“To them, I said, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images”
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Plato believed that what we perceive by our senses is illusory. This is explained in the allegory of the cave – people see what they are used to see, but actually reality can be seen only with the help of reason and logic. The myth of the cave is deeply symbolic. There are several symbols, interpreted by Plato. The cave is a symbol of our world, the fire is a symbol of the sun, people who look at the shadows symbolize people who are guided by an illusion of life, shadows are the symbols of things that surrounds us, and things outside the cave are the symbols of ideas. The sun is a symbol of the idea of ideas, and the transition from the position of a chained person is a symbol of transformation and change of man. Three major lessons, taught to me by the allegory of the cave, deal with the process of learning and personal development. These lessons are: do not be afraid to learn, choose wisely, andnever stop learning.
Plato believed and he was right that all human troubles come from the misunderstanding of what is actually happening, and people must learn to look and see the truth. He tried to explain to people how they should do it. The allegory of the cave was not chosen randomly. In ancient times, a cave was one of the most mysterious and dangerous places. No wonder the Greeks imagined the entrance to Hades as the entrance to the cave. People are stuck near the entrance. They do not go out and do not advance deep into it. They are afraid to go further. They fear the darkness and are scared of light. Vague shadows seem to be monsters, the creatures of darkness. They decide that light and darkness is one and the same thing, so it’s best to sit still or things will go worse. Later, one of them decides that things can’t go worse and chooses light. He realizes that the monsters are just the shadows of the most simple and innocuous items. The light is not dangerous. He discovers a lot of new and interesting things, but most importantly, he is no longer afraid, and he feels safe. In an effort to convey this sense of security, peace and lightness, he returns to the cave and tries to lead his comrades. But they consider him a madman. Driven by a desire to help them, he remains in the cave and begins to talk with them, trying to convey to their minds, that what they see is a lie, an illusion. The truth is – as soon as you come to light, you will no longer perceive shadows as monsters. Of course, you will not understand everything at once. But you will be ready to understand and accept many ideas. Even if you do not like them, they are still there. There is an example from Christianity. The serpent persuaded Eve to taste the fruit from the tree of knowledge. In this case the word “taste” is equal to the word “learn”. Actually, the serpent did not disappoint Adam and Eve. They learned the good and evil (precisely in this order). At first they lived in Paradise and did not know the inconvenience. Then they were driven to the ground, where there were many dangers that threatened their lives – the evil. As a result people were kicked out of the habitual ideal world into the world of reality. They are too busy with their feelings, they cannot see in today’s reality the yesterday’s ideal. But Plato is trying to teach people how to distinguish the apparent from the real, so that when they come out of the cave to the world, they are less likely to perceive the illusion as the reality.
The next important lesson is to choose wisely the object of learning. In the previous example the serpent makes the fruit sweeter by the fact that this fruit is banned. Plato offers to think whether the fruit is sweet on its own. Maybe it only seems to be sweet. Even if it is sweet, do we really need it? It is logically possible to establish the reasons of why the fruit was banned. Surely it was caused by some of its properties (very good or very bad). Thus, we can learn the nature of fruit, and, on this basis, decide if we need it or not. The impression of the fruit as something very bright, important and necessary disappears, and the man quietly lives on in reality. There is no lust anymore. Also, we must choose not to learn false knowledge. Plato was tormented by the property of human nature to prefer the fantastic world of shadows to the bright light of truth and real world. For example, TV and cinema create a theater of well-made shadows. Compared to it the real world seems to be a grey shadow, which is much less true than the images on the screen. Usually, a man chained to the screen does not want to go out into the world. He believes those who manipulate figures and buttons, and is willing to kill his friend convincing him to come out into the light. According to the words of the character from Stanley Kubrick’s movie A Clockwork Orange, “it’s funny how the colors of the real world only seem really real when you watch them on the screen.” Plato, therefore, teaches us to see and learn the real world and not be mistaken.
The third lesson is never to stop learning, though the path to knowledge is long and difficult. This path to knowledge is shown by the allegory of the cave. If the shackles are removed from man and he walks around and looks back, he will not be able to look directly into the light. To see higher, Plato concludes, one will need the habit of ascension, an exercise in contemplation. First a freed prisoner can only look at the shadows, then at human figures and other items reflected in the water, and finally, he will be able to look directly at the items. But this is not yet the source of the light, the sun. First, the prisoner will be able to look only at celestial bodies at night and only in the end of all the exercises he will be able to contemplate the sun – not a reflection on the water, but the sun itself. Finally, he will find out that it is the sun that caused of all the things that he and his companions saw, sitting in the darkness of the cave. Therefore, we must never stop learning, even if the path of knowledge is too long and difficult.
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