Describe and evaluate Plato's Analogy of the Cave. The Analogy of the Cave is a very accurate description of the human condition. The surroundings of the men described inside of the cave, although not something most humans will ever experience realistically, is an accurate allegory for the shallow lives of many people. Many will never have the chance to, or never take the risk of exploring more than what has been handed to them.
Humans take what they are given and hold on to that as if it were their only possible fate in life. The Allegory of the Cave reflects the concept of the physical and metaphysical worlds. In the Cave, the physical world was an illusion of the senses that projected fake images. Physical objects were seen as imperfect reflections of ideas that had no real value. The metaphysical world, the world of the mind and ideas, was what had to be explored to gain the knowledge and truths that were seen as the reality of human existence.
It was believed that knowledge could only be gained when one ventured into the metaphysical world. In The Allegory of the Cave, a man is yanked from the physical existence he had become accustomed to and forced to learn and gain a new sense of himself and his surroundings. A scene is first described in which men are stuck in a cave where they have been chained by the neck since childhood. They have seen nothing but the wall of the cave reflected with dim lighting from a fire behind them and shadows of figures moving along in front of the firelight.
To these men, shadows and echoes are the reality which they are given to think about, speak about, and live with, completely sheltered from knowledge of anything more. This cave represents the physical world that was full of illusions. To begin with, the firelight was not real light. Besides the fire itself being fake, these men were only capable of seeing the dim shadows that the firelight projected on the wall. They saw an illusion of an illusion, which showed how incredibly sheltered they really were. This light was flickering, constantly changing, which meant that true knowledge could never be gained from it.
Even if the men were to understand the object, it would change, therefore changing their whole perception of it once again. Knowledge could not be attained unless the men looked beyond the physical matter presented to them, and to their own minds. But how would they begin to explore their own minds when not only were they restricted from experiencing anything but the cave, but if they had the choice, they would never leave this cave which they were used to anyway. Enlightenment is something that must be forced upon people, and that is made clear in The Allegory of the Cave when one man is forced to stand up, turn his head, and look at the actual fire.
He tries to resist every movement forced upon him because he would rather live the rest of his life knowing exactly what he already knows without having any further knowledge of the world he had been deprived of. Simply making these small movements he had never made before show he is on the path to enlightenment. The firelight itself is a whole different world and to him. The man is dragged out of the cave and brought in contact with the 'real' light, the sun, which is such a strong reality for him that he is blinded by his new knowledge. The metaphysical world overwhelms this man. He never would have inflicted this pain upon himself.
He was forced to confront something he never knew existed. All men believe they know what they do not know. They all have this false conceit of knowledge until they are forced to see something otherwise. It may have pained him to face these new conditions, but the path to enlightenment needed an already enlightened person to force knowledge upon another. The man would eventually grow used to his new surroundings and wonder how he lived without it previously. He would look back on the way he used to live and realize how unknowledgeable he was.
He would understand that the reality that he was once sealed with was not the same reality for those outside the cave. It was not the only way to live. He would lose respect for the way he used to live, and respect for those he had sat chained with whom he had once shared so much in common. "He would prefer any fate to such a life" as the one he was formerly living, even if it meant being "on Earth as a hired servant in the house of a landless man." Any fate would be better than to have been somewhat enlightened and to have it all taken away. If he were to be put back down into the cave after his period of enlightenment, he would have to readjust to the dull lights, shadows and echoes he had never thought twice about before.
Now he knew that the light came from a fire, the echoes came from voices, and the shadows came from real, three-dimensional figures. How could he possibly go back to looking at these illusions the same way again, knowing of the realities his enlightenment had brought to him? Just as this man had been forced against his will to go to the surface, he would try to force this new knowledge upon the other men in the cave. These men would not gain enlightenment unless they were forced outside themselves to experience the firsthand pain that goes along with it. Knowledge is something that must be forced upon a man, and if the man who is trying to enlighten others is outnumbered by those who are afraid to gain knowledge, "they would kill him," as the last line of The Cave states. The analogy proves that the human condition will forever be one that fears enlightenment of the mind and senses. The Cave was written way before the time of Christ, and the human condition remains as it was then.
People for the most part will always live the way they are brought up, the way they are told, and never look beyond for anything greater than what is presented to them from the start. The cave described in The Allegory of the Cave was used to show the imperfections of the physical world and what that kind of reality can do to a person's quest for knowledge. The physical world stands in the way of true enlightenment. Our physical world is made up of the things we do from day to day, the unchanging routine that gets in the way of other human discoveries and knowledge. The metaphysical world, seen as outside of the cave, is a world of perfection and absolute truth, no matter what each individual makes of it. As long as the individual makes it to that metaphysical point of enlightenment, they can make what they want of it.
It takes some pushing to get to the level of knowledge that a human is capable of achieving, but it is worth the pain once one reflects on the illusions which created the reality that was left behind.