Posts Tagged ‘Plato and Emerson’

EDCI 506 Idealism and Realism Week #4

Friday, September 21st, 2012

Idealism & Realism

How The Cave and The Over-soul relate to Idealism

When reading The Cave, I found many similarities to the Idealism philosophy, which made sense to me considering Plato is the originator of the Idealism philosophy.  In relation to the metaphysics of Idealism, Plato discusses the people who live in the cave as only being able to perceive the world through shadows, meaning only seeing part of what exists. These shadows are ultimately a part of the whole, they exist within the whole truth, but without knowing the whole truth they are meaningless.  Once the freed person saw the real light, and not just the fire, they were able to see more of the whole truth; they were able to perceive the world for what it really is.  Once they returned to the cave and darkness they were able to then recognize what the different shadows represented, whereas the others who were too afraid of the light still were ignorant to the truth.  The real sunlight represents the macrocosm or universal mind and the fire and shadows represent the microcosm or personal mind.

The Cave also can relate to the Idealism epistemology.  The book says that “the Absolute or God has been revealed, over-time, to those who have sought the truth” (Ornstein, Levine, & Gutek, 2011, p.171).  The people who were willing to leave the cave are the ones who sought the truth, which was ultimately revealed to them.  Idealists believe that “education is the intellectual process of bringing these ideas into the learner’s consciousness” (Ornstein, Levine, & Gutek, 2011, p.171).  The people who decided to leave the cave are the ones who are being educated. According to the WiseGeek website (2012), the ones who saw the true light “would know their previous existence was farce, a shadow of truth, and they would come to understand that their lives had been one of deception”.

The Over-soul also relates extremely well to the Idealist philosophy.  The logic is where I personally saw a huge overlap, and that is because of the “whole-to-part relationship between the Absolute and the individual minds” (Ornstein, Levine, & Gutek, 2011, p.171).  In Emerson’s essay he states, “within man is the soul of the whole; the wise silence; the universal beauty, to which every part and particle is equally related; the eternal ONE” (Emerson, 1841).  Emerson (1841), also reinforces the epistemology of Idealism; he states “the spirit of prophecy which is innate in every man,” meaning that the mind of the Absolute exists in all of us innately, we just have to discover it.  There are many ways in which Emerson and Plato influenced the philosophy of Idealism, these are just a few of the connections that I made.

Realism Tree Question

The question considered here is, if a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, would it make a noise?  From a realist’s perspective, yes the tree would still make a noise because “reality exists independently of our knowing it” (Ornstein, Levine, & Gutek, 2011, p.173).  Objects, like trees, exist in a real world that was not made by human beings, therefore, stills exists even when no human beings are around to see it or experience it falling.  The realist axiology focuses on human beings thinking and acting in a rational way, or “making decisions based on knowledge” (Ornstein, Levine, & Gutek, 2011, p.174).  If a human saw a tree that was fallen over, than they can assume that at one point the tree was upright and that at some point in time it fell and made a noise, even though they may never have seen it all actually happen.  We as humans make decisions based on knowledge, and part of our knowledge base involves trees.  So overall, if a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, it still does in fact make a noise, from a realist’s perspective.

How do the ideas of Idealism and Realism relate to teaching and student learning?

According to the idealism philosophy, teaching should involve stimulating the “learner’s awareness of ideas by asking leading questions” (Ornstein, Levine, & Gutek, 2011, p.172).  It should also involve a lot of modeling so that students may imitate and learn from replication.  The idealism philosophy also relates to teaching and student learning because of the high intellectual expectations that teachers are supposed to have for all students, this relates really well with current trends in education.  Teachers should have high expectations for all students, which will help foster their learning and achievement to the highest possibilities.  I also think that the idealist philosophy relates well with teaching and student learning from a technology standpoint.  I would say that in many schools in America, technology is used as a tool to help educate students, and is not used as a means to an end (Ornstein, Levine, & Gutek, 2011).

The realism philosophy also relates to teaching and student learning in many ways.  Realists claim that formal education “is the study of knowledge organized and classified into subject-matter disciplines” (Ornstein, Levine, & Gutek, 2011, p.174).  This involves teaching and student learning, because teachers teach specific subjects such as math, science, and English, and students learn those specific subjects.  Realists also claim, “schools are academic institutions that societies establish to provide students with knowledge about the objective world in which they live” (Ornstein, Levine, & Gutek, 2011, p.175).  Today’s students are going to school to get prepared to be in the real world.  We discussed this is class the other night, how school is really a way to prepare students for life after education and for adulthood, and I think that the realists would agree.  Another realist idea that relates to teaching is the idea that teachers need to be experts in what they teach, or in other words major in the area in which they want to teach.  Realists are also in favor of standardized tests; they claim, “standards help keep schools and teachers accountable” (Ornstein, Levine, & Gutek, 2011, p.175).  Overall, there are many ways in which the idealist and realist philosophies relate to teaching and student learning.

Which idea best fits with your own views of reality? Why?

There are many aspects of both the idealist and realist philosophies that I agree with and that fit with my personal view of reality.  I tend to agree more so with the realists from a metaphysics standpoint; I think that reality exists in a “material world that is independent of and external to the knower’s mind” (Ornstein, Levine, & Gutek, 2011, p.174).  I think that reality can exist beyond what someone personally knows.  For example, I am not very knowledgeable in a lot of areas, however, it does not mean that those aspects of life are not based in reality, it just means that I might not be fully aware of all that those areas entail.  According to the text, idealists and realists believe that classifying subjects and knowledge helps people learn about reality, and I agree with that to some extent.  I do think that I learn best when information is categorized and organized in a way that makes sense to me; if I am given information in a jumbled way than I am not very likely to learn anything.  I do not however, think that that is the only way to learn about reality, I think you can also learn by simply experiencing aspects of the real world.


Additional Link

Here is a website that summarizes the literal meaning of The Cave and the allegorical meaning.  A quote that I really like, talks about the people adjusting their eyes to the light at first and then to the darkness again.  The quote reads, “The dazzling of our eyes for the first time symbolizes difficulty of denies the material world. The second time dazzling of the eyes symbolizes our difficulty to accept ignorance after knowing the reality.”


Emerson, R.W. (1841). The over-soul. Retrieved from


Ornstein, A.C., Levine, D.U., & Gutek, G.L. (2011). Foundations of education (11th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.


What is the allegory of the cave? (2012). Retrieved from