The Allegory Of The Cave And The Search For Truth

The Allegory Of The Cave by Plato can be subjected to various interpretations – and you can be right or wrong with your interpretation. But mostly, you can be right. Plato did not give any parameters on what exactly are the guidelines in interpreting his allegory. That’s why it is called an allegory – a subtle and satirical portrayal of a belief or statement.

Plato, a Greek Philosopher and student of the renowned Socarates, intended the Allegory Of The Cave as his tribute to his wrongfully sentenced mentor.

And the Allegory Of The Cave goes that…

Source: Medium

There are prisoners inside a cave. They are all held by shackles. They can’t either turn their heads back. These prisoners are all facing the wall, and on the wall are projected shadows brought about by the objects and people passing in front of the bonfire. 

Prisoners can’t do otherwise, but wonder about the shadows cast on the wall. At the outset, they end up naming all those shadows the way they understand it. 

Then one of the prisoners was able to set himself free. It was strange for the prisoner at first. It was kind of uncomfortable even just to stand up as he was preconditioned by his posture inside the cave for a long time. Even then, he managed to turn his head towards the light or the fire casting the shadows to the wall. And by doing so, he was at first overwhelmed by the light coming from the fire. It was a very uncomfortable experience. The prison guard told him that the things passing in front of the bonfire are more real than the shadows on the wall.

Further on, he was dragged out of the cave to the outdoors where the sun shines relentlessly. This gave him a more terrible experience. The pain and the discomfort brought about by the new environment is inundating him again. The piercing light from the sun is smothering his senses. But, so soon he was able to adjust to the environment and was able to see things clearly. So, picking up his senses piece by piece he was able to confront reality outside of the cave. Seeing the real people, green grass, trees, all the animals – he was overjoyed.

But the freed prisoners did not just stay there. He was so moved by the reality he experienced that he felt sorry for his comrade at the cave. So, he went back to the cave and told them about the stuff he discovered beyond the prison wall. But instead, the prisoners argued, laughed and mocked him for that. But these prisoners went beyond just deriding their former prison mate, they went on and killed him instead.

There goes the allegory that we will try to make sense. Since we know that an allegory is just a mock-up or a teaser for a subject matter the writer wants to show.

The Prisoners

The prisoners could symbolize no other than us common people. As individuals we find comfort at a shackled level of living. We are the passive wanderer that passively receive and believe information and concepts that enter our senses. We spouse them, cherish and guard them with our lives that whosoever attempts to unshackled us from the chains will perish. What’s worse is that the information we get was fed to us by the prison guard which they themselves are inside the cave too.

The Cave

The cave is no other than this ephemeral world we are living in. This is the alternate reality Plato is talking about. This world is literally a prison where all of us are in. And since we are in chains in this world and with no capability of even turning our head back to check who’s casting the shadows, we dig on this world as the ultimate reality of life. This is the place of conventional opinion. Place of soft-headed groupies who just accept whatever and whoever feeds them the idea about things.

The Escaped Prisoner

The escaped prisoner is for Plato are the sages and philosophers (such as Socrates) who really think deep about reality. But it took this prisoner a daunting mental labor to be able to turn his head and finally escape the cave and see the real world outside the cave.

The Objects

The objects are no other than the material objects we see on the daily basis. It includes casual objects of the sense all throughout objects of covetousness – riches, money, properties, power and fame. These objects may even include information we hear and receive from authorities of information – the media, religion, politicians, parents, teachers and so on.

The People

The people carrying objects that the prisoners see on the wall might just be one of the most important characters of the allegory. These people symbolize authority. These authorities have been with us and have been teaching us, influencing us or adulterating our minds with the things they want us to know and accept as true. These authorities can be your parents, your teachers, politicians, governments, lawmakers, religious figures, all sorts of media and all other authorities we believe in.

Think about it. Where did you ever get the idea about love? We all bet, you learned it first from the media – the Hollywood, the movies, telenovelas. That love is all about cheesy and corny dramas and that love can be no deeper than skin-deep portrayal of fake emotions and situations.

