In the pages of The Chronicles of Narnia, Lewis has been found to draw up blatant examples of Christian truths and themes. Aslan’s death on the Table and rising again in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe being parallel to Jesus’s sacrifice on the Cross; his asking of Eustace to puncture his hand with a thorn when bringing new life to Caspian being a representation of the crown of thorns and nails that pierced the hands of our Savior; Eustace’s transformation in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader being a symbol for salvation, conversion, and baptism; the list can go on for how Lewis used Narnia’s characters to their full capacity for allegory. However, I do not believe that Lewis is so simple a man to carve in only the most obvious examples in his texts. Instead, one of the most engaging aspects of Narnia is its layered approach; it is equal parts children’s story as it is Christian doctrine. I argue that it’s also equal parts simplistic as it is deep and profound. While I am sure that my capacity for understanding only grants me the small fortune of finding these hidden gems periodically, I was recently graced in having my eyes opened to some of Lewis’ more philosophic arguments while reading The Silver Chair. Lewis uses Plato’s concepts on education, Forms, and the allegory of the cave during the course of the entire book, while finally drawing it to a conclusion with the ontological argument in the battle with the Green Witch, thus showing an argument for reality for not only Narnians but for our own faith as well.
A Quick Note
It was actually a friend’s paper that originally drew my attention to the allegory of the cave. This may be slightly off point, but one of my favorite aspects of being able to edit and proofread papers and review books is the knowledge that I am able to capture in those moments. I myself am not taking that class; I myself did not read that book, but I have been able to glean something from someone else’s experience, an experience that I wouldn’t have been able to witness if it just depended on my own physical location. This sharing of knowledge, this communal aspect of learning, is precious to me, and through it, I have been even able to extend it further by writing this post. And what’s more exciting is the design of it. We can never know how the knowledge that we learn and share with others is going to affect another; everything is in motion, even if we are unaware of it. This is partially the reason why it’s difficult for me to turn down requests to edit papers because I always wonder about the opportunity cost. One way or the other, though, I believe that information is going to reach the person it needs to. Perhaps, my friend, me editing my friend’s paper was for you.
Let’s just do a quick background on Plato’s view on education, the Forms, and the allegory of the cave, so as to further see the connection to Lewis’ world and text. After that, I will give a brief definition of the ontological argument.
Plato and the Forms
Plato wrote “The Allegory of the Cave” in his book Republic in its original Greek. It is a conversation between Glaucon (Plato’s brother) and Socrates (his mentor), with Socrates dictating the scene. On a general level, it is seen as a discussion on how education affects one’s nature. More specifically, and looking within the context of the book that it resides in, the allegory serves as an example for Plato’s concept of the Divided Line, which is discussed earlier in the book. (Kemerling, n.d.)
In Republic, Plato argues that the ideal society is one in which those who have been most educated and contain the most knowledge of the most essential aspects of life are the ones in power. Therefore, it is considerably important for a country or society to raise the question of what is the best avenue for education and raising children, and more specifically, raising the children who show skill in philosophical matters. Plato explains that it is usually poor upbringing or poor education that steals opportunity and potential away from its brightest young ones, thus making it easier for that which is not truly important by philosophical standards, such as fame, wealth, or comfort, to end up being chosen rather than a more difficult but higher calling. Therefore, it was the belief of Plato that education must be had and done well in order for society and its people to flourish. (Kemerling, n.d.)
This calling, or higher goal for education, could be attributed to what Plato calls the “knowledge of the Good.” However, this is not speaking toward simple happiness but an actual meeting with the true Form, the root of Good. If we are talking in Christianity terms, this would be the debate that our enjoyment of good food and good drink does, indeed, create moments of happiness. However, our meeting with God, who created the food and drink, transcends even that mortal happiness, as we can glorify God as Creator through our experiences with his creation. This Form of the Good in which Plato speaks of is the standard, the base, the root by which we engage with and understand that which is around us. Therefore, Plato summarizes that objects, what could be described as a shadow of the Form of Good, are of importance in the way that they join in with the Form of Good but are themselves not the Form of Good.
