*REVISION NOTES FOR OCR RELIGIOUS STUDIES AS/A LEVEL*
One of Plato's most famous analogies is that of The Cave. There are prisoners chained up at the bottom of the cave so that they can only look forward and cannot move. Behind them is a fire and puppeteers (who represent politicians etc.) walk in front of it carrying objects. It is only the shadows of these objects which the prisoners can see, reflected by the fire behind them. The prisoners can also here the voices of those who carry the objects; this is their only sense of reality.
One day a man frees one of the prisoners from his shackles. When he sees the fire and objects, he realises that what he thought was true was actually just an illusion. Eventually he would be able to look at the fire itself (it would take some time to adjust considering his life looking at shadows). The prisoner would have to experience the hard journey to the world outside his cave. As his eyes adjust, he'll be able to look at the objects (e.g. flowers and rocks) directly. Finally, he will be able to see the sun (although I would not recommend looking directly at it, that's not too good for you) which represents understanding and seeing the truth.
Now, the prisoner doesn't want to just experience his enlightenment alone so he returns to the cave and tells the other prisoners what he saw. He no longer appreciates the life he used to lead, and now he's seen the light he finds it hard to adjust to the dark cave. The other prisoners mock him and threaten to kill anyone who tries to free them. They would rather live in ignorance. This can be seen to represent what happened to Plato's mentor Socrates.
This analogy represents Plato's concept of the World of the Forms where an eternal, non-changing, non-physical, ideal version of everything exists. This is because the absolute truth cannot be reached in this world due to everything always changing (e.g. plants dying)
Within the World of the Forms there's a hierarchy of Forms with the Form of the Good at the top. This is represented by the sun in the Cave analogy.
This concept of the WotF would explain the innate sense of justice and truth that we seem to be born with as Plato believes that our souls resided in the WotF before joining with our bodies.
However, as lovely as this is, the Forms aren't very helpful in everyday whilst empirical evidence is (Aristotle's argument). Also, consider how many forms there may be - are we looking at say a form of a dog, or a form of a poodle, a form of a dalmation etc. etc.??? Finally, Aristotle suggested that if humans are trying to seek salvation, why is no one studying the Forms and trying to learn more?
Further weaknesses include the idea that it's bizarre to say that the world which is realest to us is merely a concept. Not only that but, there's no physical evidence; Dawkins explains this "innate knowledge" through his "memes" (a different breed from Pepe - would there be a Form of a Meme or a form of Dawkins memes and a form of each individual internet meme? Asking the real questions.)
Augustine counters the idea of there being a form of a bad thing by his idea that evil is just an absence of good, not necessarily a real thing.
Hope you enjoyed that summary of Plato and his World of the Forms, will be back to books soon!