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Plato And Popper And The Matrix Philosophy Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Philosophy
Wordcount: 2245 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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This paper is about a comparison between two very distinct and seemingly unrelated concepts, namely that of Plato’s Cave & Popper’s Three Worlds. Plato’s allegory of the Cave describes that people are living as chained prisoners in a cave in which they can only see shadows of the things passing before them, and this is as close we can get to reality. Philosophers, however, are able to understand that the images we see are not the real things, but just shadows of things, therefore philosophers can perceive the true reality rather than just the shadows.

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Plato came up with this idea at around 400 B.C. and we can still see its enormous impact on later philosophers, such as Karl Popper when he wrote Epistemology Without a Knowing Subject. In this essay Popper described that there are Three Worlds, the First World is the world of physical objects or physical states. The Second World is the world of consciousness or mental states and the Third World is about objective contents of thought. This Third World is thus objective and autonomous and by studying this Third World are we able to shed light on the other worlds.

Consequently, the research question of this paper is How do Plato’s Cave and Popper’s Three Worlds compare? In order to answer this question, this paper will first describe Plato’s Allegory of the Cave and the second part will describe Popper’s Three Worlds. The final part will make an analytical comparison between Plato’s Cave and Popper’s Three Worlds.

Plato’s Cave

Plato firstly described the Allegory of the Cave at the opening of his Seventh Book of the Republic (Plato, 2003), this in order to elaborate on a concept he described in his Sixth Book, that of the Divided Line. The Divided Line stands for the four stages of knowledge and of their respective objects of knowledge and existence; this can be generally seen as being a distinction between the physical world of beliefs and opinions and the intelligible world of mathematical and philosophical knowledge. Since this remained quite vague Plato consequently came up with a clear illustration of the conditions and experiences of human beings and their level of advancement of the intelligent apprehension of the reality. Plato did this by using the Allegory of the Cave, it begins by stating that we as normal people are living in an underground habitation like a cave in which there is a small entrance that brings in some daylight. We as people are living in the lowest part of the cave in which we are in bonds from our childhood onwards and since our legs and necks are fastened by chains can we not move and can we only see in front of us. Accordingly is there a bright fire above and behind us, and between us and this fire is an elevated roadway at which a low wall is constructed where men like jugglers hold up their puppets. These men behind the wall hold up all sorts of things above the wall like statues and various figures of animals. Subsequently, we as prisoners believe that the shadows we see at the wall of the cave before us are the only realities (Spens, 1922).

Then, if one of the prisoners is being released, being turned around and being led to the fire then he would at first be puzzled and would perceive his former visions of the shadows as being truer than the actual objects of which only a shadow was shown to him. Thereupon, if he were dragged up the steep ascent of the cave and brought finally out of the cave into the light of the sun, he would be dazzled at first but after a while he would become habituated to perceive the objects in this upper world as the real objects. Finally would he observe the sun itself to draw the conclusion that the sun is the originator of the seasons and years and the cause and guardian of all the things in the visible world (Plato, 2003).

Popper’s Three Worlds

In his paper Epistemology Without a Knowing Subject Popper (1967) makes a distinction between three different worlds. The First World is about physical objects or physical states, the Second World is about states of consciousness, mental states and behavioural dispositions to act. This distinction between a physical world and a world of states of consciousness and that these two worlds interact corresponds a lot with realism, but Popper also believes that there is also a Third World. This Third World can be seen as the most important one, since is consists of objective contents of thought, this Third World is moreover a natural product of the human mind, it is largely autonomous and has a strong feedback effect upon us. Then, Popper comes up with three main theses which elaborate upon the importance of scientific knowledge in the Third World. The first thesis stresses that scientific knowledge is not studied in the subjective sense since this only happens in the second world, in the third world knowledge or thought is objective, since it is independent of anybody’s claim to know; it is knowledge without a knower. The second thesis is that the study of scientific knowledge and trying to understand the largely autonomous Third World is of vital importance the scientific community because as the third thesis explains that by studying the Third World are we able to shed an enormous amount of light upon the Second subjective consciousness World (Keuth, 2005).

Popper then argues that although our Third World is largely autonomous it is still a human product because “with the development of a descriptive language (…) a linguistic third world can emerge” (Popper, 1967, p. 120). Nevertheless, there are still many theories, arguments and problem situations in themselves which have never been produced or understood and may very likely also never be understood, the only thing that matters is the possibility that they can be understood by humans in order to account for scientific knowledge in the Third World. The Third World consequently creates its own domain of autonomy and through the interaction between us and this Third World is there a growth of objective knowledge due to the strong feedback effect it has on us. Popper here uses the example of a garden that was planned but got out of hand, namely due to our use of language, conjectures and arguments did we create a universe of objective knowledge that as a by-product also created unintended other knowledge (Keuth, 2005). Finally can it be states that the Third World is one of the most important man-created things, but it is at the same time also largely autonomous.


