Socrates is known as a Greek philosopher and the inventor of the elenctic method, centered on debates and arguments that aim to come to a single true definition of any matter through questioning and answering. Unfortunately, the majority of Socrates’ teachings and dialogues were not documented by him due to his method’s nature. Instead, his disciple Plato took the responsibility to make sure that instances of important debates outlive his mentor and will be accessible for future generations. The Allegory of the Cave and The Allegory of the Divided Line share Socrates’ insight into the nature of human perception of reality and knowledge acquisition. This essay determines the level of perception of some of the most prominent opponents of Socrates and evaluates the result of debates between them and the philosopher to decide whether they made progress.
The allegory of the cave was written by Pluto in his work Republic. It describes Socrates having a dialogue with Glaucon, in which the philosopher asks the latter to imagine a prison cell with four people, chained and forced to gaze at the wall with shadows. The prisoners do not know of any reality besides theirs and view the wall as reality. Socrates mentions that if any of the prisoners were to leave the cave, the experience would be traumatizing because they would know of the material world. However, after being accustomed to the newfound knowledge, the freed person would inevitably come back to rescue his in-mates and show them the truth. Socrates sees this allegory as a depiction of human perception and imagines the philosopher’s mission is to become free of shackles and spread the knowledge.
The divided line theory divides the process of the perception of knowledge into four distinct stages imagination, belief, knowledge, and understanding. By applying the latter allegory to prisoners in the cell, it can be concluded that they are initially on the level of imagination. They do not know the nature of the shadows, so they view them as reality. Once freed, they begin to question the nature of the shadows, progressing to the stage of belief. Acknowledgment of the origin of the shadows leads to knowledge and subsequent understanding.
Through dialogues and debates, Socrates attempted to provoke critical thinking in his opponents; however, in the case of his accuser, Meletus, it did not yield sufficient results. The stage of the latter’s perception was on belief and remained intact. The crimes that Socrates was accused of were impiety and the corruption of youth. Unfortunately, the accuser’s speech records were not documented, but it can be assumed by the outcome of the trial that his perception did not change. He saw changes in the disciples of Socrates and saw him being skeptical of piety, thus making probable predictions about the nature of the philosopher’s teachings.
Before the trial, Socrates engaged in a debate with Euthyphro, a Greek prophet, to determine a universal definition of piety to defend against impiety charges. The latter has attempted to give four definitions of piety; however, none of them were convincing and were argued against by Socrates. When the argument came full circle, the prophet leaves the philosopher without a clear definition of piety. It proves that rather than progressing to the stage of knowledge and attempting to reach a universal definition of the term, Euthyphro decided against it and chose to stay at the stage of belief.
However, not all debate participants were reluctant to knowledge acquisition. Meno and his slave are good examples of striving to achieve truth through reason. The former engaged in discussion with Socrates on the subject of virtue and whether or not it is possible to teach it, while the latter served as an example of inborn knowledge. Despite their failure to formulate a universal term, both participants came to understand the nature of virtue and prove its similarities to knowledge. The philosopher also demonstrated that when certain knowledge is acquired, and it is right, the human psyche recognizes it as such. By asking the slave to solve a geometrical puzzle, Socrates portrayed how people’s perception of information changes. After failed attempts to resolve a puzzle by guessing, which is a stage of belief, the slave admitted to not knowing the solution. However, when the solution was shown by Socrates, the enslaved boy agreed that it is right and concluded that now he understands its nature. Hence, both Meno and his slave made progress on the divided line, transitioning from knowledge to understanding.
In conclusion, the Socratic Method of inquiring about truth stimulates critical thinking and makes the other person come to logical conclusions and strive for knowledge. However, it does not necessarily yield satisfactory results because the perception of knowledge is subjective. Some people may decide not to seek truth and forfeit their arguments and will for learning, while others, regardless of their position, may continue to pursue universal terms in order to better understand the world around them.
Plato. (1991). The Republic of Plato. Edited by Bloom, A., New York: Basic Books.