Ethics and Morals
February 20, 2018
Allegory of the Cave
Plato’s “The Allegory of the Cave” is a section of his larger book “The Republic.” Plato is one of the most famous and well-known philosophers ever. His writings have influenced many other famous writings, including the bible. He is considered one of the most influential thinkers in history. “The Allegory of the Cave” is about a prisoner that is freed from different types of shackle including mental and physical shackles. In this essay I will talk about, the setting of the allegory, the cave and go over all the elements of the cave, including what happened inside the cave. I will tell you about what happened to one of the prisoners to cause him to have a changed view of reality, one that is not false. I will also talk about what it means when the prisoner was freed from his physical as well as his mental shackles, as in how and why his mind was liberated. There are two specific types of confusion for the eyes that Plato addresses and I will also detail those types of confusion. Lastly, I will discuss Plato’s own theory of education and why he criticizes the mainstream theory of education. “The Allegory of the Cave” contains numerous amounts of metaphors and I believe it portrays Plato’s way of philosophical thinking in an accurate way.
“The Allegory of the Cave” is taking place inside an underground cave, which has a long entrance open to the daylight. In the cave live prisoners, these prisoners have been in this cave since their childhood. These prisoners were covered in shackles, from head to toe. Being covered so much they couldn’t move at all, with that being said they could only see what was in front of them. Being chained prevented them from ever turning their heads. Above and behind all of the prisoners was a fire blazing in the distance and between the prisoners and the fire above was a pathway where other humans walked. These humans carried objects that casted shadows on the wall that the prisoners were forced to look at all times. The shadows that were presented in front of the prisoners was their sense of reality. The shadows of the objects the other humans carried was the only thing the prisoners ever knew to be real. They all had a false sense of reality. The fire inside of the cave was the first source of light, which in a way resembles truth. Plato tells Glaucon that they themselves resemble the prisoners. The cave is all a very large analogy that leads to a sense of “knowing” rather than “not knowing.”
As the prisoners wait and watch the shadow go by, one of the prisoner is finally released from his shackles and compelled to turn and walk towards the fire. The glow from the fire is so intense and disorienting the prisoner gets very confused. Coming from total darkness only being able to see the shadows in front of him for all his life made this very conflicting for him. The prisoner was forced to see the world in a way that he had never seen it before and it was very distressing to him. At the fire the prisoner sees real things for the first time and he still wants to believe in the shadows that he saw before. Further past the fire is the mouth of the cave and the prisoner is also taken there. At the mouth of the cave he sees the entire world and all of the truth he was missing. The world as he knew it in the shadows in the bottom of the cave was all a false reality and he was being forced to acknowledge that at a very fast pace. His beliefs were being challenged and his senses told him to flee and go back into the cave that he knew, but Plato says there is a natural desire to understand the world. The prisoner is very conflicted and is literally blinded by the amount of light that is visible. He is having a very hard time accepting that the objects he is seeing in the real world are real, because he literally cannot see them. It is almost as if he feels like he is in a dream, because his sense of reality was so distorted he could not all at once accept his entire truth was a lie. After the prisoner is shown the actual world he is taken back into the cave and again cannot see because he was so quickly taken from light into darkness. He tells his fellow prisoners that he saw a whole new truth and he is greeted with some skepticism. The other prisoners that did not experience being freed did not accept that their entire sense of reality was false. Instead they held a competition of naming shadows along the wall in sequence. Plato tells Glaucon that the prisoner who was freed would embarrass himself because his vision would be unadjusted to the darkness so he would be unable to pass the challenge of naming shadows. Plato then says that the other prisoners would believe that his vision was corrupted from going out of the cave and that if they left the cave their vision would also become corrupt so they did not want to leave. The prisoners said to the freed prisoner “Well, up he went with his eyes but down he came without them!” The prisoner who was freed now saw the world and all of the truth that it contains and the other prisoners who he was once locked away with were too ignorant in their own beliefs of the truth that they would not accept the truth as it really is.
The prisoner being freed from the physical shackles that restrained him, opened up a path for the prisoner that would change his perception of reality. Being free for the first time caused him a sense of anxiety. Humans would rather have a sense of not knowing because it prevents feeling guilt.