The Epistemology Of The Cave: The Myth Of The Cave

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The myth of the Cave, found in the seventh book of Plato’s Republic, depicts a group of people chained in the pit of a cavern, unable to see anything but the shadows of people, and the objects they carry with them, traveling past a fire behind them (186-7). This serves as an illustration of the epistemology Socrates had begun to develop in the preceding book with the images of the Sun and the Line. It also functions as a segue into the related discussion of educational theory. Additionally, though less apparent, the analogy can also be read as a defense of philosophy, an important topic for Plato in light of his teacher’s infamous death, “the founding myth of the academic discipline of philosophy” (Nails). Plato gives a heroic portrayal of…show more content…
Humans are born chained to the realm of the visible. Plato’s carefully chosen prison imagery is striking, but it serves more than simple shock value. It illustrates the impossibility of escape, the near insurmountable difficulty of crawling out from the depths of shifting shadows to the unchanging forms, all governed by and receiving life from the good. Most people will not receive a spontaneous apprehension of the good as Socrates did from his “daimonic sign” (Plato 496c). Rather, they must be “dragged…away from there by force…into the sunlight” and “compelled…to look at the light itself” (Plato 515d-e). All this presupposes someone to set the people free and show them the way to the intelligible, a liberator. In other words, philosophers are not born; they are made, by other philosophers. This liberator has a difficult job. She or he must turn “the whole soul until it is able to study that which is and the brightest thing that is, namely, the one we call the good” (Plato…show more content…
Once they have reached knowledge of the good, they must not be allowed “to stay there and refuse to go down again to the prisoners in the cave and share their labors and honors” (Plato 519d). Instead, they must be compelled to return to “the evils of human life” (Plato 517d). So they must sacrifice the bliss of contemplating the good to serve those who do not wish to be served. The prisoners “believe that the truth is nothing other than the shadows” flickering in front of them, because it is all they know; therefore, they will resist anyone who challenges this (Plato 515c). Furthermore, the philosopher’s wisdom will seem foolishness to them (Plato 517d). Due to this misunderstanding, the imprisoned society will reject and ridicule its liberator, eventually subjecting him to death (Plato 517a). An obvious connection can be drawn to the death of Plato’s teacher, Socrates, who is used as a mouthpiece throughout the Republic. Socrates was charged with impiety and sought to defend himself against these accusations (Nails). Even though he attempted to argue his case, the jury decided against him, and he was executed by being made to ingest hemlock (Nails). Likewise, the lover of wisdom who returns to the Cave “behaves awkwardly and appears completely ridiculous if he’s compelled, either in the courts or elsewhere, to contend about the shadows of justice” (Plato 517d-e). A philosopher would face
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