Venturing Back to the Prison Cave

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Today was another 20/20 Day: Allegory of the Cave part 2. 

Today Kat and I discussed Plato’s Allegory of the Cave again, because this is one of those pieces that you just have to reread since new insights come from it each time.

From the combination of multiple discussions, I think I am starting to have a more refined definition of “truth”. Truth is the agreed upon facts that a group decides upon. There are always multiple truths, and that doesn’t necessarily mean there is a “right” or “wrong” truth, it simply means they are different. This makes the line between truth and belief hard to define.

In the terms of the allegory, Plato says, “[Socrates] To them, I said, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images.”Which seems to argue that the prisoners do not know the truth because they only see the shadows. However, later he says, “[Socrates] But then, if I am right, certain professors of education must be wrong when they say that they can put a knowledge into the soul which was not there before, like sight into blind eyes.” This new statement eludes to the idea that knowledge must build upon itself. After all, you can not do calculus without first understanding basic principles of geometry.

Therefore, if knowledge builds upon itself, and truth is built upon knowledge, then the prisoners must have some sort of known truth. Plato uses light as a metaphor for knowledge and understanding, so I find it interesting then that shadows can only be seen if there is some light. While the prisoners may not be able to full see the light source, they do have some knowledge and understanding; they just are not yet exposed to the full truth.

The prisoners know that there is more out there: “At first, when any of them is liberated and compelled suddenly to stand up and turn his neck round and walk and look towards the light, he will suffer sharp pains.” While their curiosity pained them, Plato does not deny that the prisoners were curious and knowledgeable enough to know there must be something they can not see. This is a truth that the prisoners understand.

They might not know what is out there where they can’t see, but they hypothesize that there is something.

If the prisoners are ever expected to understand the truth, Plato claims that their guardians must venture back into the cave themselves: “[Socrates] I mean that they remain in the upper world: but this must not be allowed; they must be made to descend again among the prisoners in the cave, and partake of their labors and honors, whether they are worth having or not.” The guardians, if they wish to become teachers, must join their students, the prisoners, to understand what truths they understand in order to help guide them to a fuller understanding of the truth.

Teachers must invest themselves in the world of students, if they wish to truly challenge and grow their perspectives, beliefs, and understanding of the truth.

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