Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.
  1. Ben414
    Offline

    Ben414 Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 1, 2013
    Messages:
    974
    Likes Received:
    785

    The Allegory of the Cave: Will we ever unshackle ourselves?

    Discussion in 'Debate Room' started by Ben414, Dec 13, 2014.

    For those of you who haven't read the Republic or would appreciate a refresher on the allegory of the cave:

    In Socrates' allegory of the cave, he approaches the topic of how humans perceive and understand the world around them. He states that all people start out shackled to the the ground floor of a cave. The only light source comes from outside of the cave. As they cannot see outside, the only things that they can see are puppets made by other people inside of the cave, and they come to see the puppets as real things rather than the things that truly exist outside of the cave.

    Socrates then states that only a philosopher king will be able to use logic to see that the images are not real and will be able to lead himself out of the cave through philosophy. After leaving the cave and seeing the true world, he has the obligation to go back into the cave to alert other people that they are merely seeing images created by other people, hopefully allowing leading them on a path to use philosophy to leave the cave themselves. Unfortunately, this person will likely be ignored or even killed.

    One interpretation (Allan Bloom) states that the largest obstacle holding back the shackled prisoners from trying to leave the cave is that people feel a need to find significance in themselves. The prisoners have only seen the puppet images, and through them have created significance in their own lives. In order to escape the cave, one must be willing to accept if necessary that their lives up to any point lacked significance; in other words, people must not value empirically false ideas that provide a perception of significance over true ideas that may not provide such significance.

    This interpretation also states that another obstacle is that a person leaving the cave must be willing to "not look directly at the sun" (i.e. not know everything unquestioningly).

    Adding my own interpretation, I believe these two obstacles are interconnected. One reason that a person may not find significance by turning away from their falsely accepted ideas is because finding the truth is not something the person can actually reach in their lifetime. In this way, a person may believe that he would find significance in the truth but still choose not to chase it. But if a person believed this, what's holding him back from finding significance in helping the the whole of humankind get closer to the truth? Why has that choice so far proven to be unpersuasive to people?

    Is the bigger problem for humanity that we are ignorant, or that we are willfully ignorant? Will we ever be willing to unshackle ourselves?
     
  2. SwampDog
    Offline

    SwampDog Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Mar 5, 2013
    Messages:
    409
    Likes Received:
    108
    Location:
    Back in Blighty
    As Pilate said to JC, What is truth?

    Could truth be an impossible lifetime quest for the Universal Theory of Everything? Can 'truth' be narrowed down like that? Ask a million people to define truth, and likely you'll get a million different answers. There's no quest for something that can't be identified.

    You ask a pertinent question about unshackling. The evolution of our brain has been exponential - necessarily that means time-wise we are still close to and haunted by our primeval past. And what stultifies human development is superstition and fear.

    So much fiction in our lives is passed off as fact. We are taught not to challenge the status quo, but to knuckle down and accept. It's control of the many by the few.

    Many accept this state of affairs, particularly in respect of religion and politics. It's a comfort blanket, it's makes life easier to not rock the boat. Any challengers are seen as apostates or enemies of the state (broad brush here.)

    Whilst Plato may have looked at philosophy to guide, what's lacking in this age (and perhaps always has) is the ability to apply logic, reason and rationality to form our world-view. This is why the human race is held back. This is why we still have abundant evidence of barbarous mentality in the middle east, the abhorrent treatment of women and children et. al., and the subjugation of whole populations.

    The 'truth' is as we determine it based on the aforementioned rationale. Children must not only think, but they must be taught how to think. But that takes effort. Six billion people on this planet, and I dare say the majority are slaves to religion and oppressive political ideologies.

    I'd like to think we'll get there in the end, but only an individual's mindset can achieve that.
     
    Ben414 likes this.
  3. 123456789
    Offline

    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 28, 2012
    Messages:
    6,351
    Likes Received:
    3,093
    Ben, I do not think your description of the Allegory of the Cave is correct.
     
  4. A.M.P.
    Offline

    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 30, 2013
    Messages:
    2,032
    Likes Received:
    1,131
    Location:
    A Place with no History
    @Ben414
    Interesting use of the word puppet.
    And you kinda twisted what Socrates said >.>

    And the idea of the shackled prisoners freeing themselves is impossible.
    If all they ever knew what the shadows on the wall, they would have had zero understanding of light and darkness and would have never been able to make a logical conclusion that the shadows are from people against the light. To ever rationalize that, they would need some aforementioned knowledge of such things or they would never be able to get the idea. They would need some broader understanding of the world to ever even bother to think there's more to the shadows then just that.

