Showing posts with label plato. Show all posts
Showing posts with label plato. Show all posts


Philosophy in the Classroom: Sample Student Work on Plato's Allegory of the Cave (With Thirteen and Fourteen-Year-Old Kids)

Student sample work of an annotated representation of Plato's cave
Sample Work from Mr. Roselli's 8th Grade Ethics Class
Planning an Eighth Grade Ethics Curriculum at a Private School in Queens
I taught the 8th Graders every Tuesday as part of my teaching load this past school year. I teach at a private, independent school in the Jackson Heights neighborhood of Queens. The kids are receptive to learning - albeit a rowdy bunch. The class was split into two. So basically I saw each group every other week. The class was PASS/FAIL and I put a lot of emphasis on student participation, talking, and group work. I uploaded content for them to read and view on Google Classroom so I did not have to spend a lot of time going over the material in class. Here is a short overview of one particular lesson I did (with some student work).

Reading Plato's Allegory of the Cave in a Middle School Ethics Class
We read Plato's cave in class - using a lesson I had created (and which you can access here). The kids were in eighth grade - so they would be thirteen or fourteen years old.

Kids' Understanding of Plato's Ideas
A sample students' work representing Plato's Cave
Students jot down their summary ideas to get the gist.
The one takeaway I noticed with this age group is that they totally "got" the idea of most people's inability to change a mindset and think through a different perspective. I feel like that is indicative of the age group - most kids that age have difficulty understanding and processing different points of view. They recognize others' points of view, but since they are often self-focused and not other-focused, they spend a lot of energy and anxiety over whether or not people "get" their point of view. They desperately want to be understood (which is human). In this example, from student work, I had the kids present their own visual representation of Plato's cave. These three students, Isabel, Ryan, and Hayden, were very much fixated on the idea that enlightenment is pretty much impossible. Notice how they put an exit sign in the cave with the label "unachievable".

Getting Students to Jot Down Their Ideas

The lingo teachers use is "getting the gist". You are not looking for kids to pen a dissertation. But you want students to produce something written in the course of the lesson. The comments they made were original, and I liked how they understood Plato's dual reality theory. It is not an easy concept to get, but they really appreciated it. From a writing perspective, it is vital to get students to jot down their ideas - even if it is a few sentences or even a list of words. It helps the kids solidify their thoughts. And also it helps me, the teacher, to scan for student understanding.

Using Visual Imagery to Make Connections with Students
A teen boy wears a virtual reality headset seated in a dingy room.
After exploring the ideas of the lesson, students can talk about the above image. What do they notice? What do they wonder? Collect the students' responses.

Class: Eighth Grade Ethics / 90 Minute Lesson (you can break it down into two separate 45-minute lessons)
Materials: paper, pencils, pen, handouts of the Allegory of the Cave, Comprehension Questions, Discussion Questions, Entrance, and Exit Tickets
Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh, Twelfth, Higher Education, Adult Education, Homeschooler, Not Grade Specific -
My TpT store has resources for
middle and high school English teachers


Why I like Fifth Century Thinkers like Socrates and Confucius

Confucius and Socrates Represent a Renaissance of Thought
I was trained to begin with Socrates. But what about Confucius standing next to Socrates? Confucius was Socrates’s contemporary. "They probably never met," you say. A Queens taxi cab driver told me their meeting was possible – how could there have been such a confluence of ideas in both East and West without either Socrates or Confucius never having met? The fifth century before the birth of Jesus of Nazareth was a renaissance of thought. It was a time of emerging thought, of dynamic ideas that would forever change the course of human history.


Photograph: "Plato's Cave"

"Plato's Cave"

© 2013 Greig Roselli


Poem: Thrasymachus Blushing

thrasymachus blushing
blushing belies betrayal
betrayal of the body 
the body belied

so says socrates
not blushing
but catching thrasymachus in a blush

a crucial catch of the passage
says the professor
a critical juncture blushing

for in it
calls thrasymachus out

for is it not true
that one cannot
forfeit an argument?
even if one knows forfeiting is the right thing to do
our body forfeits for us
turning rouge
in a crowd of philosophers
vying for truth

to get the answer wrong is an admission of failure
of not getting it

and we want to get it

so we plow on regardless
but our body -
it sees our flaw
and quickens -
blood flows more fully 
and all can see our less than comfortable
feeling of resting with a certain unjustified truth
Greig Roselli ® 2012


Quotation: Socrates On Perplexing Others (And His Own Perplexity)

Socrates with folks in Athens in Raphael's painting "The School of Athens"
A quote from Socrates on perplexing others . . .
For I perplex others, not because I am clear, but because I am utterly perplexed myself. 
οὐ γὰρ εὐπορῶν αὐτὸς τοὺς ἄλλους ποιῶ ἀπορεῖν, ἀλλὰ παντὸς μᾶλλον αὐτὸς ἀπορῶν οὕτως καὶ τοὺς ἄλλους ποιῶ ἀπορεῖν.

