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The Cave Revisited

  • J. Malcolm (a1)

In 1962 I offered an analysis of the Line and Cave which (1) maintained that the four main divisions of each are parallel and (2) interpreted the three stages of ascent in the Cave allegory as representing the three stages in Plato's educational programme: music and gymnastic, mathematics and dialectic. At that time a major portion of my task was to counter arguments which purported to show that the Line and Cave could not be parallel. The present situation is quite different since recent writers, for the most part, not only take the four main divisions of the Cave as parallel to those of the Line, but also accept the restriction of the Cave allegory to moral and mathematical education as a crucial step in the establishing of this fact. This last move, which is clearly in harmony with the form and content of the Republic, enables us to allow for the ordinary unenlightened man to be at the bottom level of the Cave without our having to suggest that he confuses the shadows of visual objects with their originals, which could well be the case if the Cave were taken to represent all sense perception as such.

Despite fairly general agreement on these basic points of interpretation there remains, however, a wide divergence of opinion as to the significance of the various levels of education or moral awareness portrayed by the Cave. In keeping with several recent papers on this topic I shall focus my attention on the bottom two stages of this allegory: the state (C1) of the prisoners viewing shadows on the cave wall and that (C2) of the released prisoners, still in the cave, but turned around and looking at the puppets which cast these shadows.

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1 Malcolm, John, ‘The Line and the Cave’, Phronesis 7 (1962), 3845.

2 That is to say they accept the parallelism in principle. I hope to show that, in several cases, they endanger it in practice.

3 Raven, J. E., Plato's Thought in the Making (Cambridge, 1965), p. 171, argues that the Line and Cave cannot be parallel because of this problem.

5 I shall designate the four main divisions of the Cave as C1, C2, C3, C4 and those of the Line as L1, L2, L3, L4. In each case the numbering begins with the lowest division — the prisoners chained viewing the shadows on the wall of the cave and the section of the Line comprising copies (shadows, reflections, etc.) of sense objects.

5 These, in the order in which they are considered, are: Tanner, R. G., ‘Dianoia and Plato's Cave’, CQ N.S. 20 (1970), 8191; Morrison, J. S., ‘Two Unresolved Difficulties in the Line and Cave’, Phronesis 22 (1977), 212–31; Sze, C. P., ‘Eikasia and Pistis in Plato's Cave Allegory’, CQ N.S. 27 (1977), 127138; Wilson, J. R. S., ‘The Contents of the Cave’, Canadian Journal of Philosophy, supp. vol. 2 (1976), 117–27.

6 See footnote 5 for the reference here and similarly in the case of the three subsequent articles to be discussed.

7 See p. 62 below for an exposition of the standard parallelism between Line and Cave.

8 The ‘mathematicals’ are often introduced in L3, to be symbolized at C3.

9 Since I believe I have shown that Morrison's thesis is in serious trouble even if we were to grant him the point here at issue, I shall not go into a lengthy examination of the relevant passage, which would introduce an inappropriate imbalance into this article, but shall content myself with this brief, and perhaps cavalier, intimation that the status of the qualities, or images, is open to question. Morrison, however, cannot regard the matter as unresolved, for the presence of immanent forms here is necessary, though by no means sufficient, for his interpretation which is not strengthened by having to stand on so controversial a base.

A bibliography on this topic is to be found in Mohr, Richard D., ‘The Gold Analogy in Plato's Timaeus (50a4–b5)’, Phronesis 23 (1978), 250.

10 This is the same passage to which Morrison appeals (p. 62 above) for evidence that Plato introduced immanent forms or ‘moving eide’ into the Republic.

11 This means that I take the reference to the whole course of study of the arts at 532c which, pace Wilson, is symbolized in the Cave allegory, as including music and gymnastic. Wilson (p. 126) calls our attention to Bosanquet (Bosanquet, Bernard, A Companion to Plato's Republic [London, 1895]) who suggests (p. 298) that it is just conceivable that music and gymnastic be comprised among the arts referred to. He notes the difficulty, revived by Wilson (p. 126), that Plato begins not with training in the shadows but with conversion from them. That is to say we would seem to have to suppose that those beginning music and gymnastic would have to be confirmed prisoners already. But, in contrast to Wilson, Bosanquet is aware that this point ‘does not gravely affect his [Plato's] intention’ — an insight I hope to confirm (p. 67 below). He does not, however, take the advance from C1 to C2 as that from false belief to true belief, but as a move from an uneducated consciousness ‘sunk in mere association and superstition’ to commonsense criticisms of customary associations (pp. 263–6). Bosanquet sees the images of justice at 517d as the realities of the commonsense world of practice, perhaps the actual laws of the state, and the shadows of these images as ‘the interested and distorted representation of these in the pleaders' arguments’ (p. 269).

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The Classical Quarterly
  • ISSN: 0009-8388
  • EISSN: 1471-6844
  • URL: /core/journals/classical-quarterly
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