Plato Cave the Sociological Implications of Plato's Thesis

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Plato Cave

The Sociological Implications of Plato's Allegory of the Cave

Social enlightenment is an abstract concept indeed, and one that is tied closely to collective ways of understanding and perceiving complex cultural dimensions such are hierarchies, forms of governance and variances of individual economic burden. However, our understanding of this abstract concept may be enhanced by Plato's well-known "Allegory of the Cave." Comprising Chapter VII of Plato's critically important The Republic, the allegory examines the experience of socially-imposed ignorance and the consequences of enlightenment. In doing so, it offers an extremely compelling discussion on the human condition that is remarkable in its relevance to our lives today. Namely, the allegory forces us to examine our conceptions of awareness and to reflect on that which we truly know as opposed to that which we believe we know. Indeed, the most compelling aspect of the Plato allegory is the degree to which this state of 'imprisonment' applies not just literally to the individuals in the cave allegory but also conceptually to the lives that we lead.

Using his mentor Socrates as the character through which his message is conveyed, Plato tells leaves no mystery as to this notion of our universality imprisonment in a state of ignorance. First, we consider the description of those imprisoned in the cave. Here, Socrates implores his conversational partner Glaucon to "behold! human beings living in
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a underground den, which has a mouth open towards the light and reaching all along the den; here they have been from their childhood, and have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see before them, being prevented by the chains from turning round their heads. Above and behind them a fire is blazing at a distance, and between the fire and the prisoners there is a raised way; and you will see, if you look, a low wall built along the way, like the screen which marionette players have in front of them, over which they show the puppets." (Plato, Ch. VII)

To this description, Glaucon proclaims this to be a strange state of imprisonment. In response, Socrates responses affirmatively, "like ourselves." This, at the outset of the allegory, assures us that the state of those restrained in the cave is intended to mirror the state in which we are variously restrained by the shackles of society. Such shackles may refer to a state of political ignorance which keeps us at arm's length from the power structures dominating national and international affairs; they may refer to a state of economic ignorance which retains invisible lines preventing social mobility; or they may even refer to ethnically derived ignorance which prevents specific groups from advancing based on racial, religious or ethnic differences. Accordingly, the disposition of those persisting in Plato's cave, truly able to observe only the shadows of truth, represents an infinitely broad range of…

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Works Cited:

Plato. (360 BCE). The Republic trans. By Benjamin Jowett. The Internet Classics Archive.

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