Socrates, 5th century B.C.
from the Meno by Plato (section 80c-d)
PDF Copy for Printing


Are Philosophers Inspired by the Figure of the Child?

In this post, I discuss one of my favorite topics: how have thinkers, writers, and philosophers been inspired by the figure of the child?

I am stuck on this topic of the child as a figure of philosophical thought or inspiration. The question writ large is this: how can the child be both a muse and tabula rasa? In other words, how can the child be a figure of inspiration, yet at the same time, not capable of the label philosopher? The philosopher, artist, thinker, writer, goes to the child for their inspiration, but the paradox is this: the child is seldom seen as a locus of philosophical import. How can it be both? Both muse and empty of content? We call the child innocence but what we mean is empty, according to Kincaid. And i agree. The label of innocence creates a bind. A problem. Innocence maintains the status of muse but creates a problem by which the child is only able to miraculously appear through nostalgia and leaves whence she came. William Blake trumpets the child as a muse. Blake writes of a poet/piper in the introductory verse of the Songs of Innocence who is visited by a child on a cloud who commands him to write: "Piper sit thee down and write / In a book that all may read." Is the child merely an apparition for the romantic poet? Notice it is the poet and not the lofty nude boy cherub who puts words onto paper. How can it be that the child inspires the poet to write but is bereft of his own song?
I can name three famous instances where a child appears in the margins of the history of philosophy. In Plato’s Meno, Socrates employs a slave child to demonstrate to Meno that learning is recollection. Meno assures Socrates that the boy has no previous knowledge of geometry. The question is if the child has no prior knowledge of geometry can she still learn it? Socrates asks the slave boy questions. He does not supply him with answers as if his mind were an empty vessel. Socrates is notorious for asserting that we come upon the quest for knowledge at an instance of nothing. We know nothing. Nothing is a starting point. Just by the guidance of a question, the slave boy is able to come up with the solution to the problem of halving a square. Plato does not indicate the child's age. I would guess he is no older than sixteen. No younger than seven. Is it a coincidence that Socrates uses him as an example? To use a child to illustrate a philosophical point suggests something about the status of a child. In this case a slave child. To be a slave and a child at the time of Socrates was to be afforded little political privilege. Neither the child or the slave were properly thought of as citizens of the state. Philosophy is adult business. Citizen business. So to demonstrate the boy's ability to know, to recollect knowledge, as a priori to learning itself, is to present the child as exemplar, but still leaves us to question the concept of child as philosopher.
Nietzsche famously invokes the figure child in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, in tandem with the lion and the camel, as the third stage in the metamorphosis of philosophical progress.
Augustine in the Confessions opens a random selection of sacred scripture whereby he is inspired by Saint Paul’s words to put on the person of Christ and rid himself of wanton desires. When the child enters the scene of philosophical history she becomes an example, as we can see in Socrates’s use of the boy, or as metaphor for something “new” and “fresh” as in Nietzsche. Or simply inspiration as in Augustine’s anecdotal story of his conversion.
For the most part children are excluded from the annals of Western Philosophy in the main along with discussions of sex, the body, and anything related to our finitude. Philosophers in the main have traditionally been more fond of loftier topics such as mind, reason, and clear and distinct ideas. Children are far from such sophisticated concepts being as they are undeveloped intellectually. While we can grant the child her own special status as philosopher who has not heard a child ask why? it is still fairly common to assume philosophy is meant for grown-ups. The long-standing view of children is that they are extensions of adults. Thomas Hobbes excludes the child as having the status of person in the Leviathan. Along with madmen and fools, the child is a brute beast, with no claim to the law or sovereignty. For Hobbes, the child is not a person. According to Phillip Aries, the concept of the child as independent from an adult only recently became adopted in the West in the nineteenth century. For centuries children were seen as diminutive versions of adults. Homunculi. The great modern revelation, it is said, is that children embody a consciousness that is temporally defined and authentic to childhood itself. How far have we come from Hobbes? But how uneasy it is for us to ask the child muse to speak her own voice. Children grow up. They become adults. And it is usually adults who provide the child's voice. The word "infant" means "without voice." The Romantic view of childhood, as seen in the Blake poems, and also with Rousseau, privileged the child as possessing a unique access to experience that becomes lost after the emergence of puberty. What Freud would later call the stage of latency, the period after infancy leading up to adolescence, becomes a period in the development of the human person infused with a new sense of interest and curiosity. Jean-Jacques Rousseau breaks the silence and places the figure of the child front and center, but he too retains a nostalgia for something lost. We vacillate, I conjecture, from positing the child as an empty slate to embodying all truths, but in each event, we are foreclosed to the child qua child.


