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Discuss Plato's Parable of the Cave

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Discuss Plato's Parable of the Cave.

Plato's parable of the cave, also known as the "allegory of the cave, opulently describes beneficial metaphors and elaborate imagery about knowledge, ignorance, truth and lastly enlightenment.

The allegory of the cave appears at the beginning of Book VII of Plato's The Republic, which in itself is principally a study of justice, government and leadership. In The Republic, Plato describes a cave containing individuals confined to the cave floor, bound by shackles. They are unable to move their heads and stare incessantly at the cave wall directly in front of them. The prisoners cannot see one another. Behind the prisoners burns a fire projecting images of objects, animals and individuals carrying various objects onto the wall of the cave. The prisoners are also aware of conversations occurring behind them. The shadows (skiai) on the wall of the cave are believed by the prisoners to be real. This is the reality of the prisoners Ð'- their truth, their knowledge of the world.

The analogy continues and one of the prisoners frees himself from the chains. Now that he is unshackled he is able to rotate his head, see the entrance of the cave, look and walk towards the fire. The newly liberated captive finds this agonizing and is overwhelmed by the light of both the cave and as he leaves the cave the sun. He has spent his entire life in almost complete darkness, with limited capabilities, and minimal movement.

The freedman is now faced with the chilling realization that his entire life has been limited by his experiences of the cave floor. His life has been lived in the shadows and he has been aware of only the reflections of reality and truth.

"These prisoners represent the majority of man, the multitude of people who remain all their lives in a state of ignorance beholding only shadows of reality and hearing only echo's of the truth" (F. Coplesto, 1985, pg 161).

The prisoners represent us Ð'- humankind. Plato attempts to alert humans to the possibility that our senses may be deceiving us and that a greater reality exists in the light of truth Ð'- out side the cave and our own knowledge. For most of us this reality is beyond our sight and only an extraordinary life-changing event may give us a chance to view this truth Ð'- this new reality. The cave challenges individuals to reflect on the possibility that there is a reality beyond what our senses convey- beyond our shadows Ð'- our skaia.

The cuffed prisoners on the cave floor are metaphors for individual who are shackled through lack of imagination and ability to explore critical thought.

The analogy is attempting to encourage individuals to realize the danger of acceptance and complacency. Only when we question and search do we have the chance to become truly free. When freed from our cave - enlightenment is possible.

" The prisoners initial reaction of escaping from the cave is one of fear and confusion, a desire to return to the comfort and security of what he had lived with all his life even though now he is aware it's all an illusion"(Jackson R 23)

Everything the prisoner once believed to be real is now a figment of his imagination and his past environment. This realization at first is frightening, He recognizes that the objects he now sees are real objects and what he has experienced his whole life was simply shadows. Escaping from the cave is a turning point in the prisoner's life. His prior knowledge is questioned thanks to his heightened sense of consciousness.

Plato implies people's lives and there ability to think rationally is limited by their experiences. This phenomenon is reflecting through the shackled cave men's lack of awareness of the world and there inability to distinguish what is real from what is not. The cave analogy explores the danger and human tendency of becoming docile consumers. Simply accepting familiarity as knowledge disallows for human growth and permits individual's knowledge and experiences to simply be a shadow of reality.

The turning point in the prisoner's journey of enlightenment is his willingness to exit the cave and explore the outside world. It is only when the philosophers eyes adjust to the sun and he is able to see the entire world above and beyond the cave can he then realized the complexity of the world and the limitations of his situation and simplicity of his mind. The philosopher is now aware of a profound realm of reality and adjusts his reflection and development accordingly.




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