone to present truth as, well, truth!

To support the premise of his statement William Clifford turned to himself, William Clifford, and presented a thought experiment in the form of an allegorical story.

The Story

The story is about a ship owner, not a captain, who had an old ship. The old ship had been around the block a few times and had ‘often needed repairs’. Some people (Clifford never stated if they were friends or not) also told the ship owner that ‘possibly she was not seaworthy.’

The ship owner mulled over having her refitted and overhauled; then he thought about how many times she, the ship, had ‘weathered so many voyages and weathered so many storms that it was idle to suppose she would not come home safely from this trip also.”

He decided to put his ‘trust in Providence’ which would ‘protect’ the ship and it’s passengers. He felt comforted in his belief – then the ship went down with all it’s passengers on board in the middle of the ocean.

Clifford’s Statement

After presenting the story Clifford said that ‘he [the ship owner] was verily guilty of the death of those men.’ Referring to the allegorical men aboard the ship. He went on to say ‘the sincerity of his convictions can in no wise help him, because he had no right to believe on such evidence as was before him.’ Clifford states that evidence should be acquired through the process of investigation and not using belief as a process to an end; to this Clifford said the ship owner must be held accountable for his sole action of belief.

To sum Clifford’s statement informally:

  1. Belief alone does not provide evidence for protection.
  2. Ship owner relies on sole belief to provide evidence for protection, therefore ship goes down.
  3. Ship owner is guilty because investigative action was not taken.

To be honest, in my humble opinion, this seems applicably practical on the surface. Take mathematics for example, one can’t perform most mathematical operations without having your work checked and sometimes re-checked to be sure the end result is true. I also think his statement is somewhat logically true but also unsound. The ship could have gone down because of other circumstances, for example, like forces of nature which can be out of man’s realm of control no matter how well one is prepared.

Clifford then went on with modifying his first allegory with a different outcome for the ship; he made another allegory painting the picture of a group who did not conduct a fair inquiry and again stated ‘they had no right to believe on such evidence as was before them.”

After Affects

Clifford then offered a few causal points (which leans toward a slippery slope fallacy). Namely in that he claims that an individual’s belief is not his own private matter but that of society as a whole. He goes on to basically say that if each individual expresses examination for evidence, instead of placing faith in beliefs, all society will go to hell in a hand basket and evils will occur. To quote Clifford:

“The danger to society is not merely that it should believe the wrong things, though that is great enough; but that it should become credulous, and lose the habit of testing things and inquiring into them; for then it must sink back into savagery.” – W. K. Clifford

My Overall Take

Like I said before, I think Clifford’s logic if valid but not sound. Things cannot be as black and white as they seem, considering what context certain causal events occur that may cause one to lean on belief.

Lastly, for one who was stressing investigating true through honest inquiry Clifford never went into defining what honest inquiry was. He never state how to measure it or what gold standard could be used to define and honest inquiry.