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Plato's Myth of the Cave

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“Socrates’ Intelligible Thinking”

In his Myth of the Cave, which is contained in Plato’s The Republic of Plato: Book 7, and involves a dialogue between himself and Glaucon, Socrates explains that the ‘real’ world as a world of perceivable ideas, not by the senses as sensible objects, but by the mind as conceivable objects. Socrates uses multiple characters and aspects of his Myth of the Cave such as the chained people, the freed person, light, shadows, the sun etc. to demonstrate his point. He uses the Myth of the Cave to describe what he believes the world to be. Socrates’ Myth of the Cave is a sound explanation of the value of education and how the world really is.

The Myth of the Cave takes place in a dark cave. A group of prisoners have lived in this cave since birth. They are chained so that they have no vision of what is to their left, right, and behind them, they can only look straight ahead at a wall which has shadows cast upon it. The chains represent consciousness; they are the ‘known’ things that close people’s minds off from anything new that may disturb present ‘knowledge.’ While the shadows act as the narrow vision that a person who is part of the majority (prisoner) sees, and believes to be true. These prisoners in the Myth of the Cave represent the majority of people in the world, the people who are not enlightened by education and do not understand Forms, the greater ideas, according to Plato. There is a fire behind the prisoners, this fire represents the sun inside the cave, because it provides light for the prisoners and allows them to see, just as the sun provides light in the real world. Behind the fire there is a partial wall, which represents a barrier that prevents the light of the sun from reaching the prisoners. There are artefacts at the top of the wall. These artefacts are controlled by a group of people who reside behind the partial wall. They are out of sight to the people who are chained. The artefacts cast shadows on the wall that the prisoners are facing. The prisoners observe the shape and the stories that the artefacts play out and believe them to be the most real things in their world, since that is all they can see. So when the prisoners talk amongst each other about men, women, horses, and trees, they are talking about the shadows of the artefacts that they have been watching throughout their life. Socrates further explains the prisoners by saying “such men would hold that the truth is nothing other than the shadows of artificial things.” (Plato 194). Evidently, the artefacts and the people who control them represent trickery and deceit, perhaps by a higher power than the majority of people who are represented by the prisoners, who are placed in the lowest stage of understanding in Socrates’ myth, the stage of imagination.

Then, one of the prisoners is freed from his chains and he is forced to look at the fire and artefacts on top of the partial wall. At first, the prisoner is confused and dazzled because of the exposure to direct light. But when his eyes become accustomed to the light he begins to understand how the fire and the statues form the shadows on the cave’s wall, the shadows that are copies of more real things. This freed prisoner is in the second stage of the cave, the stage of belief. But even though he has made contact with things that are more real than he had thought to be possible, he is still not aware of the greater reality which is the world outside of the cave. This, according to Socrates causes major confusion for the freed prisoner; Socrates asks Glaucon about this confusion when he says “Don’t you suppose he’d be at a loss and believe that what was seen before is than what is now shown?” (Plato 194). The prisoner and his progression in the Myth of the Cave represent a philosopher on a quest for knowledge to escape the majority along with its old ideas and to seek truth.

This confusion is short lived because soon after the freed prisoner is dragged all the way out of the cave and introduced to the world above. Like the last stage the freed prisoner is initially has a hard time seeing things when he is first introduced to the bright environment, he is only able to see ‘phantoms’ at first but he eventually begins to see real things. He discovers



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