Philosophy is a way of thinking that attempts to make the connection between the nature of human thinking and the nature of the universe. Human character is built throughout life with the qualities that one embraces to strengthen one’s being. Plato (427-347 BCE) and Sophocles (496-406 BCE), were ancient Greek philosophers that sought to make sense of the world in an intellectual manner. In the excerpts from Plato’s, Plato’s Republic: The Allegory of the Cave, and Sophocles’, The Antigone, the writers call upon one to give thought to human perception and human character in light of seeking truth. These philosophers teach us the importance of reasoning in the pursuit of knowledge and truth as well as sharing our findings with others in the journey of ultimate understanding. A person’s actions based on self-interest will have a negative effect not only to oneself, but to others and weakens understanding.
For instance, finding truth and wisdom entails using one’s intellect in a broader sense. Plato implies that one’s nature of perception is learned through the senses of one’s opinion and evokes a superficial reality. He argues that real knowledge is gained through reasoning. In the excerpt, Plato’s Republic: The Allegory of the Cave, he presents a scenario of prisoners in a cave with the mouth of the cave exposed to light. The bound prisoners are facing a wall and are chained so that they cannot move their heads. Plato writes, “True, he said; How could they see anything but the shadows if they were never allowed to move their heads?” (Plato, Plato’s Republic: The Allegory of the Cave 1). According to Plato, he likens the prisoners as being bound to a false sense of reality that leads to limitations and ignorance. They are fixated only on what they have come to know in the shadows and are incapable of opening their minds to new possibilities.
Furthermore, when one goes beyond the cave, one becomes aware of a greater reality, the former perceived realities that were considered wisdom are dashed when one explores a new level of reality. One must push oneself intellectually beyond what is known in order to attain the real truth. When the former prisoner is finally exposed to the Sun, he realizes that it is the source of good. When one is exposed to the light a new awareness is attained. It is imperative that one keeps and open mind as Plato states that, “…the bewilderments of the eyes are of two kinds, and arise from two causes, wither from coming out of the light or from going into the light, which is true of the mind’s eye, quite as much as of the bodily eye” (Plato 4). One must refrain from being self-absorbed and gloat over his discovery and make the attempt to share his new found wisdom. When he returns to the former situation he is viewed by the others as ridiculous and is perceived as a threat; hence it is determined that one is better off in the shadows. It is important however, to share the attainment of truth and good with others by being able to see in the dark. This enables one to view other’s perceptions for better understanding in order to facilitate the ultimate truth, beauty and objective goodness over advantageous goodness of what one knows.
Similarly, in The Antigone, by Sophocles, an edict has been made by the ruler, Creon, that Polyneices must not be honored with a burial because he is a traitor to the city. Antigone argues Creon has disavowed divine law and that it is her sense of duty and loyalty to bury her brother. Antigone is willing to die for her belief, she expresses her anguish, “Over this, I feel no pain. If I seem now to be acting foolishly to you, it may be that I am being accused of foolishness by a fool” (Sophocles, The Antigone 468-470). She advocates justice and prefers to die in pain than to endure an ongoing pain to let her brother go without rites. Antigone’s insolence toward Creon’s ruling is driven by standing up for her belief in divine law. She implores Creon to reevaluate his decision and not anger the gods and to uphold traditions. Creon’s hubris will not allow him to retract his command even though he is in error. He counters, “There is no greater evil than lack of rule. This destroys cities” (Sophocles 672-673). Creon follows man’s law, if he does not follow through with his edict he will lose his sense of credibility toward his subjects. He fears his loss of power and loss of face to rule, especially if he is bested by a woman. Creon lacks loyalty to his family and morality in defying the gods of the decency for the burial of Polyneices. His selfishness overwhelms his sense of reason and lack of compassion.
To conclude, Plato stresses the importance of the attainment of wisdom for good and that it must be shared with others for better understanding. Sophocles relates the importance of selflessness and morality. One learns that the search for truth affects the character of our nature and helps one to find the good in life. One also learns that self-interest perpetuates a false reality which denies one of seeking the ultimate truth. One must learn to be objective and open to new ideas in the pursuance of greater wisdom.
- Plato. Plato’s Republic: The Allegory of the Cave.
- Sophocles. The Antigone.