Allegory of the Cave
Plato realizes that the general run of humankind can think, and speak, without any awareness of his realm of Forms. The allegory of the cave is supposed to explain this. In the allegory, Plato likens people untutored in the Theory of Forms to 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. Here is an illustration of Plato’s Cave. 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. 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. Some people said that to some extent we are all prisoners in the same way that Plato’s characters are. I agree with the opinion. We may acquire concepts by our perceptual experience of physical objects. But we would be mistaken if we thought that the concepts that we grasp were on the same level as the things we perceive. Groups of people today always believe things that they see. But these things may be unreal. They need people to think about it. Plato’s aim 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. For the terms of the language we use...
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