Plato Questions - Allegory of the Cave
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Plato Questions Explain Plato's use of the metaphor of shadows in his Allegory of the Cave. (33) Plato's Allegory of the Cave is about understanding what true reality is, and how it differs from what we perceive as reality. It starts off with describing prisoners, who have been chained since their childhood deep inside a cave; not only can they not move their arms and legs, but their heads are chained in one direction as well so that they are continually looking at a wall. Behind the prisoners in a fire, and between the fire and the prisoners is a raised platform/walkway where puppets and other things are moved. This causes shadows to form on the wall where the prisoners are looking. Behind the cave is a well-used road, as well as people talking and making noise, which echoes off the cave walls. The prisoners, then, believe that these noises are coming directly from the shadows on the wall. The prisoners try and name the shapes of the shadows as the come by (a sort of game).
He might also stumble, as he cannot see properly. The other prisoners would conclude that his experience outside the cave had ruined him (and his eyesight). Plato's Allegory of the Cave symbolizes how 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. Plato is saying that humans are the prisoners, and that the world is our cave. Things that we think are real are actually just shadows on a wall. Just as the escaped prisoner ascends into the light of the sun, we gather knowledge and ascend into the light of true reality; where ideas in our minds can help us understand the form of 'The Good'. The Allegory can be directly related to Plato's Analogy of the Divided Line, which categorises the world into four different divisions - reflections/shadows/images or the physical world, then actual physical things, the 'forms' that are understood by mathematical reasoning, and lastly the forms which are truly understood by philosophers. In relation, they are categorised in groups: D, C, B and A.
It also shows that if we are ignorant of something our whole life it is hard to then understand it and naturally we will not. Hence how the prisoners naturally believe that the shadows are real physical objects. The shadows to them are what the world is to us. Is this the real world, or is it just clouding our eyes and preventing us from realising the truth? On what grounds might Plato's understanding of human reason be criticized? Plato firstly assumes that when one of the prisoners is freed, they must be 'compelled' to turn around and explore the cave, and then must be dragged outside of it. He does not seem to take into account human curiosity and that perhaps prisoners themselves would have wanted to explore the cave and find out the truth about what they thought was reality. The majority of the time, humans are willing to be educated and are on the quest for knowledge. They prisoners would have probably searched around the cave, had they all been released. However, people could reject what they do not know. They may be afraid of what they do not understand, and therefore try not to understand it.
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