Feed on
Posts
Comments

All Down the Line

Socrates offers two particular images, the sun and the divided line, in Book 6 of The Republic, preparing the way for a third image in Book 7 of the cave. Glaucon returns to the dialogue for Socrates’ central exposition of what philosophy is and why it is inescapably needed. A genuine philosopher’s studies must transcend justice, by which all human life is governed and illuminated, in order to reach complete understanding. Even an indirect approach to this type of study is demanding, so Socrates invites the use of different kinds of images, since it is “necessary to pull things together from many places in order to give an image of [the good] and a defense on their behalf” (488a). Socrates cannot directly articulate what the look of the good is, so he uses three analogies: the sun, the divided line, and the cave, in an attempt to explain what he means. In order to discover the nature of Platonic philosophy, an examination of the divided line provides an in-depth analogy for the form of the good.

Every soul pursues the things that are good, Socrates explains, and people who seek it have a sense that it’s something, but at a loss and unable to get an adequate grasp of what it is. “The greatest learnable thing is the look of the good, which just things and everything else need in addition in order to become useful and beneficial” (505a). To the more sophisticated thinkers, good isn’t just pleasure, it is intelligence. The look of the good endows the things known with truth, and gives that which is known them its power (508e). Good is responsible for all knowledge and truth, and is the cause of the existence of the forms in the intelligible realm and the source of all that is beautiful in the visible realm. How we reach the good, however, requires further elaboration.

Socrates begins with the analogy of the sun in comparison to the look of the good. Just as the sun is the source of illumination that brings visibility to the visible realm, good is the source of everything in the intelligible realm. The sun is what allows our eyes to see, and in the same manner, the good gives us capacity to understand knowledge. While the sun isn’t sight, but is the thing responsible for it, Socrates calls it the “offspring of the good, which the good generated as something analogous to itself” (508c). The sun is responsible for causing things to exist, or come to be, in the visible realm, just as the good is responsible for the existence of forms. Socrates bids us to think of the power of the soul as being the same way. “Whenever it becomes fixed on that which truth and being illumine, it has insight, discerns, and shows itself to have an intellect” (508d). Following the analogy of the sun, Socrates further elaborates at the request of Glaucon.

The two forms, knowledge and opinion, are a pair, just like light and sight are sunlike, though neither one of these forms should be individually considered as being the good. “The condition of the good requires that it be held in still greater honor” (509A). Knowledge (episteme) rules as king, Socrates explains, over the intelligible race and realm, and opinion (doxa), for its part, over the visible. We are then to picture them as being like a line is divided into two unequal segments, one for the visible realm and the other for the intelligible realm. The intelligible realm must occupy the larger part if length is analogous to clarity, and the visible realm must occupy the smaller part related to obscurity. In the visible realm, the “soul takes as images the things that were imitated before, and is forced to inquire based on presuppositions, proceeding not to a beginning but to an end” (510b). On the contrary, in the intelligible realm we go from a presupposition to a beginning free of hypotheses, without the images involved and making its investigation into forms themselves and by means of them. The line is divided a second time in the same unequal ratio, segmenting the visible realm into illusion and belief, and the intelligible realm into reason and intelligence.

The bottom quarter segment is for illusion, images, shadows, mere perception, and reflections. Imagination is the lowest form of cognitive activity, because it is only an illusion of our ordinary, everyday experience. Eikasia is the state of illusion or conjecture, the kind of images Socrates says are like “shadows…semblances formed in water and on all dense, smooth, bright surfaces” (510a). A person living in this state considers images and reflections the most real things in the world, much like someone who defines her sense of self or surrounding environment from things seen on television or in movies. Socrates may also mean a state in which we are uncritical of our perceptions and accept visible things without questioning or seeking explanations. Just like those in the Cave later on in The Republic, they accept the shadows and make conjectures concerning its likeness, neglecting to differentiate from the original object casting the image.

In the next segment, which is the form of belief, Socrates places “the animals around us, and every plant, and the whole class of artificial things” (510a). This level of cognition recognizes visible objects, and the eye makes probable predictions upon observing and making contact with real things. The state of pistis is divided with respect to truth and as something known, as opposed to the previous state of illusion which is a mere copy and shadow of discrete physical objects. In this stage, we may begin to correlate our perceptions and opinions, but we fail to subject them to critical analysis in order to cross over into the intelligible realm.

Socrates then considers the next way the division of the intelligible part needs to be made, in which thought hypothesizes the existence of forms based on the visible world. The mathematical reasoning segment of dianoia is the first step to knowledge in the intelligible realm. “People who concern themselves with matters of geometry and calculation” use sensible particulars as images to aid in their reasoning and arguing, relying on hypotheses and unproven assumptions. This type of mathematical reasoning is abstract, and the psyche assumes hypotheses while making use of images to conceptualize a final conclusion. Similar to the shadows and images in water from the eikasia realm, those who have reached this particular level of cognition use images in an “attempt to see those things themselves that one could not see in any other way than by the power of thinking” (511a). Contrary to the first realm of illusion, the soul in the realm of mathematical reasoning has the power to step off above its presuppositions, using as images those things that are “reputed to be of preeminent clarity and are treated with honor” (511a). The divided line in itself is a mathematical image, interestingly enough, and it is important to note the equality of the two center segments, dianoia and pistis. This implies that precision in regards to geometry or algebra stands at the same level as clarity or truth gained by observation of the senses. Conversely, the same equality makes the claim that the visible, and tangible, things around us are images and not the original beings (Sachs, 208).

