judge science on how well it connects us to our inner self as well as to our outer shell. - Passing Notes
News Facts Spirit Plato's Cave Red Virgin
Cave Glossary


"Attention consists of suspending our thought, leaving it detached, empty and ready to be penetrated by the object. It means holding in our minds, within reach of this thought, but on a lower level and not in contact with it, the diverse knowledge we have acquired which we are forced to make use of. Above all our thought should be empty, waiting, not seeking anything, but ready to receive in its naked truth the object which is to penetrate it."

"Absolute unmixed attention is prayer. "

morality ... internal

"Where as the desire for gold is not gold, the desire for good is itself a good -- our only task is to desire the good."

The Great Beast

The Great Beast is introduced in Book VI of The Republic. It represents the prejudices and passions of the masses. To please the Great Beast you call what it delights in Good, and what it dislikes Evil. In America this is called politics.


The school administrators ordered Simone to rub out the Platonic inscription she and the students inscribed above the classroom door.

'No one admitted unless he knows geometry'

Geometry remained for Weil what it was for
ancient Greeks like Pythagoras, a study of beauty in the world, a spiritual exercise because it taught the all-important discipline of attention, and so ultimately a form of religious contemplation.

excerpts as noted from GRAVITY AND GRACE by Simone Weil, New York, G. P. Putnam & Sons, 1952. edited and arranged by Gustave Tibon, translated by Emma Craufurd

French © Libraire Plon 1947
English © G.P.Putnam's & Sons 1956
All Rights Reserved

Diagram of Simone Weil's interpretation of Plato's Cave

Allegory of the Cave: 1, 2

In order to direct one's attention to the perfect patterns of things, one has to stop valuing things which are always changing and not eternal.

One can look at the same world, which is before our eyes, either from the point of view of its relation to time, or from that of its relationship to eternity. Education means turning the soul in the direction in which it should look, of delivering the soul from the passions.

Plato's morality is: Do not make the worst possible mistake of deceiving yourself. We know that we are acting correctly when the power of thinking is not hindered by what we are doing. To do only those things which one can think clearly, and not to do those things which force the mind to have unclear thoughts about what one is doing. That is the whole of Plato's morality.

True morality is purely internal.

The man who has left the cave annoys the great beast. (Cf. Stendhal: 'All good reasoning causes offence.')

Intelligence offends by its very nature, thinking annoys the people in the cave.

If one stays in the cave, however easily one will be able to observe all the external rules of virtue, one will never be virtuous. Intellectual life and moral life are one.

What Plato calls the world of what passes away, these are things in so far as one thinks of them in relation to our passions.

One must not say: 'I am incapable of understanding'; one should say: 'I can turn the eyes of the soul in such a way that I will understand.' This equality of minds is a duty, not a matter of fact. (Cf. Descartes.)

The wise have to return to the cave, and act there. One has to reach the stage where power is in the hands of those who refuse it, and not of those whose ambition it is to possess it.

Plato's aim is to find out what forms of knowledge are the right ones to educate those who want to get out of the cave. These are: Arithmetic, Geometry, Astronomy, Music.

Plato's statement about all forms of knowledge:

'They are divine images and reflections of things that are true', so things as they appear to us are appearances of appearances; at least they are this as long as we stay in the cave.

Those who devote themselves to geometry, to the mathematical sciences, grasp what is but as it were in a dream.

So, there is a higher form of knowledge than mathematics which gives an account of the process of thought itself. This is dialectic (Greek word deleted). Unfortunately Plato does not tell us what this higher form of knowledge is. He only states what qualities the dialectician will have: he must be hard-working (physically and mentally), he must hate lying and falsehood.

NEXT section: the Red Virgin

excerpted from LECTURES ON PHILOSOPHY by Simone Weil based on notes taken by Anne Reynaud-Guérithault when Weil's pupil in a French girls' school 1933-34, translated by Hugh Price, London, Cambridge Univ. Press, 1978

French © Lecons de philosphie Librairie Plon, 1959
English © English translation Cambridge University Press, 1978
All Rights Reserved


© Brian Thomas, 2009
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