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Allegory of the Cave - A Favorite Story



"Plato's Cave Allegory" by Markus Maurer

Imprisonment in the cave[edit]

Plato begins by having Socrates ask Glaucon to imagine a cave where people have been imprisoned from birth. These prisoners are chained so that their legs and necks are fixed, forcing them to gaze at the wall in front of them and not look around at the cave, each other, or themselves (514a–b).[3] Behind the prisoners is a fire, and between the fire and the prisoners is a raised walkway with a low wall, behind which people walk carrying objects or puppets "of men and other living things" (514b).[3] The people walk behind the wall so their bodies do not cast shadows for the prisoners to see, but the objects they carry do ("just as puppet showmen have screens in front of them at which they work their puppets" (514a)[3]). The prisoners cannot see any of what is happening behind them, they are only able to see the shadows cast upon the cave wall in front of them. The sounds of the people talking echo off the walls, and the prisoners believe these sounds come from the shadows (514c).[3]

Socrates suggests that the shadows are reality for the prisoners because they have never seen anything else; they do not realize that what they see are shadows of objects in front of a fire, much less that these objects are inspired by real things outside the cave (514b-515a).[3]

Departure from the cave[edit]

Plato then supposes that one prisoner is freed. This prisoner would look around and see the fire. The light would hurt his eyes and make it difficult for him to see the objects casting the shadows. If he were told that what he is seeing is real instead of the other version of reality he sees on the wall, he would not believe it. In his pain, Plato continues, the freed prisoner would turn away and run back to what he is accustomed to (that is, the shadows of the carried objects). He writes "... it would hurt his eyes, and he would escape by turning away to the things which he was able to look at, and these he would believe to be clearer than what was being shown to him."[3]

Plato continues: "Suppose... that someone should drag him... by force, up the rough ascent, the steep way up, and never stop until he could drag him out into the light of the sun."[3] The prisoner would be angry and in pain, and this would only worsen when the radiant light of the sun overwhelms his eyes and blinds him.[3]

"Slowly, his eyes adjust to the light of the sun. First he can only see shadows. Gradually he can see the reflections of people and things in water and then later see the people and things themselves. Eventually, he is able to look at the stars and moon at night until finally he can look upon the sun itself (516a)."[3] Only after he can look straight at the sun "is he able to reason about it" and what it is (516b).[3] (See also Plato's Analogy of the Sun, which occurs near the end of The Republic, Book VI.)[4]

Return to the cave[edit]

Plato continues, saying that the freed prisoner would think that the world outside the cave was superior to the world he experienced in the cave; "he would bless himself for the change, and pity [the other prisoners]" and would want to bring his fellow cave dwellers out of the cave and into the sunlight (516c).[3]

The returning prisoner, whose eyes have become accustomed to the sunlight, would be blind when he re-enters the cave, just as he was when he was first exposed to the sun (516e).[3] The prisoners, according to Plato, would infer from the returning man's blindness that the journey out of the cave had harmed him and that they should not undertake a similar journey. Socrates concludes that the prisoners, if they were able, would therefore reach out and kill anyone who attempted to drag them out of the cave (517a).[3]

Allegory of the Cave - Wikipedia


Socrates is supposed to have said that he was consideered wise because "he knew that he did not know."   He could not tell us what is real; he could only say that what we think is real isn't.  Plato. and, i suppose, Socrates,
"sensed" that there might be reality; but it is not "something" that i can hear, see, touch. smell, taste, or think.  The "shadows" are everything and everywhere.  I take my best shot and miss.  It does not matter much how "far" i miss.  "Outside" may be more interesting and enjoyable than a "cave," but is it any closer to reality?

Comments

( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
amaebi
Sep. 2nd, 2017 01:23 pm (UTC)
As a matter of curiosity, is the taxonomy of reality/illusion important to you as a thing in itself?
bobby1933
Sep. 5th, 2017 05:49 am (UTC)
The same day that i read your comment, i got Dianne's Catholic newspaper which described d Discalced "Carmel" in Northern Idaho
Later, as Mass, the Gospel included Jesus' "get thee behind me Satan" comment to Peter, with the addendum that he thinks like men think, not like God thinks. Then at an open AA meeting the topic was "coming to believe." Finally, on the drive home and for most of the next hour, i listened to an interview with Richard Dawkins. I needed to process all this in order to respond to your inquiry.

Dawkins, at times, sounded a little like a Carmelite nun except what the nun called reality, Dawkins called an illusion while taking his own illusion to be reality.

I will post on this later.
amaebi
Sep. 5th, 2017 11:11 am (UTC)
I'm looking forward to it. :)
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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