    Metaphorically it works great though. Critical thinking is something that is rarely taught these days outside of university level classes. It's a real shame since it would fix so much issues for the younger people and then lead unto adulthood as well.
     
  5. Ben414
    Offline

    Ben414 Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 1, 2013
    Messages:
    974
    Likes Received:
    785
    I'm curious as to what you think is incorrect. I'm also curious what translation of the Republic you've read, because some translations are noticeably different.

    How did I twist what Socrates said?

    The whole point of Socrates' constant questioning of everyone he met was that it would point out inconsistencies in literally everyone's views; thus, trying to push people towards philosophy to try to find the truth. I doubt Socrates thought he was outside of the cave, but he probably thought he was closer to being outside than others (i.e. his Delphi and wisdom story, "I'm the most wise because I know what I don't know") and always tried to lead people along his path.

    The idea of the philosopher kings was that they were able to free themselves and make it out of the cave. If one takes an ironic interpretation, one could say that he never thought the philosopher kings were possible. But even then, it's more of a "it won't happen" rather than "it can't happen" based on the text.
     
  6. BayView
    Offline

    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 6, 2014
    Messages:
    5,669
    Likes Received:
    5,163
    Yeah, I'm curious to know what people are disagreeing with in Ben's interpretation, too.

    I've seen different details in different versions of the allegory, but I think the overall idea of what I've read is consistent with what Ben wrote...?
     
  7. ChickenFreak
    Offline

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2010
    Messages:
    8,997
    Likes Received:
    5,506
    I don't really understand either interpretation, but I've usually heard the images described as shadows, not puppets. Puppets are created by someone and deliberately manipulated to produce an effect; shadows just happen. The two metaphors seem different to me.
     
    obsidian_cicatrix and 123456789 like this.
  8. Ben414
    Offline

    Ben414 Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 1, 2013
    Messages:
    974
    Likes Received:
    785
    As Plato was incredibly interested in education and how corruption can come from education, I do think that he was more interested in these ideas. (The Laws really highlights how concerned with corruption he was!) By using the term "puppets," I hoped to highlight that specific topic. If we can agree that Plato was more interested in how people can corrupt through education and used the cave primarily to show this effect, then I would be fine with using the term "shadows." I'm sure that Plato would agree that not all false images on the cave are created with a malicious intent, but he would want his cave allegory to highlight the malicious potential.
     
  9. ChickenFreak
    Offline

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2010
    Messages:
    8,997
    Likes Received:
    5,506
    I think that changing "shadows" to "puppets" fundamentally changes the metaphor. I don't think that it's a different focus on the same idea; I think that it's a different idea.
     
    minstrel likes this.
  10. Ben414
    Offline

    Ben414 Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 1, 2013
    Messages:
    974
    Likes Received:
    785
    How so? For both, the false images are created by others inside the cave and then determined by others inside the cave to be real. The only difference is whether the people making the false images are doing it on purpose or not. Plato would admit that both happens. Using solely the term "shadow" doesn't encapsulate the fact that some people are making the shadows on purpose to serve their own interests; it makes it seem like a natural phenomenon that doesn't include human action. Using the term "puppet" doesn't encapsulate the fact that some people aren't making the shadows on purpose to serve their own interests.

    I'm just now thinking that you may be thinking I'm referring to "puppets" as actual man-made puppets made of cloth or something. Now that I'm reading the original post again, I see that I don't state in the second paragraph that by "puppets" I actually mean that the people see images (i.e. shadows) on the walls made by puppets from others inside the cave. In my third paragraph, it's more clear with my writing: "He has the obligation to go back into the cave to alert other people that they are merely seeing images created by other people." Is that the difference you're seeing? Or are you arguing that the allegory didn't state that others manipulate the light from outside to make false images on the walls to suit their own interests? If you're arguing for the latter, then I disagree. I don't think Plato solely meant to make a general statement on how philosopher kings would see the truth while others would not; I believe he also meant to make a statement on how people can manipulate the light from outside to suit their own needs.
     
  11. ChickenFreak
    Offline

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2010
    Messages:
    8,997
    Likes Received:
    5,506
    I suspect that we're not going to agree on this, and I'm going to try to suppress my usual instinct to explain myself endlessly.
     
  12. Ben414
    Offline

    Ben414 Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 1, 2013
    Messages:
    974
    Likes Received:
    785
    Okay. I'd listen to arguments to the contrary, but I haven't heard any yet. If you would prefer not to use your time arguing something like that, that's fine with me. I haven't really stated my own arguments either, so I'm perfectly fine with neither of us using our time in that way.

    Regardless, I didn't mean for this thread to become about what Plato said. I'm much more interested in what people think of the idea that people prefer falsities that provide their lives with significance over the truth, and how damning it may be to humankind's future.
     
