The Modern Regard of Ancient Lessons
Plato’s allegory of the cave is an ancient story about illusions and reality. Taught in the average philosophy course and in high schools across the world, the story is about a set of prisoners in a cave. These prisoners are tied down and forced to look at the shadows of things like people, animals, etc cast from behind a fire. They are told that this is their true reality and it always has been this way. One prisoner manages to escape, realizing that the world they knew in the cave was false and that the outside world is the true reality. He sees the sun, stars, and real environment. Excited, the prisoner rushes back to free his friends, but is now blinded by the darkness of the cave.
The remaining prisoners, indoctrinated all of their lives, cannot understand the descriptions of the outside world, but attribute the freed prisoner’s blindness to exiting the cave. As such, they decline the offer of a new life, and vow to kill anyone who tries to convince them again.
Plato’s allegory was primarily intended to show us that things may not really seem as they are, questioning the nature of a given reality and possible societal norms. Philosophers have set forth many alternative meanings to the allegory, demonstrating the fluid nature of philosophical discussion.
When analyzing the allegory with a grain of existentialism, one point is brought up time after time. Plato clearly conveys that the outside world is the real one, and that the shadows in the cave with the cave itself being the illusory world of the prisoners.
The truth is, the outside world could be a metaphorical ‘cave’ itself, recurring infinitely in space and time, or not happening at all.
If the world we are currently in is an “illusion”, then how are we to know if the outside world is real? It seems to be acceptable to the savior of the prisoners that this outside world is ulterior to the cave, and to him, the real reality. Even so, there is no guarantee that his outside world is the highest level of reality to which he can obtain.
Knowledge is based on proof and everything else is up for discussion. As we grow, we must learn and adapt towards what we personally decide to be truths. Keeping an open mind is integral to understanding philosophy, regarding both ancient scholars and your own developing principles.
Happy October, Readers!