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Epistemology and Descartes Essay

In both Plato’s Allegory of the Cave and Descartes’ The Fourth Meditation, they discuss truth; what it is, where it comes from and how to differentiate it from falsehood and error. Plato’s paper is more metaphorical and uses imagery to paint a picture of his idea of truth, while Descartes’ is more straight forward, and uses examples. These papers are written very differently but are, at the same time, very similar when it comes to content. Although it’s not word for word, these two papers complement each other very well when it comes to defining truth and explaining its origin.

In Allegory of the Cave, Plato’s view is that our senses, such as sight, skew our understanding of true knowledge. We are, for all intense and purposes, chained at the neck and ankles, unable to move. Our world is a cave lit by a fire disguised as the sun. We only see what is before us: our shadows, our falsities and errors. However, on the rare occasion that we break free from our chains, we are able to experience true knowledge. We understand the world around us and realize what we once thought we knew isn’t real. We view things in a new perspective, a new light…sunlight.

This is what Plato believes truth is. The cave where men are chained is, essentially, a mask, hiding Earth’s true identity. Once that mask is taken off, we know Earth’s true identity, we understand. One may relate being ‘unchained’ to an epiphany, or divine intervention. It’s an experience of something so pure, so insightful; you know it to be true. And once we have experienced this pure truth, we must return to the cave populated by shadows and lit with an artificial sun. We must do to this so we can share our true knowledge with others, so they too, may one day be ‘unchained.

’ In The Fourth Meditation, Descartes rationalizes God’s Will, and all of imperfections, through a series of questions and answers. In this paper, Descartes describes God as the source of goodness, truth and being. He is infinite. The opposite of God, Descartes states, is nothingness. So, since we humans exist, Descartes explains we must be somewhere in between these two extremes. We are neither infinite, nor are we nothingness. We are finite, as God willed us to be. We consist of ‘being’ and ‘non-being. ’

And any imperfection we may have is not a result of our being, rather our non-being…our error, in other words. Descartes says that when we know we know something, we are 100 percent sure about it. We have no feelings against it. It’s a sudden realization, an epiphany perhaps. And in this state, our judgments are certain and true. Descartes also talks about how we can not know anything certainly, without looking at the whole picture. For example, scientists cannot expect to prove or disprove God’s existence by looking at specific, finite things in the universe.

Or if people try to disprove God by saying there is evil in the world, they aren’t looking at the big picture. For, in the big picture, Descartes thinks there would be an explanation, a purpose for evil. So even though Plato and Descartes give very different types of explanations about truth, and it’s origin, they come to similar conclusions. They both view truth as something beyond our ordinary senses. They both suggest taking a look at the bigger picture to find truth (being unchained/understanding God’s infinite being). And they both agree that, when the truth is know, it needs to be shared.


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