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.