Likewise, our own understanding of reality comes in portioned degrees as we engage with different objects. In this way, we can see that there is a difference between the objects—the visible realm that we can see, taste, touch, and feel—and the ultimate standard and truth, genuine knowledge, which is found in the invisible realm. Following this train of thought, Plato created the concept of the Divided Line, thus getting closer to our conversation regarding the cave. Considering the separation of the visible and the invisible, Plato’s linear, horizontal line is divided into four distinct categories, which is to represent our entire humanly cognition. (“Plato’s divided line,” n.d.; Kemerling, n.d.)
The four segments are as follows: the lowest level within the visible realm (AB) consists of shadows and reflection; the second level of the visible realm (BC) contains physical objects, which become the underlying support of our belief; the next level (CD) moves into the intelligible realm, away from the visible realm, which hosts simplistic Forms such as mathematics and systematic knowledge; lastly, the most complete level (DE) are the highest Forms, which are Equality, Beauty, Truth, and Good, and they represent a permanency that the visible world can never have. (“Plato’s divided line,” n.d.; Kemerling, n.d.)
The Allegory of the Cave
With this Divided Line hosting some complexity, Plato then moves on into his example of the allegory of the cave, hoping to shed some more light on the visible and invisible world. The story goes something like this.
Imagine that there is a group of prisoners chained in a cave. They have been there since they were children but not since birth. They are unable to move or look around at their surroundings, they merely stare at one of the cave’s walls, which is in front of them. Unbeknownst to the prisoners, there is an entire scene going on behind them. There is a raised fire in the far back of the cave and a host of people who are carrying objects between the fire and the wall that the prisoners are chained to. The light of the fire creates a reflection of the objects that the people are carrying onto the cave wall that the prisoners see directly in front of them. Those reflections are those prisoners’ reality, as they are the only thing that they can see. Likewise, the people in the background make sounds, but once again, the prisoners see no people; they only see the reflections. Therefore, this brings reality and perceived life to the reflections all the more. The more observant prisoners may engage in pondering about the reflections, but nonetheless, they remain only shadows. This is their perceived understanding, as they are not aware of the truth of the objects, and this scene represents the AC visible realm. (Kemerling, n.d.)
One day a prisoner breaks free from his chains and is able to take the perilous journey to the outside world. The prisoner is blinded by the sun, and while, at first, he can only stare at the shadows of the outside world, his eyes slowly become more and more able to grasp ahold of the light, and he begins to see things one piece at a time. Eventually, he is able to even look at the sun itself. The prisoner decides to go back to the cave to be able to tell the other prisoners about what he learned, about the truth all around them, and the true reality. He tells him that there is a greater reality to behold. While the shadows speak to the basis of belief, it does not end there; it is merely a small portion of reality in comparison to what exists outside of our senses.
Surely, they would be intrigued by the words of the escaped prisoner, and the prisoner would make quite a sight due to their stumbling around in the darkness after having gotten accustomed to the light. Socrates in the story narrates that the ideal would be that the prisoners would listen and reflect on the prisoner’s experiences. That they would either simply follow the wise instruction of the free prisoner, or that they themselves would choose to commit themselves to the process of seeing the light.
This allegory was fully designed to share the truth of human comprehension and reality. Many of us, if not all of us, are living a life within the visible world; we are the ones trapped and chained, educated by shadows. Our minds have been filled with ideas of the inessential or impermanent, and we are mostly untrained when it comes to the seeking of the greater reality of the invisible realm that exists. Likewise, due to this, when philosophers speak to us on these matters, while it would be good to follow their example and attempt to gain knowledge on spiritual disciplines, many of us will simply choose to remain in chains due to our lack of education and our captivation with the visible. (Kemerling, n.d.)
Lewis uses not only the allegory of the cave but also the ontological argument in Chapter 12 of The Silver Chair. Encyclopaedia Britannica defines the ontological argument as an “argument that proceeds from the idea of God to the reality of God” (The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, n.d.). The argument was originally founded by St. Anselm and was later expounded on by René Descartes. Here is a brief overlook of Anslem’s argument:
Anselm began with the concept of God as that than which nothing greater can be conceived. To think of such a being as existing only in thought and not also, in reality, involves a contradiction since a being that lacks real existence is not a being than which none greater can be conceived. A yet greater being would be one with the further attribute of existence. Thus the unsurpassably perfect being must exist; otherwise, it would not be unsurpassably perfect. This is among the most discussed and contested arguments in the history of thought. (The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, n.d.)
This concept will come into play in the book at its climax, and therefore, will be brought up then in further detail. With the background all set up, let’s go into our analysis.