Plato might have just been the greatest philosopher to ever grace this planet. The Republic, written 360 B.C., was well ahead of its time and is the basis for philosophy courses taught world wide. If you remember back to my book, Succeed by Failing, I dove into Plato’s Allegory of the Cave and how it relates to us humans living in the world as we wish it would be rather then the world as it is. Before I dive more into Plato’s theory of levels, let me give you a quick refresher on The Allegory..
The dark cave sat in a pit with prisoners chained to is wall. The prisoners, unable to move their heads, spent all day starring at a wall that was lit up by a fire that burned right behind them. Behind the fire and the prisoners was a walkway which puppeteers would walk. The prisoners would see and recognize the puppet’s shadows and start to interpret them as being real life, not realizing that their are physical objects behind them. They continue to live this way and quite frankly were happy with the world as they saw it. When given the opportunity to see and embrace reality, rather then being receptive they chose to deny it and continue the life that they have grown to know. And this is were the allegory comes into play. How often do we come across someone who is complacent in their current view, refusing to turn around and actually see what the truth may be? Stuck living in a cave seeing shadows and thinking this is only reality out there? Like I said, Plato was a head of his time.
According to Plato we as humans live in a world of visible and intelligible things. The visible world is that where our senses are able to interpret. It is what we see, what we hear and what we experience. The intelligible world on the other hand is the world that is deduced by didactical reasoning. One that arises from reasoning alone, such as mathematics, and theories based on intelligence. Plato believed that there was a line that divided these two worlds which he described as levels.
Plato’s Levels are broken into the following four:
Level One – Imagination: guided by images, stories, guesses and opinions.
Level Two – Belief: guided by practical common sense, trial and error, practicality.
Level Three – Intellect: a theoretical scientific approach seeking to understand why things are the way they are.
Level Four – Reason: a philosophical approach, by which theories themselves are evaluated. A true understanding.
The prisoners trapped in the cave fell in the bottom segment of the divided line which was level one and level two. The knowledge they possessed was purely derived from their senses. It was just their opinion on how the world functioned – nothing more then that. An illusion as Plato had described in The Republic, living merely in the visible world with nothing else. However those in the real world who posses real knowledge presided on the upper side of the divided line – living in level three and level four. And to have this real knowledge we must gain it through education and philosophical reasoning or as Plato described as the world of intelligible things. The visible world can exist without the intelligible world, however the intelligible world cannot exist without the visible world. Once you are able to master these levels and this though process you are operating in this higher sphere of intellection.
Let me give you a real life example on how we can put these levels into practicality by using a sport many of us play: tennis.
Imagine you are a teenager and your mom enrolls you in tennis despite your best wishes to not play. You don’t know much about the sport and certainly never played it. But since your mom says you’ve got to do it – Saturday 9am it is. At this point you are at Level one. All you know about the sport is based on what you’ve seen on TV and on the internet. Guided by images, opinions from others and guesses.
A few months go by and you move into a good rhythm playing the game. You are aware of your errors and understand when you make a mistake. But you still have to think about the mechanics before you take a swing and you are learning by trial and error. This is level two.
Another year goes by and you are now a solid player. Not only do you fully understand the game, you do not think about it as you play. It’s purely mechanical – like driving a car. Your subconscious does most of the work. This is the state of intellect – you are thinking about the sport in a scientific approach with a full understanding of the game. Welcome to level three.
At last, a few more years pass. You have put the proverbial 10,000 hours into the game and are a full out expert. This is level four – Reason. In this state you not only have a true understanding of the game, but you are able to theorize and deduce plays in a philosophical approach. You are well past having to think about the game; rather you can now teach and improve it to the masses. This is the level a coach or sensei would be at.
Without enrolling in a philosophy class, we can make several determinations using Plato’s theories to better our lives. First and foremost, it is important to be open and to live in the world as it actually is and not how we wish it could be. Keeping an open mind opens us to new life lessons and experiences, which allow us to grow mentally and spiritually. Second it gives us an understanding of the levels involved in comprehension and the idea that if you want to master a concept there is a level of focus and determination that must be put in order to reach the top. And lastly, don’t coast through life as a prisoner in a cave starring at puppets all day.