Do you know Zebras, Donkeys and Mules belong to the same Zoological family? Of Course Zebras and Donkeys do mate and their offspring is called a Zebroid. Good to know right. If you are left wondering why the hell I am talking of Zebras and Donkeys when I am pretending to discuss platonic Idealism and Vedanta you will see my point shortly. What is that comes to the mind when you first visualize a Zebra or a Zebra Crossing. The alternating sequence of white and black stripes. Heard of the conundrum Is Zebra a white skinned animal with black stripes or a black skinned animal with white stripes? Go figure. Anyway if you are still wondering what I am trying to get at Zebras skin coat is a product of nature’s design to protect it against its predators with the alternating patterns of white stripes and black stripes producing an optical illusion to confuse the ace predators. So what really is an illusion a thing that is or is likely to be wrongly perceived or interpreted by the senses or a deceptive appearance or an impression?
Now we are talking. Illusion are of three types Optical Illusions, Auditory Illusions and Tactile Illusions. Some type of people called magicians make a living trying to create illusions and some others live to convince others that life is nothing but an illusion. I am more interested in the second set of people who with their profound thinking have mocked at the very nature of life as nothing but the biggest illusion of all and are famously called philosophers.
Casual followers of Philosophy must have heard of the big three of the Greek Philosophy. Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. The western thought and Philosophy owes these three a lot for its conception. For Serious Students of Philosophy Plato’s seminal work the Republic must be common knowledge but for casual readers they might be hard pressed to know the Analogy of the Sun, Analogy of the Divided line and Allegory of the Cave are some of the important dialogues in this book and put forward an argument for the abstract nature of reality and form some of the core ideas of Platonic Idealism. So I guess it’s about time to really get a quick snapshot of these analogies and allegories.
The Allegory of the Cave (also titled Plato’s Cave or Parable of the Cave) is presented by the Greek philosopher Plato in his work The Republic (514a–520a) to compare “the effect of education and the lack of it on our nature”. It is written as a dialogue between Plato’s brother Glaucon and his mentor Socrates, narrated by the latter. Plato has Socrates describe a gathering of people who have lived chained to the wall of a cave all of their lives, facing a blank wall. The people watch shadows projected on the wall by things passing in front of a fire behind them, and begin to designate names to these shadows. The shadows are as close as the prisoners get to viewing reality. He then explains how the philosopher is like a prisoner who is freed from the cave and comes to understand that the shadows on the wall do not make up reality at all, as he can perceive the true form of reality rather than the mere shadows seen by the prisoners.
The Analogy of the Divided Line (or Allegory of the Divided Line; Greek: is presented by the Greek philosopher Plato in the Republic (509d–511e). It is written as a dialogue between Glaucon and Socrates, in which the Socrates asks Glaucon to not only envision this unequally bisected line but to imagine further bisecting each of the two segments. Socrates explains that the four resulting segments represent four separate ‘affections’ of the psyche. The lower two sections are said to represent the visible while the higher two are said to represent the intelligible. These affections are described in succession as corresponding to increasing levels of reality and truth from conjecture to belief to thought and finally to understanding Furthermore this Analogy not only elaborates a theory of the psyche but also presents metaphysical and epistemological views.
The Analogy of the Sun (or Simile of the Sun or Metaphor of the Sun) is found in The Republic VI (507b–509c), and was written by the Greek philosopher Plato as a dialogue between Glaucon (Plato’s elder brother) and Socrates (narrated by the latter). Upon being urged by Glaucon to define goodness, a cautious Socrates professes himself incapable of doing so. Instead he draws an analogy and offers to talk about “the child of goodness” Socrates reveals this “child of goodness” to be the sun, proposing that just as the sun illumines, bestowing the ability to see and be seen by the eye, with its light so the idea of goodness illumines the intelligible with truth. While the analogy sets forth both epistemological and ontological theories, it is debated whether these are most authentic to the teaching of Socrates or its later interpretations by Plato. The sun is a metaphor for the nature of reality and knowledge concerning it.
These three analogies all point to the universal truth that what we really perceive as reality is just a shadow of the real reality and the real reality is beyond our comprehension or real reality is too powerful to blind us. The analogy of the divided line presents an idea that the mind has to evolve to perceive the difference between the observable and the intelligible. The Analogy of the Sun sees sun as the provider of light and the take home point to be emphasized is enlightening ourselves to understand the real nature of truth. All roads leading in the same direction, what we perceive as reality is an illusion and to understand the real reality we have to transcend beyond the limitations of our senses.
This strongly resonates with the concepts of Vedanta where the entire universe is just seen as an illusion or Maya and the true enlightenment is seen as the realization of the inner self and its connectedness with Brahman.