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Explain the significance of Plato's analogy of the cave. Is it of relevance to 21st century man?

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Introduction

Explain the significance of Plato's analogy of the cave. Is it of relevance to 21st century man? Plato is probably the most well known philosopher of all time and is also one of the most influential philosophical writers along with his tutee Aristotle. Indeed many modern philosophers establish themselves by either agreeing or disagreeing with Plato. As A.N. Whitehead wrote in his piece, Personnelist, 'all philosophy is simply a footnote to Plato' this merely backs up the fact that Plato was a genius. Of Plato's writings the Republic is the best known of Plato's dialogues and 'the most famous passage in all Plato's writings happens in the Republic, and is known as the Myth of the Cave':- Bryan Magee, The Story of Philosophy. Plato uses the myth to illustrate his beliefs on the human condition, especially that of human knowledge although there are also metaphysical, ethical and political meanings. The allegory was written in a dialogue form as was much of Plato's other work and displays a Socratic style of argument. That is to say, a dialogue where the Socrates figure probes the other man's arguments and then finally, by asking questions brings the man to contradicting himself in his answers. The ideas of the cave are not original but Plato draws from several other sources including some of his own works. Firstly the idea of an imprisoned life can be found in his other work, the Phaedo, where he debates the notion of prison. ...read more.

Middle

As an allegory the myth of the cave has several different meanings beneath the obvious overlying one. To start with though, one should go through the myth and analyse it and examine how it is significant. First one should look at the cave itself and the significance that it bears. The cave signifies the constrictions and limits put on normal life, the general lack of freedom but as the prisoners have never experienced anything but the cave they do not understand the fact that they are being restrained. Also on the point of restraint the chains signify custom, tradition and habit, all things that in reality might limit one to a placid life. In general though, the cave and the general use of prisoners is to signify the falseness and pretences of society. The games that the prisoners play can be interpreted as the things that in reality keep the minions happy and an example of this in Plato's time would have been something like the numerous games that Plato regularly scorned. The next event in the myth is the standing up and turning around of the prisoner. If one relates this motion to a higher level of reality then one might see that the standing up is the same as questioning one's belief's and it is the first step towards enlightenment. Secondly the action of turning around would cause great pain for the convict. Plato adds detail like this to help illustrate the point that the route to enlightenment is not easy and will be painful. ...read more.

Conclusion

Although he was very much not a 21st century man, Galileo's discoveries involving the cycle of planets was treated very similarly to this. One more recent and thus more suitable example of this would have been the scientist Einstein. Einstein battled with both the advanced laws of quantum physics as well as the harsh criticisms of his contemporaries. Einstein's research was in a way related to Plato as Einstein was exploring the conceptual reality and how one might access this reality by using the laws of maths and physics. There is also a severe ethical and moral meaning implied by the myth. This appears at the end of the cave when the enlightened prisoner is threatened with death if he tries to help any other prisoners to the light. This directly relates to the death of Socrates, Plato's teacher. Plato felt very strongly about how Socrates had been treated and he expressed his feelings in the three dialogues that he wrote concerning Socrates, the Apology, the Crito and the Phaedo. In conclusion, the allegory of the cave was one of the greatest works that have lasted from an ancient era. The words of Couturat about the cave sum up how Plato's parable is held in such awe by so many, 'It is certainly an allegory and is offered as such together with its interpretation. But when a great poetic genius like Plato builds an allegory, the edifice, while serving its immediate purpose as an allegory, transcends that purpose.' Not only is Plato one of the greatest philosophers ever, his works are also very relevant to modern man. Nick Taylor 09/05/2007 F 1 ...read more.

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