The Parable of the Cave


Plato?s analysis of the truth through "The Parable of the Cave" is an effective, valid tool to help us analyze our own life and ultimately find the truth. He did this by first analyzing his own life and the fetters and bearers who used shadows to keep him from reaching the roadway to wisdom. It has proved to be an effective assessment not only when he was alive but even up until today.
The parable symbolizes man?s struggle to reach understanding and enlightenment and is a universal and everlasting concept.
Plato used the bearers in his parable to symbolize people who control what we see and do, people who hold us back from using our full potential to decide what we want to see for ourselves. An example from modern society would be TV producers or record label executives, ultimately they decide what songs we will sing tomorrow and what shows we will watch. They limit us by allowing only what they want to reach us and penetrate our minds and lives. The fetters were what kept the escaped prisoner in the parable from turning his head and seeking his own truth, as well and new things. They kept him from being able to control what he saw for himself. The naming of objects was another hindrance, because it only caused prejudging and encouraged a closed mind. The fetters, bearers, and naming of objects make it harder to find our own truth, although it is not impossible. As Plato knew then, they exist in everyone?s lives.
Humans have to travel from the visible realm of image making and object naming to the intelligible, invisible realm of reasoning and understanding. The "Parable of the Cave" symbolizes this trek and how it would look to those still in a lower realm. The things our senses perceive as real are just shadows on a wall. Just as the escaped prisoner ascends into the light of sun, as we amass knowledge, we ascend into the light of true reality: ideas in the mind.
Yet if someone goes into the light of sun and embraces true reality and then proceeds to tell the others still chained in the cave of the truth, they will laugh at and ridicule the enlightened one, for the only reality they have ever known were some fuzzy shadows on a wall. They could not possibly comprehend another dimension without experiencing it themselves, and therefore would label the enlightened one as mad. The exact same thing happened to Charles Darwin. In 1837, Darwin was traveling aboard the H.M.S. Beagle in the Pacific Ocean and dropped anchor at the Galapagos Islands. Darwin found a wide array of animals therein. These differences in animals sparked Darwin to perform research, which lasted well up to his death and culminated in the publishing of The Origin of Species in 1858. He stated that these had not appeared out of thin air but had evolved from other species through evolution and natural selection. This sparked a firestorm of criticism, for most people at this time accepted the theory of Creationism. In this way, Darwin and his scientific followers parallel the escaped prisoner. They walked into the light and saw true reality. Yet when he told the imprisoned public what he saw he was scoffed at and labeled mad; all the prisoners knew and could perceive were shadows on a wall, which are just gross distortions of reality. Darwin walked the path to understanding and wisdom just like the escaped prisoner on the parable.
"The Parable of the Cave," because of its timeless text and ingenious originality, will probably be around until the end of time. It will continue to amaze people through its eye-opening metaphors and unforgettable lessons. By reading the parable, Plato made us take a look at our own lives, to make sure we weren?t living a life based solely on our senses, in order to be able to find a personal truth. Situations will arise probably similar to Darwin?s and this lesson will repeat itself again.