  13. ChickenFreak
    Offline

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2010
    Messages:
    8,997
    Likes Received:
    5,506
    I would definitely agree that people tend to believe what they need or want to believe. The "provide their lives with significance", I'm less sure about. I think that people's self-delusions tend to more often be about safety and anxiety, than about significance. But that might just be an over-generalization of the delusional people I've known.
     
  14. minstrel
    Offline

    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 11, 2010
    Messages:
    8,728
    Likes Received:
    4,826
    Location:
    Near Los Angeles
    I keep wondering when someone is going to mention "The Matrix". A sort-of modern version of the allegory of the cave, I guess. Who wouldn't want to live a life of luxury and wealth in a fantasy as opposed to a life of desperation and fear in reality? Do you take the red pill or the blue pill? ;)
     
  15. 123456789
    Offline

    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 28, 2012
    Messages:
    6,351
    Likes Received:
    3,093
    The shadows are significant because they are supposed to represent the material world, which pale in comparison to the Forms, which I'm assuming are represented in the Allegory by the puppets.

    Fun stuff but in the end just ideas.
     
  16. Lemex
    Offline

    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

    Joined:
    Oct 2, 2007
    Messages:
    10,507
    Likes Received:
    3,151
    Location:
    Northeast England
    'Puppets' and 'Shadows' as a significant difference, as one assumes a puppeteer, the other is a purely natural phenomena. The puppets cause the shadows, but what is the cause? I think Plato would lean more to the latter than the former, he was not Ancient Greece's version of Alex Jones after all.

    However, it's a difference I feel pails in importance compared to what I think the allegory of the cave is all about, and why I have such difficulty in using it. How difficult is it to break from the chains that bind us? Is it as easy as is suggested in Marx's 'Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right', and just as simple as an illusion that can be overcome - that we can just 'break the chains, and cull the living flower'? Or when we break the chains, do we still have the shackles hanging uselessly from our arms?

    Plato is I think right to point out that we are trapped in an in-born illusion, but I think his fatal mistake is underestimating just how powerful these illusions are. I for one cannot think of how to think without inborn prejudices - I think it's important to try, but if you can even be successful at all is a question I worry about. Maybe the cave is the only way we can understand the outside, even as a point of comparison. I think this is showing how much I disagree with Plato in spirit, but I always was more of an Aristotle guy myself. However, could that be because I just happened to read Aristotle first? Is that another shackle in the cave, or does that even matter?

    It's a fundamental problem in consciousness: how do we know why we think the way we do? Why do we think as we do? Why do we think we think at all, are we just looking at the shadows From a dancing fire?

    Also, as an objection to the allegory - which I suppose is my problem with it - who set the fire?

    (As a side note, I'd love to know if Socrates actually invented this allegory, or if it came from Plato just putting words in his mouth.)
     
    Last edited: Dec 14, 2014
  17. Aled James Taylor
    Offline

    Aled James Taylor Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2013
    Messages:
    784
    Likes Received:
    462
    Location:
    UK
    I've always thought of the allegory of the Cave to be to do with Plato's theory of Forms (ideas). The world of Forms is superior to our own world (the physical world) and also is the essential basis of reality. Physical object are representations (shadows) of true Forms.


    His view (if I've understood it correctly) was that these Forms exist in the ‘heavenly’ realm and are accessed with the mind. If I think of what a chair essentially is, and you do likewise, we are both looking, with our minds (poorly) at the same idea (Form) that exists in the realm of ideas.


    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theory_of_Forms


    Today, people don’t think this is the case. My idea of a chair may be similar to yours, but these ideas exist independently of each other and only in our minds. There is no realm of ideas.


    I think that today, people pay far too much attention to ideas (they have already left the cave) and too little attention to physical reality. The ethnic origin of a person, they religion, their cultural background and even what football team they support, can be considered more significant than the actual person standing before you. The pursuit and promotion of ideas has taken priority over caring for people, and this is to the determent of all of us.
     
    123456789 likes this.
  18. BayView
    Offline

    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 6, 2014
    Messages:
    5,669
    Likes Received:
    5,163
    Either 'puppets' or 'statues' has always been part of the allegory as I've read it. And the enslaved people don't even see THOSE things, they just see the shadows that are cast by those things. Of course, I've never read the original version!

    I think the parallel to the Matrix is a good one. They're both allegories, but they both have parallels in the 'real' world. Chomsky and his friends have made it clear how reality is distorted by the media, Stephen Colbert has added some nice grace notes to the discourse - ageless ideas, I'd say.
     
Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.

Share This Page