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Plato’s allegory of the cave focuses on the education of one’s soul to attain some level of enlightenment. In Plato’s arguments, he contents that the enlightenment is what happens to an individual when he/she attains the same level of education as that of a philosopher. As a result, someone would be required to “return to the cave”, political world, power struggle and greed. Therefore, the main focus of Plato’s allegory is aimed at individuals who depend upon or even slaves to their own senses. In this regard, the senses are the chains, which bind different prisoners, as used in the literature. The analysis of Plato’s allegory is based on three levels of thinking, which can be analyzed in terms of tradition/educational meaning, spiritual interpretation of the Hindu teaching and exploitative interpretation witnessed in the society. To this end, the focus will be on human potential and ideology restriction, individual’s independence and freedom, and development of virtues personality, as advanced by Plato’s analogy of the cave (Plato, & Jowett 1941, p. 29).
Analysis of Plato’s Cave Analogy
Plato’s argument of form ascertains that the only way to liberate a common man is through education. For example, Plato stated in his analogy that:
“He believed the same about ideas, such as truth and he Allegory of the Cave is the common man. According to Plato, they represent all people before they are fully educated. The common man sees nothing but the shadows on the wall of the cave. These shadows represent everything that we have ever seen, and since they are the only things we have ever seen, they constitute all that is real to us. Being fully educated involves the ability to see everything, including all that is outside the cave” (“An Analysis of "The Allegory of the Cave" by Plato 2012”, p.1).
Focusing on the above statements, it can be argued that lack of adequate education hinders human potential and ideological realization. There are strong connections between the realization of human potential and ideology, since the realization of human potential and the decision of an individual to adapt to the social roles are all guided by ideologies. The analogy of the cave exerts an enormous pressure on individuals towards conformation to different guidelines and social roles (Robinson & Judy 2000, p.32). One of the significant areas where restrictions exercised in the two societies involves ideology. However, prisons never allow for some room for self expression for prisoners. Nevertheless, the scope of self expression inprison is limited to individual levels. As such, the political decisions and actions are considered to be above the scope of the common man.
Ideology in societies is so internalized that it is difficult for the common citizens or individuals to be aware of it. The society is raised to the levels of some supreme system that is guided by unique ethical principles and is very difficult for an individual to notice when the various ethical principles’ and values are imposed on him. Thecave analogy or ideology is often explicit, such that the individuals are conditioned to behave in particular ways for the benefit of the whole society, and the political elites whose rules defined and dictated the benefits (Yeffeth 2003, p.64). Therefore, the difficulty for an individual to realize his or her full human potential is as a result of the social conditioning, which is so great that he does not view himself as an individual but believes that he is always part of society. Nevertheless, the ideology that guides individuals within society is so strong that though the room for questioning of the system may seem to be available, no individual is able to notice it.
The limitations on the realization of human potential in the cavecan be categorized into two: first, there is the limitation that is promoted by the influence or the power of the state, which tends to hinder any form of development or change against the ideologies that are supported by society. The second limitation is linked to the notion of perfection that is imposed on individuals in society. The state is so rigid that it is very difficult to assert individual potentiality when the state requirements, guidelines, notions are at stake. The personal ideologies, goals and meaning in life are never dependent on the development of individual human potentialities, but in the state policies (Warburton 1999, p. 65).
It is also evident that limited education hinders the development of virtues since it prevents someone from seeing reality. For instance, Plato argued that “the third part, the fire, is merely there to shed light on the forms, casting a shadow into the cave, thus creating the only reality that the common man sees” (“An Analysis of "The Allegory of the Cave" by Plato 2012”, p.1). Based on the Plato’s perception, education could perhaps be the basis of developing the virtues in a human being, and this assertion borrows a lot from Hindu religious teachings. Moreover, having a role model during the development stages in life would make a person change his/her behavior, after learning the good that comes with portraying the virtues. For example, if through being virtuous, the person descends to prosperity, the other people would emulate his/her actions, hoping that they too, would become prosperous. As a result, they become virtuous without the certainty of prosperous, a concept that was advanced by Socrates’ argument.
