Essay On The Allegory Of The Cave

Plato’s “The allegory of the Cave” addresses so many different areas of philosophy including, epistemology, metaphysics, asceticism, ethics, etc. In his allegory it is important to seek what Plato is trying to accomplish through locating his rhetorical devices, his tone, his position and arguments, in order to develop meaning to his allegory. Plato’s philosophies include education, interaction, individuality, and human nature to make his statement of what the correct path to “enlightenment” should be, being expressed through symbolism, imagery, themes, and metaphors to convey his message. Plato’s allegory however is actually represents an extended metaphor that is to contrast the way in which we perceive and believe in what is reality.

“The allegory of the Cave” plays multiple roles, all depending how we interpret it, either being used as a metaphor for the process of intellectual understandings on the quest for sense and knowledge, or a way to portray parts of his political philosophy, involving the correct the path to “the good” and ‘reality’. Plato’s allegory of the cave is a parable to understand the process of how a person becomes enlightened; including the positives and negatives influences it can have on a person in their natural environment, in other words our responses and reaction to being freed from their chains and being forced to experience life outside the cave.

Plato’s allegory of the cave presupposes a group of prisoners who have lived chained and uneducated in a cave “since childhood”. To the back of the prisoners, people cast the shadows on the wall in which the prisoners perceive as reality, questioning “is it reasonable for the prisoners to…In every way believe that the truth is nothing other than the shadows of these artifacts” Although if one were “released from their bonds and cured of their ignorance” the prisoner would now be confused as to what is real. The thesis behind is the basic tenets that all we perceive are imperfect “reflections, which subsequently represent truth and reality. This is an important development to the story because it shows us that what we perceive as real from birth is completely false based on our imperfect interpretations of reality and goodness. The importance of the allegory lies in the belief that there are invisible truths lying under the apparent surface, which can only be obtained through being enlightened, being “dragged” out of the darkness and seeing the light.

Plato’s allegory of the cave shows that society is in a state of ignorance. Though they might be bounded in one position, they accept that it is their natural ‘place in society’. However when one is exposed to the ‘dazzling light’ they begin to see truth through a long, tortuous intellectual journey, discovering a higher realm, true reality and having awareness of goodness. A person who has gained such insight, according to Plato is best equipped to govern in society, having knowledge what is ultimately good, however, will frequently be misunderstood by ‘the other prisoners’ who haven’t obtained intellectual insights. Plato remains convinced that the best rulers, the philosopher-kings, are suited not only because of their education, experience, and wisdom, but also because they would prefer not to rule. More emphatically, nonetheless Plato finds that because of their enlightened minds, the philosopher-king has a duty to rule that transcends their personal preference for anonymity.

Plato’s ideal society contains the correct functions of politics and motive. He argues that the philosophers, or individuals who have acquired knowledge of virtue and truth, should lead society. Another example is that in his allegory there are malicious individuals who stand in front of a fire as to be able to create shadows which the prisoners perceive as incorrectly reality. They are both aware of a slightly higher level of truth and capable of manipulation of average people’s perception but still unaware of the nature of the forms and of the form of the good. Philosophers should be the ones to lead rather than those who simply have the ability to manipulate the masses. This is because the philosopher is knowledgeable about the forms of the virtues and the good and is more likely to apply them to society.

‘The allegory of the Cave’ is a theory, concerning human perception that can be altered by what is seen and hidden. Plato claimed that knowledge gained through the senses is no more than opinion and in order to have real knowledge, we must gain it through philosophical reasoning. In ‘the allegory of the Cave’, Plato distinguishes between people who mistake sensory knowledge for the truth and compare them to people who actually see. Plato’s allegory revolves around truth and the reflection of truth, as devastating criticism of our everyday lives as being in bondage to superficialities, to shadows rather than to substance.

Both the leaders and the public are ignorant and corrupt, without true knowledge of themselves or the world, motivated by self-gratification. They are chained in slavery to ignorance and passions, to mob hysteria for or against fleeting issues, believing in the illusions, the shadows. We live in a time of loss of meaning, of crumbling values of truth and morality, of corruption in political life and decline in personal integrity. This is our despair. But there is a hope with Plato’s allegory, the hope of ascending to truth and values, even though we might be shunned, we have a grasp of the light.

