The Philosophy of Knowing Yourself
Plato: Allegory of the Cave
In the Allegory of the Cave, I interpret Plato as meaning that the cave is an allegory of society, and that the people in the cave, who only perceive what is in front of them without seeing nature and the rest of the world, are chained. Plato says; “Can human beings living in a cave, which has a mouth open toward the light? Here they have been from their childhood and have their legs and necks chained so they cannot move. They can only see in front of them, being prevented by the chains from turning their heads around.” They are chained to what they are taught; society is their only reality. They are chained and kept from turning their heads to see all that exists around them. Plato continues; “above the walkway like the screen which puppet players have in front of them, over which they show the puppets.”[i]
Their perception is only a shadow of reality, and they are like puppets bound to this perception created by society. Plato explains that the allegory is “Like ourselves, and they see only their own shadows, or the shadows of one another, which the fire throws on the opposite wall of the cave.”
The people in Plato’s cave only see shadows of objects, all created by man, which includes more than objects, such as social institutions. They see a shadow of an image created by society, and this is their reality. For example, most children are raised with particular ethnic or cultural views. If that’s all children see, they will come to see their cultural view as reality, rather than seeing the big picture, that their culture is created by society. “To them the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of images,” Plato observes. [i]
He further says, “When any of them is liberated and suddenly compelled to stand up and turn around and walk and look toward the light, he will suffer sharp pains. The glare will hurt him and he will be unable to see the realities of which, in his former state, he has only seen the shadows. Then imagine someone says to him what he saw before was an illusion; but now, when he is approaching nearer to reality and his eye is turned toward more real existence, he has a clearer vision.”[i]
However, the problem with seeing reality for the first time is that “When he approaches the sunlight his eyes will be dazzled, and he will not be able to see anything at all of what are now called realities.” Therefore, Plato surmises; “ That he will need to grow accustomed to the sight of the upper world. And first he will see shadows best, next the reflections of men and other objects in the water, and then the objects themselves….Last of all he will be able to see the sun and not mere reflections of it in the water…” Plato calls this process “the ascent of the soul in to the world of Forms…” And that “the power and capacity of learning exists in the soul...”[i]
[i] Plato, A Guided Tour of Five Works by Plato, translated and edited by Christopher Biffle, (Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing, 2001),
About the author:
K.J. Cleveland was born in Alabama, grew up in various areas, including Mannheim, Germany, due to her Mom being a librarian for the U.S. Army. Her mother, Sherrie Floyd, opened libraries for the U.S. Army in Sarajevo, Bosnia, and subsequently won Federal Librarian of the Year in 2001 for her endeavors. After college, K.J. Cleveland moved to California, where she began her writing career. She and her brother, Randy Jones, published The Raw You: Self-Awareness Journal for one year in West Los Angeles, followed by a book, The Raw You: A Contemplation of the Soul, which received an incredibly positive response from its readers. Other books she has written include What is Enlightenment: Theories of Plato, Newton, Rousseau and Kant on Knowing Yourself Beneath Your Societal Identity, God and the Unseen Realm and Never Give Up: Exercises to Listen to Your Heart, Set Goals and Make Your Dreams Come True. To learn more about knowing yourself and making your dreams come true, check out nevergiveup1.com, dreamscometrue1.org and whatisenlightenment.org.
Copyright 2012 What is Enlightenment. All rights reserved.