Have you ever wondered what happens when you leave the room? Is the room still there? Do teachers exist when they’re not in front of you? Do they have lives (we do)? If a tree falls in the woods and nobody is around to hear it, does it make a sound?
Excellent. I wonder these things myself (I especially wonder if students read these posts).
Today we began reading Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave,” a short dialogue between Socrates and Glaucon. Here is today’s Aim, vocabulary, and the reading below:
Aim: How does perspective shape reality and what does Plato’s allegory say about the nature of truth?
Perspective: your point of view
Bias: opinion or prejudice
Subjective Reality: understanding of truth from a personal perspective
Objective Reality: the state of truth outside one’s feelings, thoughts, or biases
Enjoy the reading!
Allegory of the Cave:
SETTING THE SCENE: THE CAVE AND THE FIRE
SOCRATES: Imagine this: People live under the earth in a cavelike dwelling. Stretching a long way
up toward the daylight is its entrance, toward which the entire cave is gathered. The people have been in
this dwelling since childhood, shackled by the legs and neck..Thus they stay in the same place so that there
is only one thing for them to look that: whatever they encounter in front of their faces. But because they are
shackled, they are unable to turn their heads around.
A fire is behind them, and there is a wall between the fire and the prisoners
SOCRATES: Some light, of course, is allowed them, namely from a fire that casts its glow toward
them from behind them, being above and at some distance. Between the fire and those who are shackled
[i.e., behind their backs] there runs a walkway at a certain height. Imagine that a low wall has been built
the length of the walkway, like the low curtain that puppeteers put up, over which they show their puppets.
The images carried before the fire
SOCRATES: So now imagine that all along this low wall people are carrying all sorts of things that
reach up higher than the wall: statues and other carvings made of stone or wood and many other artifacts
that people have made. As you would expect, some are talking to each other [as they walk along] and some
GLAUCON: This is an unusual picture that you are presenting here, and these are unusual prisoners.
SOCRATES: They are very much like us humans, I [Socrates] responded.
What the prisoners see and hear
SOCRATES: What do you think? From the beginning people like this have never managed, whether
on their own or with the help by others, to see anything besides the shadows that are [continually] projected
on the wall opposite them by the glow of the fire.
GLAUCON: How could it be otherwise, since they are forced to keep their heads immobile for their
SOCRATES: And what do they see of the things that are being carried along [behind them]? Do they
not see simply these [namely the shadows]?
SOCRATES: Now if they were able to say something about what they saw and to talk it over, do you
not think that they would regard that which they saw on the wall as beings?
GLAUCON: They would have to.
SOCRATES: And now what if this prison also had an echo reverberating off the wall in front of them
[the one that they always and only look at]? Whenever one of the people walking behind those in chains
(and carrying the things) would make a sound, do you think the prisoners would imagine that the speaker
were anyone other than the shadow passing in front of them?
GLAUCON: Nothing else, by Zeus!
SOCRATES: All in all, I responded, those who were chained would consider nothing besides the
shadows of the artifacts as the unhidden.
GLAUCON: That would absolutely have to be.
THREE STAGES OF LIBERATION
FREEDOM, STAGE ONE
A prisoner gets free
SOCRATES: So now, I replied, watch the process whereby the prisoners are set free from their
chains and, along with that, cured of their lack of insight, and likewise consider what kind of lack of insight
must be if the following were to happen to those who were chained.
Walks back to the fire
SOCRATES: Whenever any of them was unchained and was forced to stand up suddenly, to turn
around, to walk, and to look up toward the light, in each case the person would be able to do this only with
pain and because of the flickering brightness would be unable to look at those things whose shadows he
Is questioned about the objects
SOCRATES: If all this were to happen to the prisoner, what do you think he would say if someone
were to inform him that what he saw before were [mere] trifles but that now he was much nearer to beings;
and that, as a consequence of now being turned toward what is more in being, he also saw more correctly?
The answer he gives
SOCRATES: And if someone were [then] to show him any of the things that were passing by and
forced him to answer the question about what it was, don’t you think that he would be a wit’s end and in
addition would consider that what he previously saw [with is own eyes] was more unhidden than what was
now being shown [to him by someone else].
GLAUCON: Yes, absolutely.
Looking at the fire-light itself
SOCRATES: And if someone even forced him to look into the glare of the fire, would his eyes not
hurt him, and would he not then turn away and flee [back] to that which he is capable of looking at? And
would he not decide that [what he could see before without any help] was in fact clearer than what was now
being shown to him?