The Allegory of the Cave in Plato's Republic
This paper discussed The Allegory of The Cave in Plato's Republic, and tries to unfold the messages Plato wishes to convey with regard to his conception of reality, knowledge and education.
THE ALLEGORY OF THE CAVE
Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" is a story that conveys his theory of how we come to know, or how we attain true knowledge. It is also an introduction into his metaphysical and ethical system. In short, it is a symbolic explanation of his "Theory of the Forms" (or eidos).
In a cavern some people experience a strange confinement, for they are chained so they can look forward only at the wall of the cave. At their backs, a fire burns which they never are able to see. Between their bodies and the fire runs a path with a low wall, along which people carry pictures, puppets, and statues. All the prisoners can see are the shadows on the wall, all they can hear is the echo of the people walking and talking behind them. (1) The prisoners cannot see the exit out of the cave, the fire burning behind them, or the people carrying objects in front of the fire. They do not know the real objects in the cave, they only see and hear the shadows that those objects cast as they pass before the fire, and the echoes of the workers voices as they carry the objects across the parapet in front of the fire. Plato is making an appearance/Reality distinction. The prisoners are only familiar with the appearances of shadows and thus they mistake appearance for Reality. They think the shadows are Reality. They do not know what causes the shadows. For instance, if an object (a pen, let us say) is carried past behind them, and it casts a shadow on the wall, and a prisoner says, "I see a pen," he thinks he is talking about a pen, but he is really talking about a shadow. He uses the word "pen" and he is mistaken. For they would be taking the terms in their language to refer to the shadows that pass before their eyes, rather than to the real things that cast the shadows.
A summary interpretation of the allegory's meaning cannot be better or more concisely stated than in Socrates' addition: "the prison-house is the world of sight, the light of the fire is the sun, and you will not misapprehend me if you interpret the journey upward to be the ascent of the soul into the intellectual worlds" So, to be very clear on one point of possible confusion, the blinding sun of the allegory is not the real sun, but a symbol for the good.
The cave allegory also proves that the role of education is not to teach in the sense of feeding people information they do not have, but rather to shed light on things they already know. Education "isn't the craft of putting sight into the soul. Education takes for granted that sight is there but that it isn't turned the right way or looking where it ought to look, and it tries to redirect it properly." (2)
The concept of duty and service are addressed in response to the...