Will I Shine Among the Shades in Hades Like Tiresias?

Henry Fuseli, Tiresias appears to 
Ulysses during the sacrificing (1780-1785) 

Yesterday I was at the Metropolitan Museum of Art for my bi-monthly one hour visit. I go to the museum immediately after psychoanalysis. I'm sure there is a connection to that somehow. Reliving painful experience followed by the need to be absorbed by beauty seems like a rational explanation. Also: proximity. Dr. X's office is on the Upper East Side so it is not too far of a walk to attend a visit to one of the world's most voluminous holders of art. I checked in my bags. Bag attendant: "Do you have any electronic devices?" I answer a laconic "no." "Do you mind if we inspect your bag, sir?" I am secretly relieved my latest issue of Wet and Wild is absent. Just kidding. This is a kid-friendly blog. So I will say, "just kidding." Although I am sure there are a few number of kids who do read this blog. And if they do and they are scandalized then I am sure I can rightly join the ranks of Socrates's who was charged with "corruption of the youth." In fact, I just had a conversation about Socrates's trial in class last Thursday. Most students agree that Socrates is a cool cat. But, I wonder if they would have liked him if they had actually met him. I too think Socrates is a cool cat but I have a suspicion that I would not like him very much. I think it is the passage in the Meno that compares him to a stingray. Meno tells him that his frequent and accumulating questions without answers numb him like a sting ray's sting (or a jellyfish?). Why be so numbing Socrates? It goes against educational practice today. We are not supposed to overload our students with too many questions. Socrates asks Meno one question after another. Without answer. And more complicated. Can virtue be taught? He does not like Meno's answer so he asks him more questions. How can we get at the heart of virtue? Do we even know what virtue is in its essence? I don't think Socrates is satisfied that strength tells us anything about courage as a whole or that healthy bones tell us anything about health. Socrates wants to get at the heart of the matter. We don't know anything about the essence of a virtue. In fact we know nothing for certain about wholes in of themselves. We know via recollection. We remember knowledge. Since we existed before this life (our souls are immortal) we come into corporeal existences with the memory of our past existence buried deep within us. Knowledge is memory recall. The puzzle is the access to our soul's knowledge is not an open flood way. It is more like a dam with tiny holes allowing a minuscule of seepage to pass through. Damn transmigration of souls. How can I know anything if I do not even know that I must remember to know? That is the stingray part. At least for me. How do I access the treasure trove of knowledge from above? Do I look at beautiful things to stimulate my mind to recollect? Socrates suggests it is all by mere chance. So remember and some don't. The son of a wise man is not necessarily wise. The key is the tether. When you got it — hold it down. Don't let a morsel of knowledge get away and be able to distinguish the dross from the good stuff. I like how the Meno ends. Odysseus was able to identify Tiresias among the shades in Hell because Tiresias shone with a special light. He was a flitter of glory among shadows. In other words who knows when we will "get it"; maybe never, but the thing is, when we do in fact see it, we will know it.


Philosophy With Friends: Chat Transcript On What Constitutes the Good Life

On Facebook, a friend posted on her wall, “wouldn't mind a little more certainty in an inherently uncertain world.” She then asked me on Gchat (Gmail’s in-chat messaging service) “will life ever become clear, or will it just continue onwards until the end in an unsettled state?”
Here is the rest of our chat conversation which ran like this:
Greig (9:14:50 PM): I think life has the potential to become clearer. But, most events, including life, are a combination of good luck, and good decisions. I'm not sure clarity is a given.

