The “Allegory of the Cave” is Plato’s attempt to explain the relationship between knowledge and ignorance. Starting with the image of men in fetters that limit their movement and force them to look only ahead, this is the idea that all men and women are bound by the limits of their ignorance. Men and women are restricted by the limits of the education of their parents and the small amounts that can be culled from their environment. Images and shadows are representations of those things surrounding us that we see but do not understand because of our limited knowledge. As we obtain the ability to see things more clearly in the cave that is our ignorance, we start to then loosen the fetters that bind us and investigate the objects and images around us with our newly acquired mobility. Eyes that have seen nothing but darkness for so long are now fine-tuned to see even the smallest glimmer of light, or knowledge, in the far reaches of the cave. Constantly moving and gathering knowledge we observe that we are in fact moving closer to the light. We start to discover that the desire for knowledge leads us towards the mouth of our cave of ignorance, we have found the key to our escape.
Upon first exiting the cave we are blinded by the brightest of light, though we cannot recognize its origin, we know that it charts our course. Slowly we begin to notice at first little variations of light, mostly little color changes, as if we could not have possibly have taken it in all at once. This is the first realization of education; past truths are either put into perspective or proven false. Either way our mind is finally opening up to the ideas and images that have evaded us for so long. The ability to reason is building within us and we start to question all things past we knew to be true. The eyes start to see even more now and the pain has subsided. We are ravenous and cannot seem to get enough of our surroundings. The strangest thing starts to happen, it seems that the more knowledge we acquire the more questions that present themselves. The same could be said for education in two different ways. First, the more knowledge that we acquire, the more ability we seem to have for the future acquisition of knowledge. Its as if we are not limited by the container we use to store this information, on the contrary, we now have discovered that its depths are limitless. Secondly, the more knowledge we acquire, the more confidence we seem to find in regards to taking on bigger challenges and tasks.
Upon exiting the cave and acquiring an education and knowledge we are then posed the dilemma. Do we re-enter the cave, facing possible ridicule and taunting, in an attempt to free others of their bondage? Is this the virtuous thing to do? The pain we suffered with for so long is still fresh in our minds and can be felt with the mere contemplation of our return to the cave. Are we to be burdened with the task of our return to the ranks of the ignorant merely to lead others from their ignorance, will they listen. In order for a society to prosper those that have the means with which to achieve the enlightenment of education and knowledge are bound by virtue and the pursuit of virtuous deeds to make the attempt in their strive for perfection. What good is the acquisition of knowledge if the fruits of the contemplation used are not shared with others. Can one that achieves total enlightenment truly be happy if the society in which he lives is still bound by the fetters of ignorance? The obtainment of knowledge is a blessed gift indeed, one that is to be used to better society by the dissemination of all knowledge gained. Would the contemplation’s of the great geniuses of the past be all that great if they had kept the acquired knowledge to themselves? Wonderful discoveries obtained during contemplation of newly acquired knowledge only have value when weighed against the ideas and contemplation’s of others. Plato considered the sharing of all of ones knowledge and education to be the most virtuous act one could accomplish in regards to the society in which he lives.