Popper (1967) is able to acknowledge that “Plato was the discoverer of the Third World (…) all western philosophy consists of footnotes to Plato” (p.122). So Popper seems to be heavily influenced by Plato, this part will now look at where we can find these similarities and or any differences.

Similarly to Popper Plato believes that there are three worlds, which are derived from the allegory of the cave. There is the Cave World (or Fire-light world) in which there are the people whom are at the lowest stage of knowledge since the people in it are not able to see that they are only seeing shadows from other objects, instead they take the shadows and thus the things that do not really exist as the reality. The Visible World is lived by the people who know the physical objects and have scientific knowledge as opposed to those who only guess about them. The sun is the essential source of this world since it makes visible objects visible and generates life on earth. The highest form of knowledge can be found in the Ideal World by those who are educated in mathematical and philosophical knowledge as opposed to those who are not educated in this and thus not able to see it (Sesonske, 1966). In accordance with Popper’s Third World Plato also realized that it is essential to grasp the ideas of the Ideal or Third World in order to use them as explanations for our knowledge. Plato thus apprehended that the ideas of the Third World of Ideas also influence and give a feedback on the Cave World and the Visible World because everything in there is derived from the Ideal Third World. These two points correspond a lot with Popper’s second and third theses about the importance of studying the Third World and by doing so to come to a better comprehension of the Second World (Keuth, 2005).

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Another point on agreement is with regards to the objectivity of the Third World. Namely, the first thesis of Popper stresses that scientific knowledge is not studied in the subjective sense since this only happens in the second world, in the third world knowledge or thought is objective, since it is independent of anybody’s claim to know. This very much corresponds to Plato’s idea that the Ideal World exists independent of human beings and that the intelligible knowledge in it is self-determining and thus objective. On the other hand, Popper states that the Third World is knowledge without a knower, whereas Plato would say that this is not the case since educated philosophers are able to grasp this knowledge, they can be the knower (Popper, 1967).

A difference between Popper’s Third World and Plato’s is that Plato sees his Third World as being ideal; it is divine, unchanging and true. Popper, however, sees his Third World as man-made, it is a natural product of the human mind, and changing, although still to a large extend autonomous. Contrary to Plato’s Ideal World does Popper’s Third World not only contain true theories, but also false ones, open problems and refutations. Popper thus believes that the extension of knowledge is possible due to man-made creations, whereas Plato sees knowledge in the Ideal World as set by a divine power (North, 1977).

The second point on disagreement is that in Plato’s Ideal World the Idea of the Good can be found, which is the ultimate object of knowledge and which can only be found through philosophical reasoning and can not be perceived by the human senses. The Idea of the Good must and can only be seen through the eye of the mind and Plato has thus a high degree of scepticism to the evidence of the senses (Plato, 2003). Popper, however, would not agree with this since he argues that although it may be difficult to demonstrate that a theory is true or false, if there is nevertheless sufficient reason or justification via the senses or experiments to believe that something is true then one can assume that this is correct. Consequently is growth of knowledge not a repetitive process but one of error elimination of the false theories (Keuth, 2005). Plato would say that there can be no growth of knowledge; the ideal knowledge is already there and only the educated philosophers are able to grasp and comprehend this.

The final point on disagreement is that Plato believed that the Third World of Ideas will provide us with ultimate explanations of what he calls “the good”, this ultimate explanations, however, is not capable or in need of any further explanation. Plato thus saw the objects of the third world as something non-material that we can only gaze at, but never fully understand. Popper’s idea of the Third World would not correspond with this since he believes it should consist of theories, arguments or problems rather than concepts of things which can not be understood but only by the divine intellect. Popper thus proposes that the scientist should focus on statements, propositions or theories instead of on concepts that can simply be replaced by other concepts, but which never fully reach to the core (North, 1977).


In the Cave of Plato is a deep and steep descent that leads into its fire-lit interior where chained prisoners sit in a long row with a high roadway behind them whereupon other men are constantly portraying images to the prisoners. There above is the Visible World where the sun is shining and where the actual objects can be seen, however even higher can only highly educated Philosophers see the Ideal World. Popper also made a distinction between Three Worlds and it can be stated that they are similar on some point, but also different on others. The first similarity is that both the Third World and the World of Ideas influence and give a feedback on the First/ Cave World and the Second/Visible World because everything in there is derived from the Ideal Third World. Moreover do both Popper and Plato agree that the Third World should be objective. A difference is that Plato sees the Third World as ideal and divine, whereas Popper sees it as a natural product of the human mind. A second difference is that Plato has a high degree of scepticism towards the senses whereas Popper believes that this is the only way to prove a theory correct and to be able to have a growth in scientific knowledge. The last point on disagreement is that Popper focuses more on statements, propositions and theories, whereas Plate would focus more on non-material concepts that are very hard to understand. Concluding can it be stated that although Popper’s theory is to a large extend based on Plato’s theory, there are nevertheless more differences than similarities between them and they thus do compare but up to a certain extend.


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