2. Plato’s Cave
I am reading a book about 50 basics of philosophy. I wouldn’t be me if I wouldn’t try and think further on the things I’m learning, and I intend to use this platform to do so. These posts will be easily recognizable as they are numbered and categorized under ‘Abstract Thought’, so you can ignore them accordingly.
Plato’s cave is an idea thought up by none other than Plato himself, in an attempt to visualize how our visions and thoughts relate to the outside world.
He compares our intellectual selves to prisoners, chained in a cave with their head held in place, so that they can only see shadows on the cave wall in front of them. Naturally they will assume that this is reality and all there is to it, seeing shadows dance on the surface.
Many people know this story, but might miss its significance. The tale actually continues from here on, as one of the prisoners escapes the cave and, once his eyes are used to the light outside, he sees the world as it truly is.
Plato seems to emphasize that it is not impossible to escape the bonds. Many fatalists believe that the point of the story is that we are damned to remain stupid, but this isn’t the case. Our intellect can fight and win its freedom, and break out and roam the world.
The prisoner goes back inside, to free his companions. But he stumbles, his eyes no longer adjusted to the darkness, and falls. The prisoners see this, and make fun of him. They think his trip outside made him crazy, and refuse to believe anything he says, ridiculing him for it.
This is a direct reference to Plato’s teacher Socrates, who, after refusing to change his beliefs, was sentenced to death.
ironically, many who refer to the first part of Plato’s story, seem to want to prove that they’ve caught on to things, and claim that we are forever ignorant. They often use this argument against someone who claims the intellectual high ground, rightfully or not. And so, they ridicule him, like the prisoners ridicule their savior, and choose to stay behind. Trying to prove mankind’s stupidity, they only prove their own.
Plato’s ideas evolved into philosophical systems so profound, that they are often referred to with no more than ‘p’. It is a continuation of the ideas that there is a world beyond our grasp or even our reasoning. His name is used in common expressions like ‘platonic love’, again touching on a shallow version of something much deeper.
The cave of Plato is not meant to be used as it often is by us mentally challenged plebs. It is not a form of surrender, or little session of whining. It is a cheer, a push for us to move on, think our way out of the cave, and come back for the others. It is meant to encourage us to try philosophical thinking, however rudimentary. It is a warning, that we shouldn’t judge those who have trouble communicating with us, the masses, because it might just be that their eyes are not adjusted to the darkness of our minds.
We are prisoners, but we can be free. And we will be prisoners of this new world, which we can escape again. We may never know everything, but one step at a time, we can still progress.