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The Allegory Because of how we live, true reality is not obvious to most of us. However, we mistake what we see and hear for reality and truth. This is the basic premise for Plato's Allegory of the Cave, in which prisoners sit in a cave, chained down, watching images cast on the wall in front of them. They accept these views as reality and they are unable to grasp their overall situation: the cave and images are a ruse, a mere shadow show orchestrated for them by unseen men. At some point, a prisoner is set free and is forced to see the situation inside the cave. Initially, one does not want to give up the security of his or her familiar reality; the person has to be dragged past the fire and up the entranceway.

This is a difficult and painful struggle. When individuals step into the sunshine, their eyes slowly accommodate to the light and their fundamental view of the world, of reality, is transformed. They come to see a deeper, more genuine, authentic reality: a reality marked by reason. The individual then makes the painful readjustment back into the darkness of the cave to free the prisoners. However, because he now seems mad -describing a new strange reality - they reject him to the point of threatening to kill him. Plato's Allegory of the Cave is a direct representation of the human condition, the circumstances we as humans presently encounter, circumstances such as conceptual frameworks, or basic beliefs, and our typical behaviors in society.

The allegory metaphorically describes our situation as human beings in the world today. In his story, Plato utilizes several key elements to portray his metaphor of the human condition. Plato's image contains pertinent ideas about society that are relevant to my everyday life. Through his reading, I have begun to discover the ideal form, the use of reason over perception to approach, view, and judge all things. Prisoners, watching life unfold on the cave wall in front of them, accepting what they see as truth, as reality, are literally people. Every average person in this world is a prisoner, chained down.

These chains that bind the prisoners to the floor are beliefs. Take clothes for instance, a person may not have very much money, so they should not spend enormous amounts on clothing, but the fear of not being accepted due to out of style clothes requires said person to spend too much money on their clothes. The fear spoken of is derivative of the persons beliefs, holding them to abide by the cultural norms, in this case purchasing over priced clothing. The prisoners are gazing at shadows on the wall, until he or she breaks free.

To break free in this world, you must look at objects, individuals, cities and societies, even the universe as a whole, with reason. Do not simply rely on perceptions and senses to grasp concepts. People carrying figures of humans, animals, and plants crafted from wood or stone, cast images on the wall for the prisoners to gawk at. These people are the political, business, and educational leaders that feed the average person their own ideologies, beliefs about various things. These individuals are in todays society, people like George Bush, the President. He makes decisions for us, and tells us what to believe on certain subjects.

After the attack on our country, he decided to send to troops in and attack Afghanistan. In this particular example, the Presidents beliefs may be correct, however, that is not a relevant fact. What is relevant, though, is that in questioning his decision, I have now formulated my own opinion and belief on the subject, thus not simply buying into the views and beliefs being fed to me. A roadway is described as being behind the prisoners, and it is this roadway that the men walked on when carrying the figures. This roadway depicts the path used to deliver whatever message it is that the leaders previously mentioned want delivered.

The Internet and television both are very profitable sources for these men. If someone hears on the news that there was a war going on in the Middle East, than they would believe it. Without ever personally viewing the war, and having no proven facts, only the television, most people would believe it. Above and behind the prisoners is a fire burning, the power source of the shadows. This is any institution supporting the men who deceive us. The government is supporting George Bush, and other politicians; it is the source of the ideas that are pushed upon us.

The shadows on the wall are what the prisoners mistake for truth, reality, here in this world it is the actual ideas that the men advance on us. Going to war is a shadow we mistake for truth, and justice. Are we truly just in reacting with the actions we did, is eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth still relevant today? Most dont question this; they instead accept it as it is given to them. Plato describes the Good as having power, energy, just as the sun has the power to warm our skin. He sees the Good as the source of beauty, right, reason, and truth.

The Good is courage and strength, values that provide dependable ground for moral conduct. In this world of shadows, the Good we experience is too a shadow of the true Good. We must break free from the chains of this world to experience the true ideals of the Good. Plato's cave is an allegory of the human condition: each of us a prisoner, until we can break free. We perceive reality through imperfect eyes, accepting this distorted illusion of reality without question. Accordingly, to break free, we must open our eyes and see the truth about the world around us.

The truth is that we are prisoners of our own beliefs. The major elements Plato uses to tell the Allegory of the Cave can be represented in todays civilization.


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