Thoughts on Plato’s Allegory of the Cave
The allegory of the cave that appears in Book VII of Plato’s Republic is a well-known text for good reason: it is a brilliant allegory on the nature of the human condition in its relationship to knowledge, and it forces the careful reader to reflect on Plato’s implications about different kinds of knowledge. For the Greek philosopher Plato, the true reality exists in the world of ideas, a world that is invisible to the naked eye and can only be perceived by an enlightened mind, a mind that sees with the brilliance of the sun’s rays. In Plato’s understanding, this world of ideas is one that comes to full view only after much effort has been exerted on the part of the viewer. Furthermore, it is not a physical effort---the way it is in the allegory, where the people have to accustom their eyes to the light of the sun; rather, it is an intellectual effort, the kind of effort that the poet Dante exercised in the writing of his magnificent, three-part magnum opus The Divine Comedy, an allegory on the human condition in its search for divine knowledge. Although Plato didn’t call his world of ideas a divine one, as Dante did, they both seem to agree on one central point: that human beings have the capacity to “know” things through their senses and they also have access to a higher kind of knowledge if they are willing to make an effort to “see” beyond the physical appearances and intuit an abstract world of ideas. Plato was a philosopher and Dante was a religious poet, and yet both hold a similar belief in every human being’s capacity to apprehend a reality beyond the visible and tangible, one that is only available through an inner kind of seeing. This higher realm of ideas belongs, essentially, to poets and philosophers. We do not generally read such ideas in the newspapers. Nor do we have conversations with our friends and family about such things. And this is...
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