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Plato’s Allegory, Research Paper Example

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Research Paper

Plato´s Allegory of the Cave and Our Everyday Reality

Since as long as man has had reason, he has attempted to use it to understand his place in the universe.  This is, however, a complicated and daunting task that few have been successful at.  However, around 400 B.C. the Greek philosopher Plato created a famous allegory that has gone on to be one of the most famous descriptions of the human understanding of reality.  The Allegory of the Cave describes Plato´s theory of Rationalism and eloquently illustrates how the world we experience everyday through our five senses is not the real world at all.  Modern Christianity can trace some of its fundamental philosophy to Plato`s docterine as well, which shows what a profound effect this allegory has had on modern day thought.

Plato did not believe that the world that most people experience on an everyday basis was the real world at all.  The question of  reality had been one that the Greeks had been studying for centuries.  The problem they saw with the world is that it is always changing, so the question that was raised is that could something that is changing be real?  Plato believed that there must be an underlying reality that is unchanging.  He called this the world of Forms.  The world of Forms, he believed, casts shadows into this reality, and most people, unaware of the existance of any reality except the one they see everyday, mistake the shadows of the Forms for the Forms themselves.  He argued that the “information we get by relying on sense experience is constantly changing and often unreliable. It can be corrected and evaluated for dependability only by appealing to principles that themselves do not change.” (Daniel 2003)

The Allegory of the Cave ultimately is “concerned with our ability to understand “the Good.”  In place of the many specific examples of goodness which govern many of our lives, they (Plato and Socrates ) want us to break free of society’s assumptions and to grasp the Good for ourselves (the “absolute” good), so that we can use this knowledge to guide our own lives.” (Gracyk 2002) Plato believed that in order for men to be free they must be able to understand the Form of good.  The underlying reality that is Goodness, for Plato, differed greatly from what was accepted as good for Atheneans in the day of Plato.  The Allegory of the Cave includes a dialouge with Socotes, his teacher, who “was executed because he told the young men of the society that their religion was riddled with error and that their elders, controlling society, were corrupt and ignorant.” (Gracyk 2002)  A good man, Plato believed, died because the elite leaders were not men of knowledge.

Inside the cave are prisoners, “people untutored in the Theory of Form…chained in a cave, unable to turn their heads. All they can see is the wall of the cave.” (Cohen 2006).  The use of the word prisoner by Plato shows his belief that people are being held against their will if they are not given the knowledge to free themselves.  Plato is referring to the corrupt practice of the elite who hid information from the public for their own gain.  Plato believed that only those who studied philosophy and gained a higher understanding of reality would be fit to rule, as their knowledge would prevent them from being corrupt.  Ideally, of course.

Christianity has been heavily influenced by Plato`s ideas.  The idea that a priest of the church must intervene between God and his people is a principle belief in Christian sects such as Catholism.  If we view the everyday Catholic as a person in the cave, then they are incapable of speaking directly to or knowing God because of the fact that what they percieve as reality is an illusion. This would include God. Thus, it is necessary for one who has undergone the initiation, who has left the cave, to convey to the people the real meaning of God.  This thought differs from relgions such as Buddhism which insist that everyone is capable of knowing God through attaining higher states of consciousness.

A student of Plato´s who had a different interpretation of the cave allegory was Aristotle.  Aristotle did not discount the everyday sense reality like Plato did.   He agreeded that the senses provided an inferior kind of knowlege and that ultimate knowing lay in knowing the world of Forms, universal principles and ideals, which he referred to as Essences.  However, Aristotle argued that the Essences, which were the underlying causes of reality,  could be known by experiences learned from the five senses.  Thus, the Essence of being human is what is achievable by actualizing all the human abilities.  This lends itself to the Christian standpoint of doing Gods will in order to reach Salvation.  Humans may not be born actualizing their full potential, but through study, knowlege, and the pursuit of Goodness, humans may actualize their Essence.

In the Allegory of the Cave, “Plato has Socrates say that the prisoners in the cave are “like ourselves.”  In other words, Plato thinks that the vast majority of people in the world are in the situation of the prisoners in the cave, viewing shadows presented by the performers and their puppets” (Gracyk 2002).  Plato is giving a warning, that by allowing others to determine our worldview, we are condemed to live out others reality.  It is necessary for each person to know reality for themselves, to apply themselves to the study of reality so that we are not prisoners in a cave.  If  Platos allegory is indeed a correct interpretation of reality, then éach person must apply themselves to the study of Forms and not let themselves be deluded by the five-sense reality of change.

References

Cohen, Marc (2006). The Allegory of the Cave.  Retrieved from http://faculty.washington.edu/smcohen/320/cave.htm

Daniel, Stephen H. (2003). Rationalist Epistemology: Plato. Retrieved from      http://philosophy.tamu.edu/~sdaniel/Notes/plato.html

Gracyk, Theodore A. (2002) Plato’s Philosophy: A Very Basic Introduction to “The            Cave”. Retrieved from http://www.mnstate.edu/gracyk/courses/web%20publishing/IntroToPlato.htm

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