4. Allegory of the Cave [QP]

Plato (428 B.C – 348 B.C) was arguably the most influential philosopher that ever lived and you can grasp his impact on philosophy when some notable philosopher claimed that “all of philosophy is a series of footnotes to Plato.” Plato made extensive contributions to the fields of metaphysics, ethics, political philosophy and epistemology, and his ideas were captured in the form of dialogues – dramatic conversations between philosophers who encouraged each other to arrive at concepts. One of these was known as the Allegory of the Cave.

Picture if you will, men chained and facing a wall inside of a cave. The bright light from the exit of the cave creates reflections on the wall that they are looking at and the men who have been exposed to nothing but these shadows believe that these shadows are the actual things themselves. Thus they believe that the shadow of a sword displayed on the wall, for instance, is the actual sword itself and that is close as they will get to reality. Now, imagine one of these men becomes unchained and finds his way out of the cave. The light hurts his eyes and he finds this sword and notices that it, and not the shadow is the true object. Those that actually find themselves out of this cave are what we call philosophers. Philosophers are naturally rare in number, but all the more valuable because of their scarcity in society. Plato teaches us, in an allegory that is near 2400 years old, that often what we perceive to be real is nothing but an illusion of an objective and supra-sensible reality. We should never stop questioning what we can actually know.


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