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Explain Plato's analogy of the cave

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Introduction

Explain Plato's analogy of the cave Plato devised the analogy of the cave as a way of illustrating his philosophical ideas, particularly his theory of the forms. He describes prisoners bound and tied to chairs inside a cave such that they can see only the back wall. Behind them is a wall, behind which is a fire. People walk behind the wall, carrying statues above their heads causing the statues to project shadows onto the wall in front of the prisoners. The prisoners see only these shadows therefore assume them to be reality; they hear voices from the people carrying the statues and believe the voices to come from the shadows. When one of the prisoners is unwillingly released from his captivity, he turns around and is unable to understand what he sees, as he has previously only known the shadows. He is then dragged from the cave to the sunlight, and witnesses the world around him for the first time. Initially, he is reluctant and attempts to re-enter the cave, however he begins to see and appreciate this new world, gradually realising the important role the sun plays in supporting life on earth. ...read more.

Middle

This world is merely illusory, the prisoners only see shadows of the statues just as we are only able to see shadows of the forms, and these shadows are misleading and imperfect. Therefore Plato likens these prisoners to people who are concerned only with the physical world which they live in, and are unable to visualize the true forms. He sees these people as "imprisoned" by their naivety. The people who carry the statues on their heads could be seen as being in the same position as the prisoners, the statues themselves are only imitations of the true forms. They lead the prisoners into believing that what they see is reality as they are equally ignorant. In Plato's Republic he is critical of people such as politicians, who shape the views of the population despite being unaware of the truth about the forms. When the prisoner is set free he is described as reluctant to escape the cave; he is confused by what he sees and would rather return to his previous carefree state of ignorance. ...read more.

Conclusion

For Plato, all immoral behaviour was a result of ignorance of what is good. The analogy also raises questions as to who is the most suitable to rule society. The escaped prisoner feels it is his duty to inform the other prisoners of his new-found knowledge. The escaped prisoner could be seen as the philosopher who tries to educate others about his insight, however the other prisoners reject his discoveries as they would prefer to live in the darkness, with concern only for the physical world that they can see and touch. The philosopher is seen as an outcast, reflecting the way in which Greek society often viewed philosophers as strange. The analogy states that the prisoners would kill anyone else who escapes to this new world, which is possibly a hint at the unjust of the death of Socrates, who was put to death for challenging traditional views. Plato was a student of Socrates therefore his death had a great effect on him. According to Plato, there were major flaws in the current political system in the separation of politics from philosophy; the best possible political system would be ruled by philosophers, as they have the greatest insight. ?? ?? ?? ?? Sarah Johnson ...read more.

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