Lastly, having worked her way up with philosophical dialectic toward the look of the good, an individual reaches understanding. This final level of intelligence, or noesis, Socrates describes as “steppingstones and springboards” creating genuinely standing places so that “rational speech may descend in that way to a conclusion, making no more use in any way whatever of anything perceptible, but dealing with forms themselves” (511b). When one reaches this level, active insight grasps the look of the good as an un-hypothetical first principle from which everything else follows, rather than starting from presuppositions. True understanding does not require images as a crutch, because it is a purely abstract knowledge. The axioms and hypotheses of thought are made unnecessary in this realm by a single universal proposition upon which the entire body of knowledge can be based.

This is a “tremendous amount of work,” according to Glaucon, but he understands that Socrates’ analogy of the divided line is meant to illustrate the four grades of knowledge and opinion available for accessing the world. The exploration of the details is not an end, but a beginning to understanding the look of the good. The metaphor of the divided line is an invitation to readers to think for themselves, and ingenious means of prompting consideration that there is more to the world than mere appearance. This passage suggests that we have an incomplete understanding of the world if we only accept what we can see. A rational, searching mind has the ability to uncover the true nature of reality, distinguishing between the visible realm and the intelligible realm in order to grasp what is real by means of intellect. Socrates’ use of metaphors rather than arguments is a means to alter our perception rather than prove a particular point.

The distinction between the visible realm and the intelligible realm claims a distinct and higher sphere for abstract thought above concrete thought. Our opinion of the visible realm is imperfect and changing, so it amounts at best to true belief, whereas the abstract knowledge that governs the intelligible realm is perfect and unchanging, amounting to a higher form of good above belief. Socrates concludes, that for the “four segments of the line are these four kinds of experiences that arise in the soul, active insight for the highest and thinking for the second, and…trust to the third and imagination to the last” (511d). Those who are “lovers of sights and sounds,” like Thrasymachus, are essentially stuck in the visible realm (“justice is the advantage of the stronger”), rather than able to think abstractly. We may apply what we have learned about the “look of the good” to justice, or risk falling prey to Thrasymachus’s relativism as a consequence of not seeing the whole picture. It is not enough to view just actions, we must also understand the relation of ideas to all four levels of the divided line. Justice in the visible realm may be relative, but the look of justice itself is absolute and irrefutable. In order to live a just life or to organize and govern a just state, we must understand the intelligible realm of justice.

18 Responses to “All Down the Line”

  1. Websites we think you should visit

    […]although websites we backlink to below are considerably not related to ours, we feel they are actually worth a go through, so have a look[…]…

  2. Recent Blogroll Additions…

    […]usually posts some very interesting stuff like this. If you’re new to this site[…]…

  3. Read was interesting, stay in touch…

    […]please visit the sites we follow, including this one, as it represents our picks from the web[…]…

  4. Awesome website

    […]the time to read or visit the content or sites we have linked to below the[…]…

  5. Read was interesting, stay in touch…

    […]please visit the sites we follow, including this one, as it represents our picks from the web[…]…

  6. Websites you should visit

    […]below you’ll find the link to some sites that we think you should visit[…]…

  7. Recent Blogroll Additions…

    […]usually posts some very interesting stuff like this. If you’re new to this site[…]…

  8. Awesome website

    […]the time to read or visit the content or sites we have linked to below the[…]…

  9. Cool sites

    […]we came across a cool site that you might enjoy. Take a look if you want[…]…

  10. Great website

    […]we like to honor many other internet sites on the web, even if they aren’t linked to us, by linking to them. Under are some webpages worth checking out[…]…

  11. Websites we think you should visit

    […]although websites we backlink to below are considerably not related to ours, we feel they are actually worth a go through, so have a look[…]…

  12. Cool sites

    […]we came across a cool site that you might enjoy. Take a look if you want[…]…

  13. link says:

    Websites we think you should visit

    […]although websites we backlink to below are considerably not related to ours, we feel they are actually worth a go through, so have a look[…]…

  14. Recommeneded websites

    […]Here are some of the sites we recommend for our visitors[…]…

  15. Check this out

    […] that is the end of this article. Here you’ll find some sites that we think you’ll appreciate, just click the links over[…]…

  16. Websites we think you should visit

    […]although websites we backlink to below are considerably not related to ours, we feel they are actually worth a go through, so have a look[…]…

  17. Recent Blogroll Additions…

    […]usually posts some very interesting stuff like this. If you’re new to this site[…]…

  18. view website says:

    Visitor recommendations

    […]one of our visitors recently recommended the following website[…]…