Psychological Allegory In Plato's Allegory Of The Cave

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In analyzing Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, three primary spheres come into focus. The first encompasses the meaning of the allegory as a whole. Plato’s allegory is a complex text and what Plato is trying to say can easily be misconstrued. The second domain concerns the significance of the allegory. What does it show the reader and why is that important? 

Finally, the third sphere regards the contemporary utility of Plato’s allegory. More specifically, is Plato’s text still relevant in today’s world? Through analysis of his work, we can see that Plato means to split and delineate types of knowledge, that understanding those categories can serve significant purposes and that Plato’s allegory is just as relevant today as it was 2000 years ago. Foremost, the meaning of Plato’s allegory is that there exists a distinction in knowledge between the subjective and the objective. Plato starts by describing subjective knowledge. He envisions “human beings living in an underground den… chained so they cannot move, and can only see before them.” Plato states that “above and behind them, a fire is blazing at a distance.” 

He uses this setting to deduce that all they will see are shadows on the wall and that they will believe these shadows to be reality because they have never seen anything but the shadows. At this point in the text, it is important to take a step back and consider the symbolism that is present. Of primary concern, is the question of what the shadows represent. Taking into account the way the shadows are cast and how the prisoners interact with them, these shadows can be taken to represent subjective knowledge. Each shadow is cast either from the body of the men and women that are chained or by passersby on a walking path behind the prisoners. From this, each person interprets the shadows differently. By both capacity of wit and eyesight, Plato’s prisoners attempt to name the shadows as they appear. 

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From the descriptions within the text, it seems that the prisoners have created a world of their own. This world is almost completely separated from the world around them; the only dissipation of their reality occurs when one of the prisoners escapes his bonds. The escape of the prisoner is when Plato shifts from describing subjective knowledge to detailing objective truth. Plato describes objective truth in three ways: First, he argues that it “induces temporary pain upon he who looks at it”. We can see this when Plato hypothesizes that 4 “if [the prisoner] is compelled to look straight at the light…” he would “have a pain in his eyes which will make him take refuge in the objects” that he previously knew. Secondly, Plato argues 5 that it would fundamentally alter an onlooker. He states that once the prisoner adjusts to the light of objective truth, “he remembers his old habitation… and his fellow prisoners… and pit[ies] them”. Plato goes so far as to say that the former prisoner would “endure anything, rather than 6 think as they do and live in their manner”. With these quotations, we can see that the ascent up to the new world is one that changed the prisoner dramatically. Third, Plato describes the ascent into the world of the objective to be the way to see the “idea of good.” Once the idea of good is seen, one has access to the immediate source of reason and has the “power… [to] act rationally”. With the delineation between the objective and the subjective covered, we can now move on to the significance of Plato’s Allegory. As previously described, Plato’s Allegory categorizes knowledge. This achievement is significant in and of itself. Whether Plato was the first to introduce the world to these ideas is beyond the scope of this essay; however, even if Plato was not the first to delineate types of knowledge between subjective and objective, how he describes the difference is significant. 

Another primary import of Plato’s allegory is that we can use the knowledge of the objective to influence matters of the subjective in our everyday lives. Explanation of this concept is best left to Plato himself when he tells of the source of rationality. Plato states that “in the world of knowledge the idea of good appears last of all.” Plato goes on to say that “when 10 seen… [it] is also… the immediate source of reason.” With the idea of good categorized as the 11 source of reason, Plato argues that “this is the power upon which he who would act rationally … must have his eye fixed.” With these words, Plato tells us his intent for the text: that one must venture to the world of objective truth in order to rationally shape the world in which we inhabit. One of the other primary takeaways from the text is that when Plato shows the reader the difference between objective and subjective knowledge he enables the reader to retain a philosophical framework for empathy. Through this structure, Plato constructs an ironclad foundation for understanding the truth behind other people’s arguments, even if their conclusions differ from one’s own. While this may sound complex, it is actually quite simple: Before Plato, if a person disagreed with someone and wanted to “agree to disagree” they could appeal to the efficiency of taking that action. However, Plato’s allegory showed that most knowledge is subjective and if an argument fell within the range of subjective knowledge, one could use Plato to say that they are both equally wrong, subjective, and hypothetically “looking at shadows”. This should not be construed, however, to mean that all opinions are equally valid. In fact, Plato believed that certain types of knowledge, particularly regarding Ideal Forms and mathematics, were wholly indisputable. Finally, Plato’s Allegory of the Cave is just as relevant in today’s world. In order to prove that the relevance is constant, we need to identify what Plato fundamentally discussed and if that was subject to change over the past 2000 years. 

First, Plato delineated types of knowledge. Secondly, Plato describes using knowledge as an inherent part of human life. For there to be a change in relevance, one of those two axioms would have to have changed since Plato and, fundamentally, they have not. Regarding types of knowledge, Plato’s distinction between the subjective and the objective leaves no room for change. There is no category of knowledge that exists outside of subjective, objective, or a mix of both. Because there is no change there, Plato is just as relevant in that realm. Regarding the second potential area for change, the use of knowledge in human life could change. In fact, it is far easier to outline how shifts have occurred in this sphere. We use knowledge to do things today that people could never have dreamed of 2000 years ago. America put a man on the moon. The Wright brothers invented the airplane. However, such thinking is too specific. Sure, we are doing tasks that we couldn’t do years ago, but fundamentally we are still using knowledge to better our lives, make processes more efficient and find out more about our world. Those uses are the same uses that people were doing with knowledge 2000 years ago. 

Additionally, their relationship with knowledge, specifically that using it is an integral part of life has remained constant or even intensified. Since the broad categories of what humans use knowledge for have stayed constant and knowledge itself cannot transcend Plato’s categories of objective and subjective, Plato is just as relevant today as 2000 years ago. In responding to the prompt on Plato’s “ The Allegory of the Cave” there is much to be unpacked. Four primary questions are set forth: Two refer to the meaning of the allegory. Two refer to its contemporary value. As such, this essay dives into the two categories, one after the other. Through analysis of Plato’s allegory, we find that Plato’s parable rings just as true today as it did two thousand years ago. Plato enables the reader to glimpse the genetic makeup of knowledge, differentiate its types, and identify its true nature. In this, we separate objective knowledge from its subjective counterpart, laying bare Plato’s foundational framework for recognizing indisputable truth and, in his own words, facilitating “the ascent of the soul into the intellectual world” to “[see] the author of all things beautiful and right”. 

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