In The parable of the cave book vii, Socrates tells us about people who have lived in a cave since their existence and they know nothing more than the darkness and shadows in the cave. This is a world in which prisoners are chained in a cave. Behind them, there is a fire and puppets. The puppets cast shadows on the wall, and they can not clearly see some things that are passing by. The things are real in the world of light but they can only see them as shadows. Above the fire there is the sun which is very bright.
Definition of the Cave
The cave is the region which can be accessed by sight and unfortunately it is what the prisoner can access. The shadows of the puppet makers which are seen by the prisoners represent and/ or build a reality to them (Reeves 191). Socrates tells us that one of the prisoners escaped from the cave and at first he was blinded by the light he meets outside the cave.
After he spent time in the new world, he gets a different view of the world and he realized that his life was all along a mere illusion and controlled by other people.
Meaning of Fire
The prisoners are chained and they are unable to see the actual objects and the puppet makers since they can turn neither their heads nor their legs, hence they can only see what is in front of them. This is what Plato explains in “the truth will be nothing but shadows of their images”.
The fire signifies the sun and the sun represents the whole truth; the light that the prisoners need to see in order to gain their freedom from the world of darkness. Socrates says that the prisoner who went out of the cave and saw the light, represents the philosopher who is enlightened and goes back to the rest of the people to tell them about the truth they don’t know.
Meaning of Puppets
Socrates asserts that, “they seem less real than shadows.” This implies that the prisoners can only see the shadows of the things reflected to them from the wall. They cannot give a clear account of what they see because it portrays half truth of the reality, which is the good in the world of light.
Glaucon says that people who are still not enlightened can construct justice by making agreements after deliberations among themselves. This means that the prisoners can only tell the truth based on the ability they see the shadows. The puppets are being held by the puppet handlers, who are the masters of the prisoners in the cave. In my own view, the puppets are the things and ideas used by the masters to continue keeping the prisoners in the dark.
The intensity of the fire is frightening and it is used to blackmail the prisoners. The prisoners will be frightened by the brilliant light of sun because it will burn their eyes so much such that, they may want to go back to the cave. Some people will follow the sun and will know the whole truth.
They may then go back to tell the others about what is found outside the cave, which is the light and the real truth. The prisoners believe in shadows because this is all what they have seen in their lives, hence their truth. The ignorance of some prisoners will prevent them from attaining the genuine truth hence they will continue to be chained in their illusions. The freed person is enlightened and goes ahead to face the truth.
Rene Descartes and the Parable of the Cave
According to Rene Descartes, people become what they think they are. He further asserts that people are only aware of what has existed around them. Based on his philosophy, the prisoners in the cave knew the life they were in and nothing beyond. Though we view their life as a dream, it was their reality (Wartenberg 56).
On the contrary, the reality could also be a dream. To some extent, Descartes defends the prisoners’ ignorance to the truth and reality because all they knew was their lives in the cave. Unless they were taken out to experience life outside the cave, they will strongly hold that the shadows they see are the reality.
Augustine and the Parable of the Cave
Augustine poses that people cannot say that they know the truth when they don’t know how the truth looks like. On the same line of thought, people cannot say that A resembles B when one does not know how B looks like (Olivier 49). The prisoners in the cave do not know what truth and reality are because what they have seen are mere shadows and not the real objects that emit the shadows.
In conclusion, the parable of the cave takes place in the mind of Socrates and Glaucon, Plato’s Brother. From a general stance, Plato is concerned with the revelation of truth and the manner in which the psychology of people evolves. The cave is used metaphorically to portray how people are trapped in their ignorance of basic ethics.
Plato further seeks to dig into the truth of things that do not exist in reality. Following the parable of the cave, the power of an individual to interpret situations that do not exist in reality determines one’s intellectual capacity. The prisoners in the cave perceived and understood reality as it was through the shadows reflected on the wall they saw inside the cave.
The whole difference comes out when one prisoner gets out and found a completely different world outside. It is obvious that people define their world based on their experiences of what surrounds them physically. The challenge is on whether people will give room for other influences on the truth they have.
Olivier, Bert. Philosophy and the arts: collected essays. New York, NY: Peter Lang, 2009. Print.
Reeves, Francis. Platonic engagements: a contemporary dialogue on morality, justice and the business world. Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America, 2004. Print.
Wartenberg, Thomas. Thinking on screen: film as philosophy. Oxford, UK: Taylor & Francis, 2007. Print.