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Ethics in the Cave

We had a great class today discussing Plato's Republic. In particular I had my students analyze Plato's famous cave analogy, and understand the distinction Plato makes between the realm of beliefs which are influenced by opinion (the shadows on the wall of the cave made by the fire), and the realm of knowledge which comes from Truth (the ascent from the cave into the sunlight). The particularly interesting thing is that a belief isn't necessarily untrue, it is just less than knowledge. Socrates posits, for example, that the common man may see many particular examples of things that he considers beautiful (his opinion, shaped by society or culture which corresponds to the fire in the cave), and, based on these instances, form a belief (shadow) about Beauty. However a philosopher, being acquainted with Truth (the light of the sun) is able to see Beauty itself as distinct from its many particular instances and is therefore in a better position to judge whether or not something is beautiful.

I think this idea can be appropriated by Christians as an explanation of ethics. Atheists (those in the cave) may have very particular beliefs about morality, good and evil, etc., which have been formed due to cultural conditioning or moral reasoning. Their beliefs, however, are based on cultural opinion (the man-made fire in the cave) and therefore cannot rise to the level of Knowledge, which is absolute. At best their views on morality are beliefs, which may or may not be true. Christians, however, who are acquainted with Truth and Justice Himself (the light of the sun) may have absolute Knowledge of good and evil, which is beyond the realm of those still in the cave. Moreover, when a Christian attempts to reason with those in the cave about morality, they will tend to believe that the Christian is morally deficient, when in reality the Christian is used to the light of the sun above ground and is not used to moving in the shadows of cultural relativism.


Erica said…
Ha! Something I actually remember from Philosophy class!

But if we start talking about the "perfect essence of desk" I'm leaving ;-)