Differentiating the Views of Plato, René Descartes, Mahatma Gandhi, and Mary Wollstonecraft on Appearance and Reality Essay
Differentiating the Views of Plato, René Descartes, Mahatma Gandhi, and Mary Wollstonecraft on Appearance and Reality
The inexplicable and incomprehensible difference between appearance or mere image and reality has been one of the most discussed and debated issues in philosophy. Although it may appear a bit of an exaggeration to say that it was the biggest debate in philosophy, it can be safer to say that it holds a huge part in the major discussions held by the greatest philosophers. As it appears, almost all the popular philosophers — even those who explored non-aesthetic fields like government and education — had something to say about this seemingly eternal discussion. This makes the people of contemporary world wonder about the gap that separates appearance and reality. Is there anything that holds them together which makes them not at all alien from each other? These queries have long been echoing within the four walls of philosophy, and people have had varying answers and theories about this interesting topic. Four of the most popular arguments and claims about this issue have stood out through time, and these have been differentiated and compared in the objective to find either unity or contrast in their perspectives. These are the views of the great minds, Plato, René Descartes, Mahatma Gandhi, and Mary Wollstonecraft.
Contrasting and Comparing The Four Perspective on Appearance and Reality
In this seemingly unending quest for the difference between the concepts of appearance and reality, numerous great philosophers have put their minds to discover the truth behind the mystery that both binds and separates appearance from reality. One of these great philosophers who shared their arguments on this issue is Plato. Plato is one of the greatest rationalist thinkers. He relied mainly on the faculty of reason which he believes is unaffected by the senses. In the book seven of his work, The Republic, he describes and expounds on the absurdity when people mistake an illusion to be a reality when they know that there is still some place to go where knowledge can be acquired and formed which will eventually reveal the reality and shatter their illusion. He argues that since birth, men have been prone to believe the things that are in front of them, even through there is a more real thing somewhere. For them, this situation is like looking at prisoners who know see nothing but plain shadows behind bars. He once quoted Socrates asking, “in the first place, do you think these prisoners have ever seen anything of themselves and one another besides the shadows that the fire casts on the wall of the cave in front of them?” (Plato 208). This implies that the images and appearances that a person has seen from birth may not always be the truth and reality, for the truth can only be discovered if that person will go beyond what he or she sees before him or her.
On the other hand, René Descartes, who was a follower and a believer of Plato’s philosophy, appears to have a completely different but not entirely opposite view from that of his mentor. Descartes’ point is mainly religious in nature which implies that only God has the ability to tell what the reality is from deception, and that only He can impose this reality among men (Descartes 27). Plato did not dwell much on the relevance of a divine power on reality, but Descartes points out that only a person’s knowledge of God can reveal what is true and what is not and eventually protect him or her from possible deceptions that evil and the material world created. This point of view by Descartes significantly influenced the entire study on appearance and reality. In fact, it can be considered as the first religion-oriented point of view ever presented by a radical philosopher regarding the concepts of appearance and reality.
Aside from Plato and Descartes, another great mind and individual who made a significant contribution to the exploration on the appearance versus reality issue is Mahatma Gandhi. In contrast to Plato’s view, Gandhi claims that individuals cannot hold truth in their own hands, and that it cannot be controlled by their own intellect. He agrees with Plato on his belief on appearance as externally focused, but he believes that truth does not come from men but from God (Gandhi 30). His view therefore appears similar to that of Descartes since they both emphasize that truth is dependent on God. However, Gandhi points out that appearance is merely based on humans’ perception while truth is not a property of God — rather, it is similar to Him (Gandhi 35).
Lastly, Mary Wollstonecraft can be best remembered in her fight for her ideal that there has to be no discrimination at all between men and women in terms of abilities. She argues through her work, A Vindication of the Rights of Women, that the lack of education never makes women weaker than the men; rather, they must be seen to be equal in their potentials when educated (Wollstonecraft 23). But in terms of the difference between appearance and reality, her argument still appears to revolve around the issue of discrimination against women. She argues that appearance never measures the worth of a person and neither does it reveal the reality behind a person, an objects, and a situation. She made this more understandable by arguing that the society can never measure women by merely looking at their well-kept appearances, but rather, their reality will only be visible on the extent of their knowledge and understanding, which the society chooses not to see because of the long-living impression that women are naturally weak and illiterate (Wollstonecraft 23).
Based on the discussions earlier, it can be inferred that the four philosophers perceive appearance and reality in different aspects and lights. Plato chose to look at these concepts as related to man’s choices of what and what not to believe in. Descartes and Gandhi, on the other hand, having been inspired and influenced greatly by their religion, chose to center their perspective on the connection of God to reality. While these three perceive the concept of reality in a deep philosophical and theological way, Wollstonecraft appears to be influenced by her sociological and sexist sensitivity that she related reality to the discriminations experienced by women in the society. Although these claims may say different things about the concepts of appearance and reality, they were nevertheless able to shed some light on this seemingly eternal debate.
Descartes, René. Discourse on Method and Meditations. Trans. Elizabeth S. Haldane and George Robert Thomson Ross. Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, 2003.
Gandhi, Mahatma. Mahatma Gandhi: Selected Political Writings. Ed. Dennis Dalton. Indianapolis, Indiana: Hackett Publishing, 1996.
Plato. Republic. Trans. D. C. Reeve. Indianapolis, Indiana: Hackett Publishing, 2004.
Wollstonecraft, Mary. A Vindication of the Rights of Women. New York: Dover Publications, 1996.