Evaluation of Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave”
Plato considers education to be a fundamental feature of human survival and wellbeing. This according to him enlightens the human soul and enables the same to differentiate between illusion and reality. Anybody that is educated would be in position to behave and think like a philosopher. Notably, these are a representation of the elite within the society of ‘slaves’. Plato’s allegory also reprimands individuals who overly depend on their senses for survival. In general, he argues that education plays a critical role in personal enlightenment and subsequent adaptation in this world. Indeed, education is an important aspect of humanity that enables the individuals to adapt accordingly to life challenges. It is against this background that this paper provides a critical analysis of Plato’s allegory of the cave and seeks to underscore the importance of education to human survival.
In ‘The Republic’, humans are represented as being ignorant not only of the physical world but also of their personal wellbeing. Thus they are considered prisoners in the world that they belong to. However, there are rare individuals in the human race that make efforts to escape the imprisonment status. This is achieved by the help of vital intellectual skills. Usually, it is along journey that is characterized by a high degree of torture. Nevertheless, the aftermath is usually very desirable because of the fact that it equips the person with intellectual skills that are critical for survival. In addition, attainment of the likeable intellectual skills is desirable and has intrinsic goodness. According to Plato, the individual with these vital skills has what it takes to provide leadership and relative mentorship to the society (111). It is because the person’s knowledge goes beyond the techniques required for leadership and delves in the inherent goodness that characterizes this status. However, this is likely to be contested by the rest of humanity in the cave because of lack of similar important skills.
Notably, the allegory underscores the fact that there are hidden truths that are found under the surface of every aspect of life that can only be deciphered by the enlightened within the society. In this respect, Plato appreciates the fact that the prisoner’s are likely to resist the presentation of these truths by the philosophers or the enlightened (119). However, it is argued that individuals that would embrace this enlightenment should be the ones to assume ideal leadership positions in governance. In this regard therefore, education plays a critical role in enabling individuals to acquire basic leadership skills. Further, Plato contests the assumption that education is merely equipping individuals with vital knowledge. Instead, he argues that it should be appreciated that the main objective of education is to enable the individuals to recognize what is already known to them. At his juncture, it can be ascertained that the allegory of the cave simply symbolizes the struggle of humans to attain vital knowledge as well as enlightenment.
As indicated earlier, education is a torturous process that requires a great degree of perseverance and self will. Thus it can not be imposed on an individual; rather it needs to be approved by the individual receiving it. Without this, the implications of the education are likely to bear detrimental effects. Nevertheless, its attainment is important because of its ability to change the perception of the individual. In particular, it has the capability to enable the ‘imprisoned’ individuals to change their thought process. While in the environment of the cave, it should be acknowledged that usually, the thought process of such individuals is clouded by darkness.
Thus education enables the individuals to ascend from this darkness and rise to light. Furthermore, the liberated individual is more likely to attain a high degree of knowledge that would enable the same to make informed decisions. In particular, it would enable them to perceive the world from a realistic point of view. Also, these liberated individuals would be beneficial to the society as they would be compelled to come back and enlighten the rest of the prisoners in the cave.
In his review, Plato likens the cave to the complex world that humans live in and the fire therein to the sun that enables humans to experience the reality of nature. In addition, he considers the path and inherent experiences of the prisoners to be similar to a normal person’s ascend to enlightenment that is characterized by a high degree of knowledge. The human’s world of sight is represented by the opinions of the intellectual world. Notably, both the intellect and a normal human being tend to begin their lives at the bottom of the ladder with regards to knowledge. They both have clear minds that can possibly grasp as much knowledge as possible. The human world of sight enables humanity to differentiate between reality and illusion. This can only be achieved if an individual has sufficient intellect to enable him make clear distinctions and appreciate reality. This ability is referred to as the ‘abstract reality’ (Plato 126). It is a complex status that is characterized by a high degree of knowledge that stems from reasoning and further culminates in understanding.
From the physical point of view, the human world of sight can be likened to the distinct stages of growth and development. Notably, these are characterized by various stages that begin with recognition of images and later the recognition of objects. Likewise, in Plato’s Cave, the prisoners begin by recognizing the shadows that are reflected on the wall of the cave before they can figure out the models that are carried by the guards. A clear understanding of abstract reality requires a conception of mathematics and later the actual forms of things. Notably, these things are constituents of the world that is found outside the cave.
However, it is worth acknowledging that human understanding of the objective physical world is entirely determined by the individuals’ thought process. To begin with, the mind is influenced by creativity to imagine the physical world. Then, the individual develops personal beliefs that are usually unfounded and considered subjective. Further, the individual develops an opinion regarding the same that is influenced by knowledge and the process of reasoning.
This finally culminates in the realization of objective forms that are greatly influenced by the degree of understanding of an individual. In this regard, the reasoning skills that are gained through mathematics play a critical role in acquisition of knowledge. Seemingly, they also enable the individuals to understand and appreciate their wellbeing. Also, it is notable that the shadows found on the walls of the cave tend to assume different shapes frequently. Much as this may be of little importance to the prisoner, it implies that the reality that characterizes the actual world is dynamic and is therefore vital.
In the allegory, knowledge is represented as an ideal situation that gives humans freedom. Freedom in this regard is very vital because of the fact that it enables the individuals to pursue various experiences with ease. In addition, it is critical in overcoming challenges through informed decision making. In a world that is characterized by various complexities, it is important to have the vital skills required to overcome various challenges. Notably, these can only be attained through education. As indicated in the essay, education is an all inclusive aspect that not only equips individuals with vital skills but also inculcates fundamental values that enable the individuals to make informed and objective decisions. Of great importance however is the role of education in enabling humanity to distinguish between reality and illusion. This is important as it enables the same to make wise and workable decisions when faced with problems.
From the review, it can be ascertained that Plato’s allegory is symbolic of the struggle of humanity towards attainment of enlightenment. This is solely achieved through education that needs to be approved by an individual. It equips one with vital intellectual skills and knowledge that are fundamental for survival. In addition, it is instrumental in inculcating fundamental social values in an individual. These enable the individual not only to overcome challenges and provide leadership in the community but also to coexist with the rest of the society in a harmonic manner. Above all, education is a sustainable measure as informed individuals are often compelled to enlighten the ones still in the ‘dark’. It is in this consideration that this paper supports the thesis that education plays a critical role of enlightening individuals and enabling the same to adapt accordingly in this dynamic world.
Plato. The Republic. USA: Hackett Publishing, 1992.