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In the first meditation, Descartes is baffled after realizing that, many things that he holds as true and real are false and imaginary. He questions whether his existence is real or imaginary. Convinced that everything is imaginary in life, Descartes begins to doubt the knowledge that he has acquired over many years.
His thoughts convince him that, the only way to be certain about his existence is to demolish every form of knowledge he has acquired and start a new foundation of knowledge; however, this task is too burdening to undertake. Descartes confesses that, whatever he accepts as true and real deceives him because he acquires them through senses. Thus, Descartes starts to live in confusion and doubt and consequently concludes that one cannot distinguish things that happen in reality from those that happen in sleep.
He holds that, science disciplines emerge from complex structures that are imaginary and doubtful. Comparatively, in the allegory of the cave, Socrates depicts how humans grope in darkness of ignorance, yet they believe to have attained reality and real meaning in life. Thus, how is knowledge of ignorance, in Descartes’ meditation and Socrates’ the allegory of cave, fruitful in understanding the existence and real meaning of life?
In meditation, Descartes finds that he has been living in deception because his senses and nature conspire to deceive him into believing illusion as reality. He wonders if he can differentiate his dreams and realities because he discovers that he has been living in the world of ignorance.
Realizing that he has been all along ignorant, Descartes decides to withhold all beliefs and knowledge that he acquires and treats them with doubt so that he can ascertain their truth lest he continues living in deception. In attempts to define his identity, Descartes realizes that there is complex association of mind and body that enables him to achieve reality and understand his environment.
He argues that since he has the capacity to think and doubt his existence, it obviously follows that he exists as a mind trying to comprehend the body. In order to ascertain his existence, Descartes comes up with method of systemic doubt where he argues that he will doubt everything until he finds reasons for not doubting. By applying the method of systemic doubt, Descartes becomes convinced that he exists as a mind and body because he can think and doubt. Hence, knowledge of ignorance is fruitful as it proves his existence.
In his efforts to differentiate imaginations and reality, Descartes questions what connects the mind and material world. In the exploration of his question, Descartes believes that the material world exist because imagination connects the mind and material world. He asserts that one can only understand abstract things but real things that are in nature demands both imagination and understanding. Mental eye of imagination enables people to perceive their external environment, which proves the existence of the material world.
Although Descartes doubts his senses because they deceive him, he realizes that imagination intricately links to sensual perceptions. After doubting his senses, Descartes ultimately confesses he can perceive his existence and that of other bodies. Therefore, through the confusion and doubt, Descartes recognizes that sensual perceptions connect human being to their external environment, thus proving the existence of the material world.
Socrates’ Allegory of the Cave
In the allegory of the cave, Socrates is depicting how humans live under the illusion that deceives them. By depicting humans in caves, Socrates is trying to portray how reality and illusion are so similar, hence makes it hard for anyone to differentiate.
Prisoners in the cave have more knowledge concerning echoes and shadows, but they are quite ignorant. Their ignorance helps them to understand illusions that they perceive in caves as reality. As they listen to echoes of their voices and watch shadows of their bodies, prisoners find it exciting, for they discover what goes on in their world of caves.
Thorough understanding of illusion that occurs in the cave enables prisoners to understand their environment and their existence. Although their senses of hearing and sight deceive them that they perceive reality, they live comfortably in the caves. Thus, knowledge of ignorance is fruitful because it enables prisoners to live happily in caves and makes them understand their environment.
Moreover, if prisoners come out of the cave, they will differentiate between reality and illusion. Even though they may attribute shadows and echoes as real, their experiences of trying to understand their realities under the sun will expand their minds to differentiate reality and illusion. Socrates argues that, the sun will help prisoners comprehend that, what they have been seeing in caves is just but a reflection of realities, which are taking place on the surface of the earth.
Therefore, it means that for humans to understand their existence, they must differentiate between reality and illusion. Thus, knowledge of ignorance is fruitful because it gives humans an insight of reality and illusion.
Comparison and Contrast
Both Descartes’ meditation and Socrates’ allegory of cave depict that human knowledge of reality emanates knowledge of ignorance. Descartes doubts his existence, reliability of his senses, and the reality of material and immaterial world; however, through doubt and confusion, he obtains knowledge that made him to differentiate reality and illusion.
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Likewise, Socrates depicts prisoners who live in a cave with absolute ignorance, for they perceive shadows and echoes as real. However, after coming out of the cave is when they realize that they have been living an imaginary life under the caves. Ultimately, knowledge of ignorance is fruitful as it precedes emergence of truth and reality.
Descartes’ meditation and Socrates’ allegory of cave contrast because the former is personal experience and the later is a parable. In meditation, Descartes is explaining his experiences that led him to discover the existence of the universe and differentiate reality and illusion. Through systemic doubt and confusion, Descartes defines himself, existence of the universe, God, and achieves the real meaning of life.
In contrast, Socrates employs abstract imaginations by depicting how humans grope in darkness yet they claim to have attained reality of life and acquired true knowledge. In the allegory of the cave, Socrates is suggesting that humans grope until they attain true knowledge that can help them to differentiate reality and illusion.
Descartes and Socrates struggle terribly hard to achieve real meaning of life and existence. To realize their objective, they start doubting their existence and reality of the universe, which is quite confusing. Through the confusion and doubt, they question whether they live real lives or imaginary lives.
Descartes uses systemic doubt to ascertain the reality of knowledge that he acquires while Socrates employs allegory of the cave to question his imaginations. Hence, though Descartes and Socrates doubt their existence, knowledge of ignorance enable them to question their existence in a bid to enhance comprehension of existence and attain real meaning of life.