The Parable of the Cave is an allegory used by the Greek philosopher Plato in his work The Republic. The parable follows a dialogue between Plato’s friend Socrates and Plato’s brother Glaucoma. Throughout the dialogue, Plato envisioned the ideal society by examining concepts such as justice, beauty, and truth. The parable represents what happens when individuals fear the unknown due to generational values instilled by society. The essay thesis states that humans cannot derive knowledge from abstract things as true knowledge occurs through philosophical meaning, as shown by the enlightened cave dweller and Socrates.
Enlightenment of Cave Dweller
In the allegory, a group of prisoners has been confined in a cave since birth. The prisoners do not know the outside world. The prisoners are chained facing a wall, unable to turn their heads while a fire behind them is faint. Occasionally, people pass by the fire carrying figures of animals and objects casting shadows on the wall. The prisoners name and classify these illusions as they believe they perceive actual entities. One prisoner is freed and is brought outside for the first time. The sunlight hurts his eyes, and he finds the new environment disorienting. The man does not believe that the objects around him are natural while the shadows are mere reflections since the shadows appeared much clearer to him.
Gradually, his eyes adjust, and he encounters the primary forms of all those things he had formerly known as shadows. He sees reflections in the water, objects, and animals previously unknown to him. He observes the stars and the sun and grasps the vastness of the universe. Plato states, ‘previously, he had been looking merely at phantoms, now he nearer to the true nature of being’ (Plato, 12). The prisoner returns to the cave to share the discovery with his friends, but he is no longer used to the darkness. He also has difficulty seeing the shadows on the wall; thus, the other prisoners are unimpressed by his nature. The man, in turn, insists on explaining his newfound knowledge, such as the existence of real things and the sun, but the other prisoners think the journey has made him stupid and violently resist any attempts to free them. The cave dwellers get angry and plot to kill him.
Socrates’ practices emphasized accepting ignorance about things one has not studied and how little one truly knows. In addition, Socrates insisted on the uncertainty of one’s belief since one may be corrupted. Socrates stated that his knowledge was limited to his assumptions on the topic before studying a skill. Socrates realized his ignorance and started questioning Athenian society’s norms and commonalities, such as political affiliations. Socrates wanted the Athenian society to be aware of their inadequacies as they did not hold the allure of truth. His fellow citizens shunned Socrates for wanting to force them to think past their ignorance and see the world through the view of philosophical learning. The real-life Socrates was sentenced to death by the Athenian government for disrupting social order by corrupting the youth and preaching impiety through his philosophical teachings.
Similarities between Plato Dialogue and Socrates Teachings
Plato chose Socrates as he symbolizes the difficult path philosophers trend on when trying to educate the public to move past their ignorance. Socrates exposed the Athenian community’s superficiality by engaging them in public dialogue, thus disliked his comrades. Most people are comfortable in their ignorance and hostile to people who point it out. Socrates’ beliefs and practices related to the allegory of the cave as he deemed that our culture projects most norms onto our minds. Though the norms are not real, society’s constant insistence on their realness leads people to believe real. Everyone starts from a place of limited knowledge described by the cave dwellers. Philosophers who bluntly people they are wrong end up on the wrong side of society as they are deemed evil and endanger their lives, such as the case of Socrates. The alienation and resistance of the former cave-dweller refer to the reaction all philosophers suffer at the unenlightened hands. The alienation happens when they take their knowledge to people who have no interest in thinking about the reality of life. Plato knew what philosophers would be subjected to by the cave dwellers when they claimed to know the sun but argues that the masses are too ignorant to govern themselves.
Plato states that the solution to ignorance is philosophical education to the masses using the Socratic Method. Socratic wisdom exemplifies the notion of understanding one’s limits in terms of knowledge. None has the power of knowledge. Socrates believed that his knowledge was limited as he only knew what he knew and nothing else, thus accepting his ignorance. Socrates states that’ I do not think that I know what I do not know.’ The Socratic Method of philosophical education thus starts by accepting one’s ignorance and another person chipping in his opinion and lastly investigating an amicable solution. The truth is symbolized by light in the allegory of the cave, while ignorance by darkness thus reaching the light is accepting philosophical teachings.
Plato. “Plato – the Republic (Book 7: The Allegory of the Cave).” Genius, 2014, genius.com/Plato-the-republic-book-7-the-allegory-of-the-cave-annotated.