Intro to Philosophy
How did Plato use the sun to explain the good?
In the Allegory of the cave, there are four main stages of enlightenment. The four steps cover all aspects of enlightenment, from knowing absolutely nothing and perceiving reality only through your sensory organs to reaching full knowledge and having the capacity to understand “the good.” Just as someone first seeing sunlight, he portrays the experience of enlightenment accurately. He writes The Simile of the Sun and The Allegory of the Cave to make clearer his perceptions of the world and to explain the world as he viewed it.
In Plato’s literature, the good is portrayed as the sun. He chooses this particular symbol for its qualities of illumination and its vague incomprehensibleness. To someone who has never witnessed sunlight and has lived their entire life viewing only shadows, even a simple explanation of this natural phenomenon would be baffling to them. In The Allegory of the Cave, the prisoners are bound so that the shadows on the wall in front of them are the only reality they perceive. When removed from their shackles and introduced to the objects that make the shadows, they are at first baffled by this seeing as it is in direct conflict with the only reality they have known for many years. This bafflement and pain continues as he is shown sunlight, the light blinding him because he has lived in the darkness for so long. Plato uses the sun to explain the good by showing that philosophical enlightenment, much like a person who has lived in darkness for their whole life first seeing the sun, is an essential but difficult process.
He chose the sun as his representation of the good because of the way it illuminates life. If we were to see a bright red scarf at night time and were told to describe it, all of us would state that it was a bland object of gray or purple color. We would not be wrong, but we would also not be telling the entire truth. The sun changes the way we see the world and makes it possible to understand the entirety of the facts, just as the good allows the existence of reality and truth.
In conclusion, Plato explains the good by comparison to the sun, a similarly enlightening idea. To a child, the idea of the sun is magnificent and even painful. To a prisoner, the concept of the good is the same way. Just as human life on earth would be unable to exist without the sun, truth and reality would not be able to exist without the good.