One cannot be righteous simply by chance, but the virtue has to be instilled. In addition, it is the role of the experts to train the young people on the ways of developing the good qualities, because they understand the significance of being virtuous. The experts are also aware of the necessary step-by-step approach in making the person to learn and practice virtues. The initial step of helping someone to develop virtues is to understand the person’s feeling about virtues. Therefore, engaging the person in dialogue would give the trainer more information about the person’s thought regarding virtues (Yeffeth 2003, p. 77). A person would express his/her opinion about being virtuous and its significance, thereby making the trainer to be aware of the specific ways of instilling the practicalities of developing the virtues. The Plato probably suggested that once the person is aware of the outcome of being virtuous and doing well, he/she would not do anything that contradicts the reality, knowing that the repercussions would not be as positive as those of the virtuous actions. Besides, having known the values, or the importance of being virtuous, such values would be the driving force for the person to continue doing better, and it would be difficult for the person to engage in harmful activities intentionally. The person would have an enhanced vision of maintaining the virtuous behavior, thereby serving as a role model for the society. This indicates that those who find themselves in the traps might be not aware of the consequences of their actions, and there could be a problem attributable to the development of their behavior. Therefore, the expert would help the person develop traits, which are important for the future, through outlining the implications of non-virtuous behavior.
Plato allegory of the cave acknowledges that in developing the virtuous person, one has to be acquainted with the most accurate knowledge about the meaning and importance of virtues. This would eliminate the fear of impossibilities and difficulties, which most people currently experience in their quest for being virtuous. He also believed that the person’s ability to learn the specific truth about the virtues, adopting the most irrefutable, or perhaps the best theories of developing the virtuous person, could help one to avoid the imminent dangers of non-virtuous behavior (Yeffeth 2003, p.81).
In this allegory of the cave, Plato uses the manner in which the government carries out its normal operations to show how freedom and independence are undermined. Through independence, individuals will be able to cooperate while doing what is right rather than what is enforced on them. Different governments use the ruling authorities to illustrate the inconvenience that they cause to the people who pursue freedom and independence. Therefore, it is important to identify various factors that underlie the authority that deprives humans’ conscience and looks for the means that one can reduce (Watt 1997, p. 63).
Plato stresses that governments are biased in their activities, which suggest that most of their practices are unjust. He came to this conclusion because most leaders in the government are not upright people with the utmost need of human prosperity. In this case, he reveals that leaders have personal interests, which supersede the general interests of the public. Some of the instances that caught his attention included the respect for law and struggle for democracy. He also noted that despite the government involvement on the regulating law, it is important to adopt the need to do what is right. Under such a circumstance, people will depict the need for humanity without necessarily doing what could harm others based on the law. In this regard, he even concludes that laws are meant to be disobeyed, since they are designed and implemented by corrupt and unjust people. It is also important to note that democracy is a virtue that exists within people and should be carried out while respecting the independence of individuals (Watt 1997, p. 68).
One of the major criticisms of the government made on Plato’s allegory is the depiction of the government as a slave one. On this regard, he portrays that the rights of those under the leadership of any government are neglected by the imposition of laws, which create limitations to their independence. Moreover, the freedom of speech is limited as evident from the following statements:
“The story that basically tells us of Plato trial by his "peers" because of what he saw that they could not. The man in the cave tried to return to the cave after being released, so that they might experience some of the beauty that he was allowed to view. He was murdered for his attempts to persuade. Truly in our times we have many freedoms including that of free speech. But our taking advantage of those freedoms, not using them for positive thought, puts us in that cave” (“An Analysis of "The Allegory of the Cave" by Plato 2012”, p.1).
In conclusion, Plato’s allegory affirms that the need to look for a democratic government necessitates individuals with the right mindset to rebel and revolutionize against vices of unjust governments. Despite this concept being a challenge, he considers that the need for cost-benefit analysis further worsens the conditions of the government in promoting slavery. In this case, the government takes citizens as slaves to fulfill their intended roles while disregarding their conscience. In order to fight against such phenomenon, Plato argues that an uprising would be essential since it will counter the malpractices of the corrupt people. He also notes that though such an event will lead to suffering and considerable expenditure, it is essential to end such practices. Thus, such an immoral act justifies the barriers that lie in the course of ending such vices in the government. In this regard, he argues that conscience should guide one in establishing the right things that someone should do.