Uncertainty (9:17:30 PM): =)

G (9:17:49 PM): That’s one answer. I call it my virtue/luck answer

U (9:19:08 PM): In that case, I guess I'll focus on making good decisions, and try to worry less about the clarity.  I guess - it's just sometimes difficult to know if the decisions you're making are good. Some are clear.  Like - meth is bad.

G (9:20:18 PM): The other answer would be to restate the question. It's not the end of life that's unsettling: to reach the end is a given. The real question is the beginning: how did I get here! I mean not birth. That's a given. But here: in this state of affairs. What is it to be here.

U (9:19:56 PM): But most things are more up in the air. I don't know; I don't think we can know.

G (9:21:21 PM): I think there are multiple ways to live a life.

U (9:21:22 PM): See my earlier comment about being unsettled =)

G (9:21:27 PM): Ok

U (9:21:28 PM): What ways?

G (9:22:05 PM): I'm straying from your original question. Wait. I'm going to write a blog post about this. Let me think about this

U (9:22:28 PM): Ok =)

G (9:22:58 PM): Your question about an unsettled life is a great question. It hits on a more fundamental question: What is the good (life). What makes life good (or not)? Is a good life possible?

U (9:24:25 PM): I like to think so. I suspect that a good life would be unstressful, but avoiding all stress might make the life I lead less good =) Maybe useful versus enjoyable?

G (9:25:45 PM): You're hitting on major aspects of the issue. 1. Useful 2. Pleasure (hedonism). The useful argument goes like this: the greatest good for the greatest number. That's utilitarianism. You get efficient subways but no art. The pleasure argument: eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow you may die. But it dismisses the reality principle. The god argument is not an argument. [This last comment alludes to a fb post on U’s wall that read: “
You don't need it because you only have to rely on God. TRUST!”]

U (9:29:40 PM): Are we very good at judging what's useful?

G (9:30:41 PM): Good question.

U (9:30:41 PM): Right.  Although it may help us to experience less personal stress by removing our sense of responsibility.

G (9:31:13 PM): Then then there's the Protestant argument: adversity breeds life. Without stress, there's no possibility for the possibility of something new If life is all vanilla

U (9:32:03 PM): Well, yeah, but too much is *stressful*.

G (9:32:04 PM): Is that the good?

U (9:32:16 PM): Probably not.

G (9:32:28 PM): The good is not easy to grasp. If it's not pleasure, it's not unstress. ??? Is it something like a combination of fulfillment and attaining the golden mean. Like take any virtue. Courage. We say the courageous man is a good. [And I am taking this from Aristotle. God I sound like a teacher in this chat]. But there's a spectrum

U (9:34:13 PM): And it depends on what he's up to when he's out being courageous.

G (9:34:25 PM): If I'm too courageous I'm foolhardy and if I'm not courageous enough I'm a coward. And if im only courageous once. I'm not a life long lived courageous. So it seem if the attainment of virtue Leads To the good It's a life long project of hits and misses. Aristotle once said no one can know the good unless he lived ir *it Which is a clever way of saying nothing  Lol

U (9:36:09 PM): =)

G (9:36:34 PM): So at the end of the day I'm not sure if there is a guarantee on happiness  Or the good Plato said the unexamined life is not worth living But I'm not sure if he knows Paris Hilton

U (9:37:25 PM): Well, how do you know she doesn't examine her life?

G (9:37:33 PM): Maybe I'm being sexist

U (9:37:34 PM): Ah. She's a pretty successful business woman.

G (9:37:42 PM): Strike against me. Bad example. You're right

U (9:38:08 PM): So, Plato is saying that there's no point if living if we don't worry about whether we're living well?

G (9:38:16 PM): Kinda lame huh?

U (9:38:28 PM): Lil' bit.

G (9:39:18 PM): Paris Hilton doesn't have to an examined life to be successful

U (9:39:30 PM): True.

G (9:39:38 PM): If that were true we'd all want to be philosophers

U (9:39:44 PM): =)

G (9:39:58 PM): Which is a profession made to support examiners

U (9:40:24 PM): Do you examine yourselves or mostly other people?

G (9:40:45 PM): I tend to examine ideas. But if I'm going to examine myself. I do it psychoanalytically. Gah.

