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Plato's Cave
 
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Plato's Cave
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Like many artists, I thought Plato was talking about artistic creativity when he introduced the Allegory of the Cave in his book The Republic. Years later I was astonished to discover that his ideas were much more complex. When I actually studied Plato I found that he banned the artists from the Republic, disdaining their ability to convince people that mere "illusions," like the shadow of the Cave, were actually the Truth. Suffice it to say, Plato offered many, often contradictory views on art.

This image is related to the section in The Republic where Socrates describes a group of people who have lived chained to the wall of a cave all of their lives. They are facing a blank wall and spend all of their time watching shadows projected on the wall in front of them. As it turns out, these images were not real, but actually were formed by things passing in front of a fire behind the prisoners. In time, these folks begin to ascribe forms to the shadows.

According to Socrates, the shadows were as close as the prisoners get to viewing reality. He then explains how the philosopher is like a prisoner who is freed from the cave and comes to understand that the shadows on the wall do not make up reality at all, as he can perceive the true form of reality rather than the mere shadows seen by the prisoners.

There are two sections of the story that stand out in my mind now. One is the commentary on those who see the fire and mistake it for the sun. The second is what Socrates says about the man who escapes:

    Wouldn't he remember his first home, what passed for wisdom there, and his fellow prisoners, and consider himself happy and them pitiable? And wouldn't he disdain whatever honors, praises, and prizes were awarded there to the ones who guessed best which shadows followed which? Moreover, were he to return there, wouldn't he be rather bad at their game, no longer being accustomed to the darkness? Wouldn't it be said of him that he went up and came back with his eyes corrupted, and that it's not even worth trying to go up? And if they were somehow able to get their hands on and kill the man who attempts to release and lead up, wouldn't they kill him?" (517a)

 
 
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