Plato was born 427 B.C. and died 347 B.C.. During his studies, Plato wrote the Dialogues, which are a collection of Socrates’ teachings. One of the parables included in the Dialogues is “The Allegory of the Cave”. Plato illustrates his dualistic theory of reality at the beginning of Book VII of the Republic. Socrates says, as he introduces the allegory, 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 that they cannot move. 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 a 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-statues of men, animals, 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 cling to the familiar shadows and their passions and prejudices, and if they were freed and able to turn around and see the realities which produce the shadows, they would be blinded by the light of the fire. And they would become angry and would prefer to regain their 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 and the roadway, and if he were then dragged up and out of the cave into the light of the sun, he would see the things of the world as they truly are and finally he would see the sun itself. What would this person think now of the life in the cave and what people there know of reality and of morality? And if he were to descend back into the cave, would he not have great difficulty in accustoming himself to the darkness, so that he could not compete with those who had never left the cave? Would he not be subject to their ridicule, scorn, even their physical attack? These are some of the questions that I asked myself after reading this story.
When evaluating the story I found that, “The Allegory of the Cave”, symbolizes man’s struggle to reach understanding and enlightenment. First of all, Plato believed that one can only learn through dialectic reasoning and open-mindedness. Humans had to travel from the visible realm of image-making and objects of sense to the intelligible or invisible realm of reasoning and understanding. “The Allegory of the Cave” symbolizes this trek and how it would look to those still in a lower realm. Plato is saying that humans are all prisoners and that the tangible world is our cave. The things which we perceive as real are actually just shadows on a wall. Just as the escaped prisoner ascends into the light of the sun, we amass knowledge and ascend into the light of true reality: ideas in the mind. Yet, if someone goes into the light of the sun and beholds true reality and then proceeds to tell the other captives of the truth, they laugh at and ridicule the enlightened one, for the only reality they have ever known is a fuzzy shadow on a wall. They could not possibly comprehend another dimension without beholding it themselves, therefore, they label the enlightened man mad. For instance, the exact thing happened to Charles Darwin. In 1837, Darwin was traveling aboard the H.M.S. Beagle in the Eastern Pacific and dropped anchor on the Galapagos Islands. Darwin found a wide array of animals. These differences in animals sparked Darwin on research, which lasted well up to his death, culminating in the publishing of The Origin of Species in 1858. He stated that had not just appeared out of thin air, but had evolved from other species through natural selection. This sparked a firestorm of criticism, for most people accepted the theory of the Creation. In this way Darwin and his scientific followers parallel the escaped prisoner. They walked into the light and saw true reality. Yet when he told the imprisoned public what he saw, he was scoffed at and labeled mad, for all the prisoners know and perceive are just shadows on a wall which are just gross distortions of reality. Darwin walked the path to understanding just like the escaped prisoner in “The Allegory of the Cave.” Plato’s parable greatly symbolizes man’s struggle to reach the light and the suffering of those left behind who are forced to sit in the dark and stare at shadows on a wall.
What I found odd, is that in this story, the enlightened do not seek to break down the wall and chains that keep the others in darkness. I suppose this reflects the belief that only some people are capable of handling the truth as it is, at times, in ones best interest that they remain ignorant. Personally, I disagree with this type of reasoning. I don’t understand how supreme truth, wisdom, creativity, intellect, and the like can flourish with such attributes as self-interest and exclusivity weighting them down. However, I do think this is a very applicable allegory for our current conditions and I do like the mention of the keen eyed clever rogue (we could spend all day thinking of people who fit this description).
Reading this story at the time that we did, was very helpful and informative for me. At the time of reading this, my philosophy class was discussing Socrates and Plato. We thoroughly discussed The Allegory of the Cave , and its meaning. I don t think that I would change anything in the story. I enjoy this story exactly how it is. I do believe that there are many underlying meanings to this story and that everyone has their own opinions to what it means. This is just one of the evaluations that I came up with.