Plato’s Dualism (iii) ~ The Divided Line

Another way of approaching the subject addressed in the Allegory of the Cave is that of the Divided Line. The latter, in fact precedes the former in Plato’s Republic:

“Conceive then,” said I, “as we were saying, that there are these two entities, and platos-line2that one of them is sovereign over the intelligible order and region and the other over the world of the eye-ball, not to say the sky-ball,10 but let that pass. You surely apprehend the two types, the visible and the intelligible.” “I do.” “Represent them then, as it were, by a line divided11 into two unequal12 sections and cut each section again in the same ratio (the section, that is, of the visible and that of the intelligible order), and then as an expression of the ratio of their comparative clearness and obscurity you will have, as one of the sections [509e] of the visible world, images.

Plato, The Republic, 509d-509e.

The line as envisioned by Socrates is clearly presented as an image of the varying degrees of “clearness and obscurity.” Put differently: the varying degrees of cognitive apprehension (more or less clearly apprehended). Again it is “clarity of thought” (or lack thereof) which is adressed here and not “levels of being.” The four sections of the line represent the different degrees of apprehension of one and the same reality.

The upper portion of the line represents knowledge. This is where apprehension is the most clear. The lower we slide down the line the lesser the apprehension. The bottom portion of the line represents opinion. As Perl notes the divided line deals with “higher and lower levels of truth or unhiddenness, of givenness and apprehension (Perl, p. 41).”

The Divided Line should not be understood as if different sections of it are opposed to one another as if dealing with four different things. Rather, since Plato expressly states that the four divisions are sections along the same line, they are to be understood as four sections on a continuum. A range of higher and lower levels of apprehension. The clearer the apprehension the more it “shares in truth.” The higher sections of the line indicate that reality is better apprehended. Is more intelligible.

The allegories of the Cave and Divided Line therefore are dealing with the same subject: levels or modes of apprehension. This could be represented as follows:


Inside the Cave corresponds to the lower sections of the Line whereas outside the Cave represents the higher sections of the Line.

Once again we find that to be is to be intelligible.

Fr. Gregory Wassen


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