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6.8: The Sun

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    See 506b-509b. Socrates has us consider the sun and how in the “visible realm” it shines light upon material things and in this way enables our eyes to see these things. He then suggests that the form of the good functions similarly in the “intelligible realm” enabling our soul (presumably the rational part) to understand “intelligible things” (forms) by shining “truth” upon them. The sun-and-seeing part of this analogy is straightforward enough. But how is the form of the good supposed to be able to help us understand the other forms? And what is this analogue of light, “truth,” by means of which the form of the good is supposed to be able to illumine the other forms? One reasonable interpretation is to think of it this way: To understand the form of the beautiful one must know what counts as a good example of something beautiful, and why. Likewise for the form of green and for every other form. In general, then, to understand forms is to know the truth about what constitutes goodness for each kind of thing. But this knowledge is possible only because there is such a thing as what it is to be good. Indeed, one is able to identify a good example of something, and do this with knowledge, only to the extent that the form of the good shines its “truth” upon one’s soul and informs one’s thinking.

    • Is understanding essentially a kind of valuing, an appreciation of something? If so, then can one give an adequate account of what it is to understand something without discussing what it is to value it?

    • Socrates is going to suggest later (516a-b517b-c) that the form of the good can illumine other forms before it is itself understood. Can you imagine how this is possible?

    • At the end of this passage (509b), Socrates suggests, strangely, that the good is in some sense “beyond” and “superior to” being. How do you interpret this?

    This page titled 6.8: The Sun is shared under a CC BY license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Douglas Drabkin.

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