Essay on The Myth Of The Cave

Essay on 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 the philosopher fulfilling the roles of sage, liberator, and martyr.
Plato’s vision of the philosopher cannot be separated from his theory of knowledge, which receives its fullest expression just prior to the allegory of the Cave. He sees knowledge as a hierarchy divided between the visible realm and the intelligible realm (Plato 183). The visible consists of shadows and reflections of objects, as well as the objects themselves (Plato 183). In this realm, the sun provides sight and is itself seen (Plato 181). Similarly, the intelligible is made up of opinions and knowledge, which correspond respectively to the two divisions of the visible (Plato 184). Lastly, the good parallels the sun in the second realm and is the source of knowledge and truth, yet distinct from them and “more prized” (Plato 182). A philosopher is a person who, driven by the rational desires of his or her soul, ascends along this hierarchy, most likely through the process of formal education described in Book VII, to knowle...


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...lsewhere, to contend about the shadows of justice” (Plato 517d-e). A philosopher would face difficulties of this sort in any city other than one governed by the ideal constitution Socrates and the others were constructing (Plato 489c).
Underneath its evident purpose as an allegory of Plato’s epistemology, the defense of philosophy runs throughout the myth of the Cave. Socrates demonstrates that only philosophers can possess knowledge of the good and, therefore, be trusted to make important decisions. This knowledge is arrived at through years of struggle. In view of the common good, they seek to liberate others still shackled to the world of becoming and turn them towards what is. However, in so doing, they will meet resistance, even to the point of losing their lives. Nevertheless, lovers of wisdom will continue to practice philosophy, because they know it is good.

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