Plato’s cave represents human knowledge “showing the intellectual journey to truth as a gradual and arduous process”.He likens people with prisoners in a cave whose only perception of realism is a play of shadows spread on a wall that faces them. Everyone has a role to play in bringing change to his/her life.
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One has to make a decision of leaving the thoughts that prevent them from perceiving the world from a broad perspective. Only then can they get an understanding of the real world. Plato sums this in four stages. The first stage includes forming an attitude that is based on the reality’s outward appearance constituted by sights and sounds of experience though it takes a while before the human mind distinguishes reality.
The second stage is the ability to recognize the distinction between a deceptive entity of knowledge and the real ones. In this case, the shadows of the carving walls and the true carvings. The use of puppeteers by Plato inside the cave and things outside indicate that empirical discoveries never penetrate the ideal realm of truth thus calling for the need to move outside the cave. The third stage is where people get outside the cave into the sun that tends to cause their blindness.
This sun indicates the light of truth thus causing reality to be foreign to the familiar. This makes it hard to understand the nature of reality that happens to be ideal and not material as Plato later realized. Accordingly, practice and learning are key ingredients for realization of the true form of reality. The fourth stage is where one acknowledges the intellectual light source. Plato realized that the Good does elucidate concepts that help us to understand truth.
The prisoner knew that holding his head high and standing on his dignity would signify victory as far as addressing the masses was concerned. Plato maintains this concept by saying that it is only those that can pull off enlightenment that ought to be leaders of the rest. The prisoner is a leader because he has achieved enlightenment over time and he is well able to lead the rest. He did not resist enlightenment as others did but rather embraced it with open arms.
The allegory of the cave can be compared with Breyten’s ‘You Screws’ which holds that people will always drag you to the pit immediately they realize that the light has finally shone upon you. Breyten having been a prisoner for while who never let his form of imprisonment deter him from advancing in knowledge, is addressing the screws who turned up in large numbers to listen to him as a way of gaining knowledge.
He says that he does not regret much of having been shattered from the world but “I normally resent all attempts at dragging me back particularly when they come from the sentimentally deprived or the vicarious heart-eaters and self shitters who wallow in victimization and heroism by proxy”.
Ordinary folks that have not been enlightened will always misunderstand them that have the intellectual insight. The individual in the Plato at last understands his environment and tenaciously overcomes the challenges experienced in the cave, in this case being its mental incapacitation, through a long and tortuous intellectual journey.
In conclusion, everyone needs to change their thoughts and attitudes to be able to live a worthy life. There is nothing for the free or the slaves since all have opportunities even if they are bloated. Mental imprisonment is definitely the worst situation in life as far as enlightenment is concerned.
Breyten, Breytenbach. “You Screws.” Harper’s Magazine, Feb. 2007.
Plato, Allan. ‘The Allegory of the Cave’, The Republic of Plato. New York: Basic Books, 1968.
Ralkowski, Mark. Heidegger’s Platonism. London, GBR: Continuum International Publishing, 2009.
- Alan Plato, ‘The Allegory of the Cave’, The Republic of Plato, ed. (New York: Basic Books, 1968), 134.
- Mark Ralkowski, Heidegger’s Platonism, (London, GBR: Continuum International Publishing, 2009), 102.
- Mark Ralkowski, Heidegger’s Platonism, (London, GBR: Continuum International Publishing, 2009), 113.
- Breytenbach Breyten, “You Screws,” Harper’s Magazine February, 2007, 15.