Plato (Greek: Πλάτων, 427. BC. – 347. BC.) was a Greek philosopher from Athens who is considered as one of the most influential people in the history of western civilization. He was Socrates’ student. Thanks to Plato, we have a significant source of information about Socrates. Plato founded the first institution of its kind – the Academy. Aristotle was a student of that academy. Plato’s best-known work is “The Republic” – a book in which he wrote about a utopian image of an ideal society that would be ideally run by philosophers. Plato left a lasting mark on the development of many minds that came after him. He is one of the most influential figures of the course of development of modern western society.
Plato’s Allegory of the Cave
Plato once demonstrated his knowledge with his so-called allegory of the cave. It is found in the seventh book of dialogue in “The Republic”. It is quite vivid and serves as an important example.
He invites us to imagine a cave. In it, there are people who have been chained and are unable to turn to any other direction except for the inner wall they are facing. Because of the chains they cannot see anyone besides themselves nor can they see the cave’s exit, which is directly behind their back. The only source of light in the cave is a camp fire. Between people and the fire, there is a cover behind which there are other people that go about on their own business. They are walking past, carrying statues of men and animals made of stone and wood, etc. Those that are chained and observing a blank wall can see, because of the fire, the shadows of themselves and of that which is happening behind them. As they are walking by, some of the people behind the cover are talking among each other while others are silent. The voices echo in the cave while the shadows dance on the wall thus making it appear to the chained ones as if the shadows are real and talking. Since they have no other things to do except for talking about the shadows – those in chains try to guess which shadows shall past next and in what order. Those that are the best at guessing are granted with honors and get more acclaim than the others.
Plato compares us to those who are chained to the cave wall in his metaphor. He points out that we believe and think we see reality by watching the shadows on the wall. He states that we should consider the possibility of releasing one of those in chains to stand up and turn to face the light from the exit of the cave. The sunlight would cause great pain to this person as he or she would be used only to darkness. Thus, no clear vision would be possible. If he or she got used to the light and saw what was really happening behind the cover in the cave, a revelation of the delusion would occur. An enlightenment.