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Simon Trépanier (Edinburgh)

Simon Trépanier (Edinburgh) will offer a presentation titled “The Cave Before Plato.”
Lecture series at the Department of Philosophy of UdeM. Thursday (October 26) 1 p.m. – 3 p.m. Room 307, 2910 Édouard-Montpetit, Montreal.

(514a) “Imagine men dwelling in a sort of subterranean cavern with a long entrance open to the light on its entire width. They are in it from childhood, with their legs and necks in chains, so that they remain in the same place, able to see only in front of them, hindered by the chains from turning their heads around.” Trans. Chambry, Les Belles Lettres, 1933

This presentation will offer a study of the image (and not simply allegory) of Plato’s cave. After providing context for the image within the Republic, my primary aim is to advocate for a deliberately literal reading of the cave, following ancient Platonist readers (Plotinus and especially Proclus), suggesting that the cave corresponds with other myths in Plato’s works, particularly in terms of its cosmology (= different levels of cosmic life). I will then revisit the well-known obstacles to this reading found in the text of the Republic, as well as the motives that favor an allegorical interpretation of the cave. Subsequently, I will introduce a new piece of data, the New Empedocles, which removes any doubt: the image of the cave was not invented by Plato. There was a cave before Plato. While the New Empedocles reinforces the cosmological-eschatological interpretation of the cave, it does not eliminate the difficulties that motivate an allegorical reading. How do we resolve this deadlock? The formula kata to dunaton offers a distinction that shows we need not ascribe just one meaning to the image of the cave. Plato plays on—and also coordinates—two registers, the present life, and the afterlife.