Saturday, September 22, 2007

Reflections: To Cave, or Not to Cave...

Simone Weil further elucidates her ideas in "God in Plato" from On Science, Necessity, and the Love of God by her discussion of the famous “Allegory of the Cave”, from Plato’s Republic. While I have every confidence that any person who finds himself reading Rodak Riffs is very familiar with The Republic and the cave allegory, I thought it best to google it in order to provide a link to a transcript for anybody who needs a little refresher course. After spending some time at this task, I was unable to find a transcription of the cave allegory that wasn’t embedded in some philosophy professor’s lesson plan. But this one has less extraneous material than most. I also thought it would be good to provide a graphic of the cave, as an aid to visualization. Again, I resorted to google. Of the various versions I found on the first few pages, I liked this one best: take a look.

The Allegory of the Cave, as Weil interprets it, is an instruction by Plato concerning the human soul’s captivity in the prison of the flesh. This, Plato says, is not a cautionary tale; it is how we are now. In this, it is in some ways analogous to the Christian doctrine of Original Sin, if we want to understand the prisoners in the cave as representing Man-after-the-Fall. But such an interpretation adds nothing to the lesson, in my opinion. The allegory elucidates the need for the soul’s detachment from the things of the material world, in order to make possible a conversion that will enable the soul to comprehend Reality, thereby becoming capable of the salvific love of God.

As is shown in the allegory, this is a very difficult and painful process. In Weil’s words:

“Therefore, in order to turn its eyes towards God the entire soul has to turn away from the things which are born and perish, from temporal things… The entire soul—including therefore its sentient and carnal part which is rooted in the things of sense and draws life from them. It must be uprooted. And this is death. And this death is what conversion is.
… “Thus it is total detachment that is the condition for the love of God, and when once the soul has performed the motion of totally detaching itself from the world so as to turn entirely towards God, it is illumined by the truth which comes down to it from God.
“This is the very same idea that is at the center of Christian mysticism.”

In addition to its correspondence to Christian mysticism, we note that it is not different in any fundamental way to the previously discussed Hindu concepts of yoga, Maya, Bhakti, etc. As Weil puts it, “We are born and live in passivity… We are born and live in unconsciousness. We are unaware of being under punishment, of being in falsehood, of being passive, and, of course, of being unconscious.”

I have, in the past, stated that I no longer attend the cinema because I can’t tolerate the way the experience of viewing a film in a theater totally overwhelms the senses, in effect usurping one’s consciousness. I was, therefore, interested to see Simone Weil say with regard to the human condition as presented in the “Allegory of the Cave”:

“What we live at any moment is what is offered us by the puppet-master. (We are not told anything about him…The Prince of this world?) We possess absolutely no freedom. One is free after being converted (and even during the process), but not before.
... “The talking cinema is very much like this cave. Which shows how much we love our degradation.”

Yeah. That’s what I’m talking about.


Civis said...

I think most of this post is over my head. Ha.

You said "I can’t tolerate the way the experience of viewing a film in a theater totally overwhelms the senses, in effect usurping one’s consciousness."

I have a friend who kind of thinks along those lines. He's very religious. One of the stories he tells of a very good Christian man in the early Church in Rome who lived a good life. He went only once to the circus, and was so sucked in he couldn't quit going and it eventually destroyed his faith.

My friend is afraid of being sucked in by "sin." and is also afraid of being "brainwashed."

I don't know about all of that. To me it seems something important to keep in mind, but I'm not that worried about being sucked in or brainwashed.

To me it seems like the problem is that so many people get their way of viewing the world from the mass media. If people would read great books and we had better education in the U.S. this wouldn't be such a problem: we would have moral, philosophical and factual BS detectors.

But since people do indeed get their views from the mass media, what you say is true, so I guess I have to agree with you.

But you know, this brings up another point. People have always been influenced by literature and the fine arts. There is a quote somewhere by Erasmus that fiction is one of the most powerful mediums for transmitting values.

Perhaps people that want to change the direction our country is going in (for the better) need to stop writing sweet little books about religion and family values and take a course in screen writing.

Rodak said...

I am at a point in my life where the the state of "being entertained" does not, for the most part, appeal to me.
Which is to say, I find it more "entertaining" (now) to read Plato's Republic than to read most novels; and more "entertaining" to read most novels than to go to the movies. I do, very occasionally, watch a movie at home. A movie watched on a TV, with a pause button available, does not overwhelm the senses.
I'm not saying that this is for everyone. I'm not being judgemental. And I spent many years being thoroughly entertained and wouldn't redo it, if I could. It's just where I'm at now.
You probably have to start reading a bit further down, to get the whole gist of it.
I don't fear "brainwashing." What I fear, at this point, is wasting my remaining time on trivialities.

Civis said...

"What I fear, at this point, is wasting my remaining time on trivialities."

I'm with you on that. I recently completed my formal education (or at least I think I have) and am struggling with how best to grow. I thought about reading the Republic since I've only read bits and pieces here and there. I've wanted to read more about natural law. I need to learn more about foreign policy and bioethics. So many things a free citizen ought to be informed on and so little time. It's too much for one person.

That's why I like bloggers like you. I think in an ideal world we each seek to improve ourselves and we learn from one another in conversation. I'm happy to meet more people who are growing and whose learning I can benefit from.

Rodak said...

Thank you. I feel fortunate to have found my way to your site, too.
You might want to visit "Zippy Catholic" to pursue your interest in Natural Law. Topics presented on Zippy's blog have taught me a lot in that area:

Civis said...

Thanks for the tip. Oh and thanks for the plug on your more recent post.

RE: Natural Law, I have been struggling with how best to approach furthering my education. I'm wondering if I shoud start with something broader. I have been wondering whether I should study the Summa Theologica before other endeavors.

I'm planning a post on all of this. Maybe you can give it some thought.

Rodak said...

Zippy likes to discuss questions concerning Natural Law. And Tom, the host of Disputations (also on my list) is a formidable Thomist and often discusses things in terms of the Summa.
I don't think that I would recommend trying to "read" the Summa. To my way of thinking, it is a reference work.
The New Advent Encyclopedia will often direct you to the Summa when you search it. And you can search the Summa itself online via New Advent.
But, as you have probably gathered, I'm more of a Platonist than an Aristotelian (although, in all honesty, I'm not even *close* to being either!), so the Summa isn't always my cup of tea.
I do unabashedly recommend Simone Weil, who was a Platonist, however. This, because she was a 20th century figure, and thus close enough to us in time to be called our contemporary. Of all 20th century thinkers I've encountered, Simone Weil is the one who has challenged me the most, while also providing me with the nourishment that I needed.

Civis said...

RE the Summa, like the dialogs of Plato I've read here and there, but would like to get a better general grasp of both--not to mention a host of others. There is a translation of the Summa that re-formats everything into a format more like a normal modern philosophical text:

It looks a good deal less intimidating that the five volume Summa. But my goal is to read the 5-volume one eventually.

You have piqued my interest RE Simone Weil.

Rodak said...

Well, I'm basically willing to take the Summa as it comes along with an answer--or, at least a perspective on--a particular question.
I had all I could do to get through the two volumes of Simone Weil's "Notebooks"--and that was only a bit over 600 pages.
So much to read, and so little time to read it in...