Why are the prisoners like us?
The prisoner in chains is an allegory of people without insight and imagination. In other words, they represent the average person. The lack of insight prevented them from seeing reality (Duarte 79). This explains the limited capacity to only see in shadows. They do not have the ability to grasp the reality of the circumstances they are in, and this prevents them from formulating an escape plan. At the same time, the lack of insight made it difficult to see more. Their experience is similar to the captives in the movie entitled, The Matrix. In the said film, humans were treated like cash crops.
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The average person is different from innovators and inventors like the Wright Brothers, Louis Pasteur, and Gregor Mendel. These men changed the world, and as they help transform the world around them, they enabled others to see solutions to their personal problems. However, it requires a certain talent or a certain mindset to accomplish the same things.
The prisoner in the chain is an allegory of people that are handicapped by the lack of imagination. After a long period of time spent in chains, and after struggling with the sting of the shackles, some of the prisoners were able to figure out that they needed to escape. However, the average person does not have the imagination to develop an escape plan.
The prisoner in shackles is an allegory of the average person who does not want to upset the status quo. Fear prevents the ordinary Joe to get up and liberate himself. He is afraid of the consequences of his actions. His lack of imagination and insight prevents him from seeing the benefits of freedom. The average person plays not to lose, while great people risk the little they have in order to gain something greater than their lives.
In what sense is the liberator a philosopher like Socrates?
It requires a philosopher to break the chains of ignorance and narrow-mindedness. In the Symposium and in the Apology, Socrates revealed the power of questioning the status quo and to see circumstances from a different frame of reference. It is only through the exercise of philosophy that people begin to notice that something is wrong with their current circumstances. Without the Socratic method of questioning, it is difficult to see how the human mind is in bondage.
It is important to point out that the liberator is a former inmate. The transformation from prisoner to philosopher does not occur overnight, and it does not happen often. Some of the prisoners will realize the foolishness of maintaining the status quo the moment a fellow prisoner yanks them free. After some time, one of the prisoners will experience a “eureka” moment. A stream of heavenly insight floods his mind, and he sees the problem from a different perspective. In that moment of great inspiration, the ordinary prisoner transforms into a liberator.
The liberator is a philosopher, someone who resembles the character of an inventor, an innovator. In this particular context, the liberator must perceive his surroundings in a different light. Therefore, the evolution from prisoner to liberator must go through a transition phase, and in that transition phase, the incarcerated man becomes a philosopher.
The liberator is a former prisoner in chains because no one can break out from a complex prison system without breaking out from within. Only a prisoner understands the layout of the prison. Only a fellow inmate can develop the compassion to rescue a fellow prisoner. Only an ex-convict can persuade another ex-convict to navigate the complex labyrinth that leads out of prison. Only a fellow prisoner understands the language of the prison system.
What another type of figure might further the cause of liberation?
Without a doubt, the liberator must possess some of the qualities that make up a philosopher. A philosopher possesses the ability to see the world in a different light. Without the capacity to leverage the power of insight and imagination, the prisoners will never figure out that they have the power to turn their heads, break the shackles, and live in paradise. For example, Socrates is a great philosopher, but it is highly unlikely if he could lead a revolution to lead his people out of bondage. This is his limitation because he needed the mindset of a warrior to liberate the Greeks from a foreign oppressor.
It is the job of the philosopher to ignite the imagination and enable people to see the surrounding circumstances in a different light. The philosopher’s insights are like germinating ideas that blossom into solutions. His ideas are the scaffolding to internal structures that will help them defeat the evils that hamper the growth and mobility of the prisoners.
Although the philosopher provides a different perspective that enables people to see the world in a different light, the flood of insights and ideas will not automatically translate to liberation. Even if the philosopher can explain the root cause of the problem and provide a foolproof plan to escape, this newfound capability is not enough to break them out of prison.
The author provided a hint of why it is difficult to execute an escape plan, and he says that if someone needs to look up, he can only do so if he is able to go through the pain (Plato 1). In other words, it requires tremendous effort and great commitment to go through with the escape plan. Thus, a philosopher that does not have the heart of a warrior will only succeed in giving lectures.
The prisoner in chains is an allegory of the average person who is unable to live life to the fullest because he is afraid to challenge the status quo. The average person cannot offer a solution to some of life’s pressing problems, because he does not have the insight and the imagination needed to become an innovator or inventor. Therefore, the average Joe is like a person in chains. He needs the help of a liberator, someone who understands how to combine the qualities of a philosopher and a warrior.
Duarte, Eduardo. Being and Learning. New York: Springer, 2012. Print.
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Plato. The Allegory of the Cave. Stanford University, 2015. Web.