The one known as Myth of the cave is Plato’s magnum opus, and one of the books that has most conditioned society, both contemporary and classical . Understanding this reading helps us discover what thought was like in one of the times when human knowledge advanced the most.
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Plato and his story, the myth of the cave
The Greek author included his most famous story in his book The Republic, and broadly speaking, it helps us understand the difference between the world of ideas and the real world , as well as how to move through them and even not to confuse the two.
In the story, we see how Socrates, who was Plato’s mentor, explains to him through examples the story of some men deprived of liberty and chained at birth. These men are kneeling in front of the wall, and the only vision they have throughout their lives, are the projections that the fire behind them makes on the cave wall.
These men were not the only actors in the myth, since in addition,between the fire that burns without pause and those condemned to ignorance, symbolized by the wall , are other men, who hold different objects with their arms, and end up projecting shadows, which the prisoners associate with mountains, rivers and the elements natural that they suppose exist behind him.
Illustration that represents the situation of the slaves and the position of the different elements. | Image from: Courtesy.
What does the light of the fire mean in the myth of the cave?
According to the Greek writer, we are all prisoners of the cave, although we do not feel the chains that bind us, nor do we realize the falsity of the actions we carry out daily, because as the philosopher symbolizes, the constancy of these illusions ends up convincing us of their veracity.
If one of the prisoners could free himself from the chains, seeing the burning fire behind him, he would be blinded and soon after he would believe he was living a lie. If he managed to overcome that initial impact and managed to reach the outside, according to Plato, the feeling of falsehood would continue to increase.
Plato’s allegory: leaving the cave
The prisoner who has fled returns to the cave , frightened by the avalanche of lies that he has found, but there is something inside him that is slowly eating away at his consciousness. He never sees the shadows that he thought were real in the same way again, and for that reason, little by little he comes to his senses and understands that maybe what he saw were not just lies.
Once he reaches that idea that eats at him, he decides to go out again, to check that his doubts are not true, and to make sure if the shadows are real or the outside light is. And here comes the most important moment of the myth: the decision of the individual. Believe the truth, which Platon himself relates to the good, or return to the cave to continue living a lie with which he is already familiar.
Although the individual is the one who escapes and who decides to seek knowledge, as Platon ties the discovery of the truth with what is good and just, the person who discovers the truth feels the need to explain what has been discovered to the rest of the prisoners, to free them from his native ignorance.
The enlightened one, that is how the rest of the prisoners know him, reveals the truth to the group, and unties them from their chains, which, as we can guess, symbolize the group’s ignorance. Many of the prisoners, even without knowing the truth and the real knowledge that the enlightened one transmits to them, prefer to remain prisoners.
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The comfort of knowing that you control everything, that you don’t need to know anything else, cuts the wings, and at that moment the conformist prisoner differs from the restless prisoner who wants to escape his comfort and the chains that limit him.
If there is any point that you have not understood, perhaps this video will help you:
What does the myth of the cave symbolize today
? How many times do we see people around us with their cell phones in front of their faces
? virtual in which we find ourselves immersed
The need to be connected at all times with other people , some of whom we do not even know, distances us from what is happening in our immediate surroundings, thus bringing us closer to the prisoners of Plato’s cave.
If the world of sensory perceptions is unreal, the authentic truth comes from knowledge, and as the author himself tells us, the idea of the highest good, of absolute knowledge in bold, is what allows us to escape from the cave, breaking the chains that many times we impose ourselves, to be free in the search for knowledge.
The greatest similarity when comparing the myth of the cave with current customs is based on the field of education. We see how thousands of students get confused daily with lessons that do not serve them, but that someone instructs them as the only truth , only to later verify once the classes are over, that half of that knowledge never ends up having a practical application.
Starting from this last premise, we consider whether it is worth applying this type of teaching, establishing the knowledge of teachers, who in this case symbolize men with objects that cause shadows, as the absolute truth. Obviously, they are right, but is it total?
One of the most marked values of Plato’s work is critical thinking. Although the author of the myth of the cave does not relate it specifically, this same concept is one of the values that seems not to be as present in our society as before, confirming the loss of individuality and common sense of our generation.
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