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Plato’s Theory of Forms reflects the abstract ideas or concepts that exist independently from the material and rational world (Kemerling, 2001). We see and perceive ordinary physical objects in their temporary conditions vis-a-vis a genuine knowledge that there are forms or ideas behind the conditions that we see. These conditions that we see are subject to changes, are imperfect, are unpredictable, and are reflections of ideas that we have, whereas the forms behind these actual objects are perfect and infinite. The Forms may be viewed as comprising of the aesthetic and moral concepts of truth, justice, beauty, and goodness. The theory also involves the concept of being human and the natural order of size, shape, and physical property such as hotness or fire and wetness or water. Thus, the Theory of Forms according to Plato pertains to the physical or material world not being the real world, but as a mere shadow of higher abstract ideas (Theory of Forms).
Plato’s Allegory of the Cave compares imprisonment and isolation to ignorance as a result of the existing paradigms. In the allegory, Plato describes the situation of the prisoners who have been incarcerated in a cave since childhood. He illustrates the position of the prisoners where they are chained in such a way that they cannot move their bodies and heads, and that they are all facing a blank wall. Behind the prisoners is a raised footpath with a big fire at the back. The fire reflects shadows on the wall from the various things that people carried while walking along the path. The shadows become the reality of the prisoners. They perceive the shadows as being real because they do not have a grasp of another reality beyond what they presently see and experience. When a prisoner gets freed and sets foot outside the cave, his reality collapses with the introduction of a new world outside of the realm that he knew as the only kind of existence. He gets confused and lost in all the new information presented to him.
It is important to note the importance of the term paradigm in analyzing a correlation or link between Plato’s Forms and the Allegory of the Cave. A paradigm is a set of beliefs or views widely accepted by a group and considered to be the truth. A paradigm is what a person holds on to as his reality and as his reason for existence or being. It is how he looks at things around him and how he interprets the meanings or significance of these things. It is how he understands the connection between an object and himself, or the lack of any possible relation.
A paradigm is what the prisoners in the cave cling to. The cave, what happens in it, what they experienced in it and the sensations they got from it are the components of the reality of their beings. They are ignorant without being aware of it because they are not aware of things or ideas outside the realm that they are in at the present. They do not consider themselves oppressed or their situation depressing because they do not know how it is to be free. Freedom was not introduced in their consciousness. The form or idea of freedom and justice are not included in their field of experience or knowledge. Their reality revolves around darkness and the shadows that they see on the wall. The prisoners may be set free and experience freedom, but they will not comprehend the form of freedom as the state of being free from all kinds of oppression or bondage because they have not felt how it is to be oppressed, as they do not consider their lives in the cave as a form of cruelty or repression. The only time that they will absorb the true meaning of freedom is if they have shifted their paradigm of how it is to live freely and then to only be subjected again to imprisonment in the cave. Their reality has been altered and a paradigm shift has occurred. The realization of what life truly is will come if like the prisoners, we dare to venture into a realm outside our own and if we probe further into the schemes behind material objects and physical experiences. The ability to comprehend greatly depends on our capacity to analyze concepts behind what we see and experience.