How does education effect society -Plato
Prisoners chained in a cave, unable to turn their heads. All they can see is the wall of the cave.
Behind them burns a fire. Between the fire and the prisoners there is a parapet, along which puppeteers can walk. The puppeteers, who are behind the prisoners, hold up puppets that cast shadows on the wall of the cave. The prisoners are unable to see these puppets, the real objects, that pass behind them.
What the prisoners see and hear are shadows and echoes cast by objects that they do not see.
Such prisoners would mistake appearance for reality. They would think the things they see on the wall (the shadows) were real; they would know nothing of the real causes of the shadows.
So when the prisoners talk, what are they talking about? an object is carried past behind them, and it casts a shadow on the wall, and a prisoner says “I see a book,” what is he talking about?
He thinks he is talking about a book, but he is really talking about a shadow. But he uses the word “book.”
Plato’s point is that the prisoners would be mistaken. For they would be talking terms in their language to refer to the shadows that pass before their eyes, rather than to the real things that cast the shadows.
If a prisoner says “That’s a book” he thinks that the word “book” refers to the very thing he is looking at. But he would be wrong. He’s only looking at a shadow. The real reference of the word “book” cannot be seen. To see it, he would have to turn his head around.
Plato’s point: the general terms of our language are not “names” of the physical objects that we can see. They are actually names of things that we cannot see, things that we can only grasp with the mind.
When the prisoners are released, they can turn their heads and see the real objects. Then they realize their error. What can we do that is analogous to turning our heads and seeing the causes of the shadows? We can come to grasp the Forms with our minds.
Plato’s aim is to describe what is necessary for us to achieve this reflective understanding. But even without it, it remains true that our very ability to think and to speak depends on the Forms we perceive.
Summarising The New York Times.
Allegory of the Cave, Plato -400BC
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