Plato's Allegory of the Cave - It's Importance in Today's World
Our society so values education that sociologists have recognized the problem of "over-education" (Hadjicostandi). Many people are spending years pursuing degrees which they simply do not need for the jobs they perform. It is therefore prudent for students to question whether pursuing a liberal education is really as important as our society believes. What is the point of a college education? Does it have any purpose beyond its material benefits. Are these benefits worth their cost? These are important questions that need answering. In the end, we may see that there is far more to this debate than simple accounting. Perhaps what makes education worth pursuing is that it gives us the freedom to makes these kinds of decisions about what is best for us.
In many ways, this debate over education has its roots in the writings of Plato (Jowett). In Book VII of The Republic, Plato discusses such topics as enlightenment, epistemology, forms, and the duties of philosophers. The rhetorical styles which he employ are those of the dialogue and the allegory. The dialogue takes the form of a discussion between Socrates and Glaucon, while the allegory serves as a concrete illustration of the abstract ideas which Plato talks about (Jacobus, 444). Let us examine this "Allegory of the Cave" in more detail.
In it, Plato asks the reader to imagine human beings living in an underground den. [where] they have been from childhood, and have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see before them. Above and behind them a fire is blazing at a distance, and [there is] a low wall. [with] men passing along the wall carrying all sorts of vessels, and statues and figures of animalswhich appear over the wall (249)
He makes the observation that because the prisoners would have no other experience besides that of the cave, they would see the shadows on the wall and believe them to be "real" (249). Their captivity would distort their view of reality.
Plato further asks what would happen if some of these prisoners were suddenly released and led from the cave. They would become wise to the ways of the world and with time would be able to "contemplate [the sun] as he is" (251). They would realize that everything they had formerly loved was either a lie or insignificant, and they would realize just how little they knew during their imprisonment.
In the allegory, the sun represents truth, we are the prisoners, and the prison of the cave is all that we can perceive (Plato, 252). Plato says that so long as we are enthralled by what we can see and taste and touch, we will never be able to even consider abstract ideas like justice and love. If, however, we shake the bonds which our senses have placed upon us, we can arrive at a higher stage of enlightenment than we could have imagined possible during our imprisonment (Plato's Allegory of the Cave).
We should, at this point,...