THE ALLEGORY OF THE CAVE

GENERAL INSTRUCTIONS FOR DISCUSSIONS:   Your contributions should be thoughtful and developed.  Answer all parts of the question and use concepts from the course materials.  Use a professional style of communication, with attention to grammar, spelling, and typos; cite your sources.

Unless your instructor specifies otherwise, choose ONE of the following questions, and give a substantive response to at least two other students.

1.  WHAT GOOD ARE THE ARTS?

Epistemology is the study of what it means to know things, and how we know them. Philosophers generally define “knowledge” as “justified true belief.” To know something, it must be true, and you must believe it for good (well-justified) reasons.

For this discussion, consider the controversy presented at http://www.iep.utm.edu/art-ep/ about whether the arts, including literature, can give us knowledge. Or do they mislead us into thinking that we “know” something when in fact we only learn what the artist or writer presents–not the truth itself?

After you read the material, think about your own experience of the arts—visual arts (painting, drawing, photography, sculpture, architecture); literature (poetry and prose); and the performing arts (music, dance, theater, and film).

In your experience, do any of these arts arouse certain “emotions or activities that are able to facilitate or produce knowledge” by tapping into something that cannot be expressed in words?  Do the arts give you knowledge? Or do you think they are not useful in producing knowledge?  Explain your thinking, using ideas from at least one of the thinkers mentioned in the article.

Include an example from one of the arts to help support your position.  Have you gotten “true knowledge”—or not—from a work of literature, the ideas of a philosopher, a piece of art or architecture, or a film?  Describe a specific example and if possible, give a link.

2.  THE ALLEGORY OF THE CAVE

For this discussion, we will reflect on Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. (Search YouTube to hear it narrated by the great actor Orson Welles.)

An allegory is a story where the elements are symbolic.  What do you see as the symbolism of the cave, the shadows on the wall, the prisoners, the man who escapes, the daylight outside?   Do you know of other stories that make similar points?

The story assumes there are major difference between “appearances” and “reality,” and that “reality” is superior.  What does this mean for the arts? Arts and letters may present “appearances” quite unlike what they are depicting.  In short, the style of the arts is often not “realistic.”   Does this mean that what the arts convey is always more like illusion than reality? Use an example and explain your thinking.

Have you ever accepted an illusion as reality?  How did you recognize that you were mistaken?  Did that recognition change you in any important way, or was it more like a minor correction to your perception? Do you think that people today live in a world of “shadows”?  Are we imprisoned in some way, with our minds shackled?  Explain your thinking.

Initial discussion posts are due by Thursday at 11:30PM ET and at least two responses to fellow classmates are expected by the end of the week on Sunday by 11:30PM ET.

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