Outside of the Cave

The place right outside of the cave is the real world. To the scruples of Plato, this world is “The World Of Ideas”. The world of ideas that never change. It is the never changing DNA of reality. This part of allocution is quite deep and hard to grasp unless, maybe you are Socrates or Plato yourself. This is also one reason for the distaste of some of the Eastern Philosophers towards the improbability of the Greek philosophy. But you might get the jist that there should be a “world of form” that is not influenced by worldly reality and perception where everything else is molded – if there is!

Take note that the Allegory concerns reality and our relationship with it, at least the way we know it in the human plane. Where we know it, how we know and from whom we know it will all be subject critiquing by reason.

Source: ScienceABC

Real World Parallelism

Do you remember the time where everyone was being thought and believed in Geocentric Theory – where the earth is the center of the universe? Everyone believed it to be so true that even one of the most powerful religions in the world, the Catholic Church, believed in it and have thought about it in a dogmatic way. Such so that when Galileo Galilei countered the theory and offered a much tenable Heliocentric Theory, he was persecuted with his life at stake.

It’s a little hard for the Catholic Church to take in as well as the whole humanity when someone from outside the cave came to their rescue.

Reality bites. And when it bites, prisoners tend to bite back with their shallow canine reinforced by their toasted reality.

The Allegory - On Education

Think deeper and dig deeper. The allegory encourages you to get educated beyond the walls of the cave. It doesn’t necessarily be an education where you bleed white to learn the reality that will make the whole world stand still. We are far better off getting educated to the point where we have messed up in life. One of those is to take a deeper level of reasoning to substantiate our opinions about the world and most especially our opinions about others.

The Allegory - On Rational Doubt

The Aristotelian axiom states “Nothing has come into the mind without passing through the senses” has a very obvious and undeniable point. Where else do you think outside information enters? A taste through your tongue, a smell through your nose, a sight through your eyes, a sound through your ears and touch through your skin. Where else do you think? Sixth sense?

But even then, the senses cannot be wholly relied upon. A defective sense cannot function at the optimum and therefore would give you a wrong message. Try arranging stuff in your refrigerator for a long time, then wash your hands with tap water. That water feels hot! Or try and check your blood under an incandescent bulb – the blood is now orange!

What if you were born under a certain condition where the only source of light is turning red into orange, same goes with other colors too? And you argue that your blood is orange, not until you were able to see the “real” world outside where your blood is really red under the light of the morning sun. And even then, the sun might still not be giving you the complete visual spectrum of the world. How do we know?

I don’t know for sure!

But one basic step into getting closer to reality is to doubt everything rationally. René Descarte took it even deeper by doubting, and doubting, and doubting until he can doubt no more. Doubt anything that enters your senses. Doubt the proposed idea, reality or opinion smothered on your face until it is on it’s bare essential and is beyond reasonable doubt as they say. That is, if you can no longer doubt a proposed idea, then behold the reality like a comely glowing amber at the palm of your hand.

How do you do this concretely in your life? Take for example the Social Media – could it be Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube. We all know that social media is a notorious gossip hub. In fact, Facebook’s maiden purpose is to connect faces and get labeled who’s hot or not. Today, Facebook has ever since been a pincushion of fake news and the supposed “prisoners” are getting tabs on their Facebook wall enjoying the shadows.

Social Media is just one example among the many sources of the shadows. You get faked every time and you believe it. You even elected your country’s most powerful leader by the influence of it. Same thing goes with some other forms of media such as television, entertainment, radio and the internet in itself.

The Allegory - On The Search For Truth

And finally, the very purpose of philosophy is the search for truth. If philosophy has ever found the truth, then philosophy will cease to exist. The argument and the long enduring odyssey for the quest of truth and reality has not ended yet. The Allegory Of The Cave is just one among the many firestarters to hopefully lighten up the minds of the prisoners and not the cave this time.

The Allegory Of The Cave might have a really deep philosophical significance on its own, but it simply reminds you that before you even bet your life on a certain opinion or idea, give it a second thought no matter how big the authority or how enormous the media maliage behind it.

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