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Entering the Light: Plato’s Assessment of Ignorance in the “allegory of the Cave”

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Entering the Light: Plato’s Assessment of Ignorance in the “Allegory of the Cave”

Plato was not only a brilliant philosopher but writer as well. His ability to write in an entertaining story in order to capture the people’s attention, then casually weave in one of his philosophical ideas is called allegorical symbolism. The writings are meant to be analyzed and examined for much more than what the literal subject at hand, they are meant to describe an idea on a deeper level as well. Plato begin to philosophize that what we see around us is just mere copy of the perfect form that exists in the world of forms. To Plato this world of forms is the true reality and the world we live in is just a mere copy. To explain his theory Plato wrote, “Allegory of the Cave.” The cave is a dark world where people live, until they are brought into the true reality of the light of God and given new hope.

In the gloomy setting of the cave are people that since their childhood have been chained and confined in such a way, they are unable to turn around and view the opening where the light is coming into the cave. “How could they see anything, but the shadows if they were never allowed to move their heads?” says Plato. As people pass the opening, the light casts shadows on the back wall the prisoners face. Knowing nothing else, they believe the shadows on the wall are real, and begin to develop a false understanding of what they are seeing. Two worlds exist; inside the cave with the false understanding and outside the cave where the truth lies. Having been born a prisoner, knowing nothing else, it is understandable why the prisoners believed they were in the real world.

Plato continues his story. A prisoner breaks free from the chains that bind him and is able to go outside into the true light. Having only lived the dark with limited light, this experience outside the cave momentarily leaves him blind. As the prisoner continues to remain outside, he see the objects and begins to understand that what he saw in the cave was not actually real, but just an illusion or shadow. He realized outside the cave was the real world. When the prisoner re-entered the cave to tell his friends, they can’t stand the truth. Instead they wanted to hold onto the lie believing the shadows were the real world. Eventually, they threatened to kill him if he continued; he was unable to save his friends. Now knowing the truth, it is hard to understand why they want to remain in the cave. Perhaps feeling ignorant or stupid having sat there all their lives.

Masterfully, Plato is able to open the reader’s view of the world around him. There are many meanings in this story as intended by Plato. First concerns the cave itself. It is dark, the prisoners are chained and living in an illusion. This represents the material world where the prisoner’s knowledge comes from what

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