The Power of Allegory of the Cave in Shaping Perceptions and Knowledge
An allegory is a story or a visual image to interpret a message differently. We use allegories for several reasons, for example, to avoid social or political controversies and to go around an idea that is controversial so the other side can be more understanding. The last reason why we use allegory is to paint a picture in your head by showing a visual image or demonstrating something for a better understanding. A perfect example of this is when a physician tells you where or how a virus attacks a body. They tell you by demonstrating it with a model of a specific body part.
Allegory as a Gateway to Understanding
The “Allegory of the Cave” is a theory in which Plato presents his idea on human knowledge. Plato states that sensory knowledge, which is knowledge gained from our senses of sight, touch, smell, hearing, and taste, is a matter of opinion, and in order to gain real knowledge, we need to make sense of things like verifying facts and having logical reasonings. In the allegory, Plato presents a story between people who use sensory knowledge to know the truth and people who use their own experiences to find out the truth.
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There are three prisoners in a cave, and the prisoners are tied up to rocks with their arms and legs tied up. The only thing they see is what’s in front of them, which is a stonewall. These three prisoners have never seen anything beyond the cave because they were born in the cave. Behind them is a fire, and in between is a walkway. They can’t see behind them, but there are people outside carrying things such as plants and wood on top of their heads, and the prisoners see their shadows along the stonewall in front of them. The prisoners have never seen the actual person but instead the shadow of it, so they think that the shadows are “real.” The prisoners started to play a game, and if one of them was correct, they would praise him for being clever.
One of the prisoners found a way to escape, and he left the cave, where he discovered the world outside the cave. And he was astonished about what he found. He couldn’t believe the things he was seeing and how he intercepted the world from inside the cave were all wrong. He discovered that the Sun was the source of light, not the fire from the cave. When he returned to the cave to tell the other prisoners about his discoveries, they didn’t believe him and even threatened to kill him. In Plato’s theory, the cave represents the people who use sensory knowledge to intercept the truth and use empirical knowledge to make sense of things.
The shadows represent the people who use empirical knowledge to find the truth, and they believe it’s the truth because they believe what they see. The game the prisoners played was a representation of how the winner doesn’t actually know the real truth, and it’s laughable how others are calling him clever. When the prisoner escaped, that shows us that he was a philosopher who sought knowledge other than from his senses, and the Sun, which was the light, represented the real truth. The other prisoners were scared to know the real truth, so that’s why they threatened to kill the escaped prisoner.
This brings me to the false accusation of Socrates. Socrates was charged with corrupting the minds of the youth; he talked about god that wasn’t in the state practices, and it went against their beliefs. The jury, which consisted of the “wisest” men, sentenced Socrates to death because they were scared of the truth, which created embarrassment and made them look foolish since they were the “wisest” men. Socrates was found guilty, but he didn’t fight back since they were the ignorant ones who were struck in the cave.
In a way, philosophers are persuaders because they seek out new knowledge and present it to us, hoping we believe the information and then pass it on to newer generations. Philosophy could even help us pursue a career such as law. Philosophy changes our way of thinking and intercepts things differently.
- Plato. “The Allegory of the Cave.” Plato: Collected Dialogues. Trans. P. Shorey. Ed. Hamilton & Cairns. Random House, 1963. pp. 747-752.
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- Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. (2018). Plato on Rhetoric and Poetry. Retrieved from https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/plato-rhetoric/
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