Losing an illusion makes you wiser than finding a truth.
Plato's Allegory of the Cave
January 15, 2013
1. How does the allegory of the prisoners in the cave watching shadows on a wall relate to us today? What are the shadows that we see and how do they distort our sense of what is real? Give some detailed examples.
The prisoners were unaware they were seeing shadows. Many times people see “things” around them and they believe they are the real thing. An example is if a group of people attend an evangelical christian church together and what the pastor preaches is the absolute truth. They see examples of what living a good life is, what someone should wear, and how a righteous person speaks. These are mere shadows of one person’s perspective being spread to others. The members of this so-called church compete to live up to the best image being taught them. They have competitions sometimes to establish who is doing better than another. This reminds me of how the prisoners would have fun with each other naming what the shadows were.
I am tempted to say we all see shadows about everything. It is a way for humans to explain their experiences and make sense of what is happening around them. It is our tendency to try understand “what and why” in order to function. Shadows are seen by all. However, the shadows seen by a group of “prisoners” shift according to which cave they are in. Detailed examples of shadows differently would be how different cultures view clothing, food, ideals, values, divinity, behavior, power, economy, and the list goes on.
Do we as the human race on this planet have the same shadows? I think as technology increases and we are exposed to more and more different ideas and beliefs, it is quite probable our concepts of power, money and success being to overlap and even become the same shadows. This is unfortunate because I think there were/are different caves for a reason.
2. Are we prisoners in the same sense that Plato’s characters are?
Most definitely yes. I think I answered this in my response above. I will elaborate. However, I will answer this question with other questions. If we were not prisoners, why would Plato have made this allegory in the first place? Did he not see what many view as reality is in a darkness of falsity? Was he not granted the perception we all suffer from some sort of great delusion or illusion? To add to that, weren’t all the great teachers of religion plagued by the same enlightenment and tried to make others take a different view? If there were no truth in the idea we are prisoners in a false reality, leaders throughout time would not have presented this for their followers to consider. Buddhism comes to mind immediately with the 3 poisons: greed, hatred and delusions. Life is Maya according to buddhism, the great illusion. Jesus also attempted to bring the thoughts of man in line with the thoughts of “god,” to see their lives on earth as something more than the simple day to day activities. Logically, of course Plato as well saw we live in delusion or illusion. I could go on, but I would have to write a paper to go into this topic any further!
3. What does the allegory tell us about the material world? How would too great a reliance on materialism affect ethical decisions?
Too much reliance on the material world leaves one vulnerable to perceptions of what is important. When a person evaluates what is important, his life revolves around trying to obtain that thing, or attain a state of being. Ethics come into play here. Unfortunately I believe many times people rely on materialism in ignorance of what exactly they are relying on and the consequences of their choices. In class, we discussed how although one may be concerned with environmental issues, she may still drive a car, use petroleum based products, water her lawn with water instead of zero-scaping, not purchasing all organic food and products and clothing, etc. Ethically, she may have a belief but finds the goods she uses are not in line with that belief. One point in my life, I committed to living simply and as close to my environmental ethics as possible. I only wore cotton, silk or wool. I only ate organic food, and tried to grow or worked with a farm that grew the food. I didn’t drive unless I had to, and then scheduled visits to town to complete tasks all at one time instead of several trips. I did not buy anything unnecessary. I packed my own food when traveling, etc.
Ethically I was being true to my beliefs and my reliance on material items was minimal. I would like to note here though, I became rigid. I found myself thinking arrogantly that I was doing it better. And yes, I would try to educate my family and friends who were not living as I did to change their ways. I believe that crosses an ethical line, too. It’s sort of the backyard of materialistic-reliance ignorance.
Sacrfices are made in order to maintain our reliance on materialism. Whether that be in the physical realm, meaning how it affects the earth or people around us. However, when one does live as close as possible to not relying on materialism, there can be the sacrifice of humility, so ethical evolvement of the soul is compromised.
4. What ethical issues, if any, are raised by Plato’s allegory?
Yes, definitely. I would like to touch on prisoners and leaders. It is asked if the man who got to see the source: the sun and the reason “why,” felt he had a responsibility to share his knowledge with his fellows. He no longer viewed the shadows as they did, and upon his return he could not see what they saw at first. Additionally, they made fun of him. They implied they knew better than he, and he was worse off than before leaving the cave. Ethically, did he really have the responsibility to teach them? He would have had to go within to determine this. The question he may ask himself: do they really want to know? Would they be better off knowing or staying where they are? What if the new knowledge throws them into a crisis of sorts, shattering their belief system and way of living?
I have had these questions in mind when I have come upon a new idea or perception than what is being talked about or believed by those around me. I have experimented with sharing the knowledge. In those younger days, I believed I had an ethical obligation to educate others (no humility there!). I have experimented with keeping it to myself. I have opted to share my experience with others through writing. Or finding others that saw the same thing as I did, having stepped out of the cave of the status quo. I have come to a place at this point in my life, I share with a select few, those I know are interested in self-growth and new ideas. We debate and discuss the issue, which opens both of us up to expand our own out-of-the-cave experiences.
I have also come to understand that when people are not ready to come out of the cave for themselves, trauma to their psyche may occur. Therefore, I do NOT have an ethical responsibility to share with all. But I do believe making the insights I do have (and this pertains to the out-of-the-cave character) accessible to those who wonder, who ask, who are ready and who have been at that particular time appointed by fate to enter into the light of the sun.