In the Book VII of The Republic Plato introduces his famous parable of the Cave which is supposed to represent the illusory nature of human knowledge. The conversation between Socrates and Glaucon is supposed to describe the role that philosophers should play in the community.
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One of the main points that the author makes is that it is extremely difficult for a person to distinguish truth from its interpretations and distortions. The task of educators or philosophers is to help learners understand the true nature of reality and make sure that they are open to new ideas and viewers. This is the main statement that should be examined in this paper.
One of the issues that Plato explores is the idea that human senses do not ensure the validity of their knowledge; in some cases, the information that senses provide is illusory or at least distorted.
This is why the author creates a very powerful image, namely he speaks about prisoners who live in the cave since childhood “with their legs and necks tied up in a way which keeps them in one place and allows them to look only straight ahead, but not to turn their heads” (Plato, 2000, p. 35). In other words, the dwellers of this cave cannot look at reality from several angles.
In the way, the philosopher strives to show that individual’s perception of life can be very limited, if especially this person is not accustomed looking at reality from different perspectives. This is one of the issues that Plato addresses in The Republic. Judging from my personal experience I can tell that a person should always look at things from different perspectives; for instance, I can mention such issues as the role of art, education, or even politics; otherwise his/her worldview can be very narrow.
Additionally, Plato suggests that in many cases, individuals can deluded into the belief that they know the true nature of things or reality. This is why he says that the dwellers of the cave, who are chained in the cave, can see only the shadows of “artifacts, human statuettes, and animal models”(Plato, 2000, p. 35).
More importantly, these prisoners are so accustomed to seeing these shadows that it does not even occur to them there are real and undistorted objects. This metaphor of shadows is supposed to demonstrate that a person can be unable to challenge or question his/her assumption or beliefs even if they are false. In my turn, I can say that it is often difficult to acknowledge ones mistakes and accept the views of others. This is the main danger of living in the cave that Plato describes in his work.
Apart from that, this dialogue between Socrates and Glaucon demonstrates that distorted ideas can only prevent a person from understanding or accepting the truth. This is why he speaks about a cave prisoner who has been forced to look at real objects, but such a person will “turn away and run back to the things he could make out” (Plato 2000, p. 36).
Thus, one can argue that truth can be very uncomfortable for an individual and he/she may decide to return to the cave even if it can offer only darkness and shadows. On the whole, I can argue that the pursuit of knowledge is always more challenging to than living in the world of stereotypes. This is one of the main points that the philosopher makes in his book.
This conversation described by Plato also shows that the tasks of philosophers can be extremely difficult because other people may not easily abandon their stereotypes or convictions or at least look at these stereotypes critically. In order to illustrate this point, Plato describes a prisoner who left the cave and saw the real nature of life.
Provided that this prisoner returns to the cave, he would not be able to distinguish shadows and other prisoners will say that he returned “from his upward journey with eyes ruined” (Plato 2000, p. 36). Thus, philosophers may find it difficult to teach other people. Thus, philosophers should make sure that people do not become like the prisoners of Plato’s allegorical cave; otherwise the efforts of educators may not be fruitful. So, Plato’s allegory of the Cave can be regarded as a warning to teachers.
The conversation between Plato and Glaucon indicates that philosophers and educators should teacher students to look at the same questions from different perspectives. An individual should be able to challenge the assumptions that he/she deems to be true.
In particular, Socrates says that teachers “should devise the simplest and most effective methods of turning minds around” (Plato 2000, p. 36). In other words, Plato’s narrative suggests that a human being has a capacity to think but, this skill is not often used and as a result it can disappear entirely.
This is one of the main arguments about human nature that Plato puts forward. He acknowledges that there is an inherent ability of a human being to know the truth, but this knowledge is impossible without the efforts of educators. My learning experiences tell me that teachers always prompt students to discuss social, economic, or scientific problems from various standpoints. Thus, Plato’s ideas remain relevant today.
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Overall, the parable of the Cave is one of the most important parts in Plato’s Republic. This analogy is supposed to show that individuals can be accustomed to their pre-conceived beliefs and assumption, even though they can be based on mere lack of knowledge. Furthermore, truth is not something that they readily accept. In their turn, philosophers and educators should develop a person’s ability to think critically and distinguish truth from falsity.
Plato. (2000). The Republic. In. L. Stevenson (Ed.), The Study of Human Nature: A Reader, (34-37). New York: Oxford University Press.