U (9:41:33 PM): I'm just going to mention that I'm not sure that I have a technical understanding of that word.

G (9:41:34 PM): Gah!

G (9:41:47 PM): I go to Freud.

U (9:41:54 PM): Wasn't he kind of a jerk?

G (9:42:27 PM): Basically psychoanalytic thinking is trying to uncover unconscious motivation for why we do stuff. While Freud is truly not the paradigm of Christian virtue I think he is dead on about that. But anyway uncertainty.

U (9:44:25 PM): Is [it] just uncertain, and we all have to just learn to deal with it?

G (9:45:00 PM): Gah! Let me get back to you. Lol!

U (9:45:19 PM): =) Ok.  I'm gonna get back to plotting [Marking plots of data for analysis purposes]. And less worrying about uncertainty in an unpredictable future. It's always nice talking to you, G.

G (9:46:21 PM): You too! Ttyl.

U (9:46:28 PM): Bye! =)

G (9:46:44 PM): Yah yah yah tah tah


Plato's Allegory of the Cave in Plain Language

Retold from The Republic of Plato

image credit: "Plato and the Pure Forms"
       Once upon a time, everyone on earth lived in total darkness. In a cave.
       The only light people had was from a huge fire. The fire never stopped burning. The fire shone light from behind the people. But people were unable to turn around and see the source of the light because they were all chained to a wall. In between the fire and the people were cut-outs, of animals, trees, dogs, cars, etc., all the objects of the sensible world.
        The light from the flame cast the outline of the paper cut-outs onto the wall of the cave. The people chained to the wall were only able to perceive shadows of objects and not real objects. People only saw images. People were content. No one attempted to escape.
        But, one day a man became unchained. He at first did not know what to do with his new found freedom. But, he decided to turn around. He was surprised to see, when he turned around, that what he thought was real, was only shadows cast onto a wall from paper cut-outs.
         "That's lame," he said.
         He walked around the fire and the paper cut-outs and found an exit out of the cave. He climbed out. He stood on solid ground. He looked up and saw the brightness of the sun and shielded his eyes. The light was intense. After living in a cave all his life he had never experience the light of the sun. The intensity of the light was way too much for his unaccustomed eyes. But after a few hours above ground he began to adjust to the light and was able to see more clearly. He could discern leaves on trees and was able to distinguish goats from dogs. Everything was way more clear than down in the darkness of the cave.
        He became so overjoyed at what he was seeing, that he decided to tell all his friends in the cave so they could know the truth. He went back underground. Into the darkness.
        "Hey, guys. It's me. Look. You're all chained to a wall and what you see on the wall is not really real. Those are just shadows. You cannot see it, but behind you is a fire that casts shadows of paper objects onto the wall. None of that is real. I have been above ground and seen the sun and have seen real trees and real dogs. Not shadows. Allow me to release you from your chains and you can see for yourself."
        The people would not have any of this. They said amongst themselves, "He is crazy. Let us kill him." So they did. All at once they pounced on him and killed him because they could not accept the truth of his words.
         After they killed him they forgot about him. To this day no one speaks of the unchained man.

The End

If you would like to teach your students the Allegory of the Cave and you need additional resources, check out this lesson plan I created on Teachers Pay Teachers. You and your students will love it - and I gave it a lot of extra time and attention (which I hope you'll use and appreciate).
Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh, Twelfth, Adult Education, Homeschooler, Not Grade Specific -


Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Plato's Theory of Bisexuality

Read about how the song "Origin of Love" from the musical movie Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a primer on Plato's theory of bisexuality.
image credit: Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Freud uses the myth of the three human figures (taken from Plato’s Symposium) to illustrate the human instinct to need to return to a former state, which he calls the death drive, which, as can be seen by the myth, is fueled by the libido of desire.
“‘The original human nature was not like the present, but different. In the first place, the sexes were originally three in number, not two as they are now; there was man, woman, and the union of the two.’ Everything about these primaeval men was double: they had four hands and four feet, two faces, two privy parts, and so on. Eventually Zeus decided to cut these men in two .... After the division had been made, ‘the two parts of man, each desiring his other half, came together, and threw their arms about one another eager to grow into one.’” (Freud Beyond the Pleasure Principle, 69-70).
In the film, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Hedwig uses the same myth to inspire a song she calls, “The Origin of Love.”

Lyrics from “Origins of Love”