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Plato's Allegory Of The Cave

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Autor:   •  November 14, 2010  •  3,624 Words (15 Pages)  •  571 Views

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Plato was born 427 BC, and died 347 BC. He was one of Socrates’ pupils, and learned very much from him. Plato wrote dialogues which collectively described Socrates’ teachings. He was preparing to enter politics when he discovered Socrates and his ideas, which changed his life. He began to follow philosophy, and opened a school called the Academy which was outside of Athens. The school was dedicated to Socrates and his search for wisdom.

Plato was both a writer and a teacher, unlike Socrates who was only a teacher. Everything he wrote was in the form of dialogue, which Socrates was always included in. His most famous work was The Republic. Its purpose was to inform people about what is necessary to educate philosophically. Within the Republic, Plato tells a story of man’s struggle for knowledge. He calls this story, вЂ?The Allegory of the Cave.” This is one of Plato’s many parables that explain the theory’s of knowledge. This story intertwines most of Plato’s postulations about Philosophy. These include his ideas that; the world our senses portray is not the real world but only a copy of it, and that we can only discover the real world through intellect and teaching; that knowledge is not transmitted from teacher to student, but that the teacher must guide the student towards learning what is important and let them find their own way; his ideas that the universe is good; and that individuals who have been fortunate enough to be enlightened owe it to society to show them the way.

Below, some paraphrased excerpts from the Allegory will help us to analyze the story.

Now then, imagine mankind as living in an underground cave which has a wide entrance open to the light. Deep inside are human beings facing the inside wall of the cave, with their necks and legs chained so they cannot move, or look in any other direction but forward. They have never seen the light of day or the sun outside the cave. Behind the prisoners a fire burns, and between the fire and prisoners there is raised way on which a low wall has been built, such as is used in puppet shows as a screen to conceal the people working the puppets. Along the raised way people walk carrying all sorts of things which they hold so that they project above the wall. These things are statues of men, animals, and trees. The prisoners, facing the inside wall, cannot see one another, or the wall behind them on which the objects are being carried - all they can see are the shadows these objects cast on the wall of the cave. The prisoners live all their lives seeing only shadows of reality, and the voices they hear are only echoes from the wall. But the prisoners do not know that these shadows are not real, or that the echoes are not coming from the shadows themselves. So the prisoners cling to the familiar shadows because that is all they have ever known. If one was ever freed, he would turn towards the fire and be blinded by the light. This would make him angry, and have him prefer to return to his shadow world. But if one of the prisoners were freed and turned around to see, in the light of the fire, the cave and his fellow prisoners. If he were then dragged upwards, out of the cave into the light of the sun, he would see the things of the world as they truly are. He would also see the sun, and eventually realize that the sun is the reason we can see all the things in the world, and that it is where light comes from. What would this person think now of the life in the cave and what people there know of reality and of morality? And when he went to descend back into the cave, to save the other prisoners, and show them the way, he would be fought against. He would be challenged to see, and would get ridiculed by the other prisoners. They would tell him that his vision was fine before he left the cave, and that going outside hurt it. So why would they want to go out there? They would not understand. They need to experience it for themselves.

Some find the symbols in the Allegory of the cave hard to recognize. There are 6 of them. The cave symbolizes our unlimited world of reference, the prisoners are all people, the stake resembles ignorance, and the chains represent our unwillingness to learn. The echoes and shadows represent objects of limited reference, and the sun represents the truth. These symbols show us how much there is that we do not understand or realize. In the cave, knowledge is based on what is most real. But different people have different perceptions of reality. This is what makes knowledge so infallible, and so easy to determine in Plato’s eyes.

There are four stages in the Allegory. These are tied to the stake, breaking free, walking to the light, and exiting the cave. The prisoners represent all people in the world before they are fully educated philosophically. These people only see the shadows on the walls. This is the first stage, tied to a stake. The second stage is breaking free. This is where the prisoner is relinquished of his chains, and can get up, and look around. He can see that there are figures, and a fire, and an exit to the cave. Next the prisoner feels compelled to find out what else is there. He wants to go towards the entrance of the cave to find out why it is so bright. This is the third stage, walking towards the light. The fourth stage is leaving the cave. This is when the prisoner finds his way out of the cave, and discovers everything that the outside world has to offer. It’s hard to see all of the new things that the world has to offer, so leaving the cave is one of the most challenging stages. Nothing seems like reality. It seems like the reality you have known all along means nothing, and that you have no knowledge of anything anymore.

So as the story says, the next thing the escaped prisoner needs to do is go back into the cave and explain his new discoveries to the other prisoners. The other prisoners may not react well, but this is your duty as the enlightened person. Socrates believed that it was the responsibility of the enlightened person to show the others the way to the proper education. Plato believed that education is not putting knowledge into empty people, but helping them realize what they already know. His idea that truth is implanted in our minds is a very powerful one at that. He believed that people can only learn through being completely open minded, and through dialect and reasoning. In the words of Plato, “Looking in the right direction does not come easily. Even the noblest natures do not always want to look that way; the rulers must bring compulsion to bear upon them to ascend upwards from darkness to light.” The same way the prisoner escapes and follows the light up to the true world, we accumulate

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