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Explain Plato's teaching about reality
in his analogy of the cave. (25 MARKS)
Plato uses the analogy of the cave to help describe his philosophical position on the
main difference between the physical world and the World of Forms. Form is an
abstract property or quality. Take any property of an object; separate it from that
object and consider it by itself, and you are contemplating a form. For example, if
you separate the roundness of a basketball from its color, its weight, etc. and
consider just roundness by itself, you are thinking of the from of roundness.
The basic analogy is as follows. Three prisoners have been chained deep inside a cave
for their whole life. They are chained so they cannot turn around and all they have
ever seen or experienced are the shadows cast on a wall from a fire that is burning
behind them. This is the only reality they have ever known. One day, a prisoner is
released. He is blinded by the light outside the cave and astonished to see a
completely new reality of people, animals, and objects casting these shadows into
the cave. He goes back to the cave to tell the other two prisoners the news, but to
his dismay, the prisoners do not believe his stories of the world outside of the cave.
For the shadows on the wall are the only reality the prisoners have ever known, and
therefore, to them, that is all that will ever exist.
The prisoner's state of mind in the cave is Eikasia (the inability to perceive whether a
perception is an image of something else. It therefore prevents us from perceiving
that a dream or memory or a reflection in a mirror is not reality as such) According to
Plato, this is the lowest level of understanding. The prisoners are like the people in
society who never question the status quo. They are the people who do not
question the world as they see it. Their minds are empty of philosophy, they di not
know reality although they think they do. Everything they hear and see is false.
As I outlined above In the analogy a prisoner would escape the cave that represents
the world we live in. He would stand with some pain and become dazed and
confused by the bright firelight. Plato suggests that the prisoner would have to climb
out from the cave, this journey would be difficulty and he outlines that there would
be obstacles in his path such as lose rock and jagged sharp rocks. This journey out of
the cave by the prisoner is the journey of the new philosopher to enlightenment.
Just like the released prisoner. the new philosopher struggles to take in his new
worldview. It is a painful process thinking in new ways. This is clearly represented in
the ascent out of the cave up the steep and jagged rock path.
The outside represents the real world the world of forms or ideas it is based on fact
not opinion its is a place where philosophers dwell. Once outside the prisoner would
further struggle to understand the new world that was around him, he would simply
be blinded by the powerful light in the sky (the sun), he simply cannot concentrate
and therefore comprehend what is this new world is. At first he would simply focus
on the shadows that objects cast in the sun. But given time he would be able to see
objects as they really are, in full shape and colour. This section of the analogy is very
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important as the outside world represents the World of Forms. It is the sun that
provides the true shape and colour in the analogy and so the sun represents the
Form of the Good, it is the highest of all forms as it gives us light and life to all other