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Eng 101 - Seeking Truth - the Pursuit of Man

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The Pursuit of Man

Paul Lerret

M. Blanton

ENGL 101-28

24 April, 2010

Man has long sought some explanation to define his true purpose and the larger universe. All manner of enlightened philosophers, scientists, artists, and theologians maintain varying positions in this regard. Incidentally, most people would generally conclude that true purpose of life is to find happiness through fulfillment. I intend to briefly discuss the fundamental differences of philosophy relevant to Platonism, absurd existentialism, and Chistianity by examining Plato's The Allegory of the Cave, Albert Camus' The Myth of Sisyphus, and Paul the Apostle's 1st Corinthians. Additionally, I intend to acknowledge the influence these philosophies have had in contemporary literature by citing inner-textual parallels from Jill McCorkle's short stories "Turtles" and "Snakes". Each of these texts provides powerful insight towards the nature of the human condition and most importantly, our true purpose in the universe.

Plato uses a metaphorical tale in The Allegory if the Cave to illustrate his central concept of the Theory of Forms which suggests that our perceptions of truth are merely a representation of absolute truth. In this tale, Plato utilizes the dialogue between Socrates and his pupil Glaucon to propel the reader through a dark scene of chained prisoners in a cave observing shadows cast on a wall.

[A]nd they see only their shadows or the shadows of one another, which the fire throws on the opposite wall of the cave? True he said, how could they see anything but the shadows if they were never allowed to move their heads? And of the objects which are being carried in like manner, they would only see the shadows? Yes he said. And if they were able to converse with one another, would they not suppose that they were naming what was actually before them? Very true. To them, I said, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of images. (609-610)

In this passage, Plato elaborates through Socrates that shadows are merely illusions of more perfect forms. It logical to ascertain that through this metaphor that what we perceive to represent the virtues of beauty, truth, justice, and love for example are not real. Incidentally, the perfect form of beauty, truth, justice and love are manifest in ideas only. Material forms of these virtues essential to the human being cannot compare unseen nature of what they really are in essense. It is this concept that Platonian philosophy is built upon as further examination of his philosophy implies that there is a God, the original uncaused form from which all forms are created. Consider the metaphor Plato uses to differentiate between truth and illusion throughout the text of the Allegory of the Cave. Jill McCorkle offers an inner-textual parallel in "Turtles" through the eyes of the delusionary nursing home resident, Carly Morgan.

[S]he sees him again, Thomas Fenster down the hall. He looks so young. He hasn't changed a bit. She waits to see if his wife or any of his children are with him, but no, he is all alone. He will try to unbutton her blouse like he does every single time. "Where have you been?" she asks and runs out into the hallway..."I saw Thomas," Carly whisperes. "He's back and I don't know what I'll tell Whitey." (202-203)

Clearly, McCorkle is illustrating that this seemingly educated woman is experiencing a hallucination of events that did not actually occur. However, from Carly's perspective of reality, she did in fact have a meeting with a man from her past because this experience had tangible properties. It is logical to assume that no argument can reasonably be made to suggest that Carly's experience was nothing more than an imperfect shadow representation of a true form projected by her own mind. Consequently, according to Plato, the senses alone cannot determine true existence. Science has taught us that matter can neither be created nor destroyed; it can only be converted from one form to another. This is apparent truth is where science and philosophy are in disagreement with one another because our cognitive judgment alone cannot distinguish a true form from an illusion.

Disregarding obsolete perceptions in favor of a better perception of what is truth is vital towards the pursuit of enlightenment.

And now look again, and see what will naturally follow if the prisoners are released and disabused of their error. At first, when any of them is liberated and compelled suddenly to stand up and turn his neck around and walk and look towards the light, and he will suffer sharp pains; the glare will distress him, and he will be unable to see the realities of which in his former state he had seen the shadow; and then conceive one saying to him, that what he saw before was an illusion, but that now when he is approaching nearer to being and his eye is turned toward some more real existence. (610)

In this passage, Plato is metaphorically illustrating the journey towards enlightenment through the dialogue between Socrates and Glaucon. One can easily apply this analogy to the journey taken in pursuit of knowledge in all aspects of life such as in academia or in interpersonal relationships. McCorkle offers an example to support this platonic concept in "Snakes" through the narrative given by a married woman named Barbara.

This is our favorite night of the year, we turn of the phone, we drink a little bit too much, and we write our grievances of the past year, read and then burn them. There were those awful years when everything was very serious and personal-what we refer to as the Dark Ages. Those were the years when our grievances were about each other; they were long and typed and angry and pathetic. The Dark Ages. If you can survive them, it will make a marriage much stronger. You just have to get to the other side of the cave and re-enter the world of light and warmth. (166)

The interesting inner-textual parallel between Plato and McCorkle offered in this citation utilizes a cave in representation of an unenlightened state of being. In this instance, McCorkle is suggesting through Barbara that the early years of marriage are rife with despair and false perceptions of truth. In platonic terms, the person which we may reveal to a spouse is most often an imperfect form of our true self. A marriage is likely to survive only when false perception of either party are regarded as illusions of truth. Once this occurs, the marriage exits the cave of illusions in pursuit of



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