Guthrie reports that, Plato used his piece of work on the Allegory of the Cave to clarify to us our nature, education and the need for education (1). The work is done in a fictional conversation between Socrates who is Plato’s teacher and Glaucon who is Plato’s brother. The conversation is discussing about people whose entire life has been fixed to a blank cave staring at shadows. Socrates describes the shadows to be similar to prisoners getting to see reality. He says that philosophers are like prisoners freed from the cave and slowly understands the shadows on the wall and do not conclude the real issue. He can perceive the reality rather than the shadows seen by prisoners.
Plato argues that our society values education so much and he refers to it as ‘overeducation’. Many people spend so many years pursuing degrees which are not in line with the kind of work they perform. Plato asks students to consider if pursuing of liberal education is as important as our society believes. He further says that education is important because it gives us the freedom to make the best decisions.
Guthrie argues that, according to Plato, the right leader or ruler can only be molded through proper and systematic education and this kind of person will give rise to sun image, the line which is divided and the cave (1). The role of the divided line is to shed light on the sun which symbolizes the good. Plato insisted that the cave image symbolizes the analogy of the human condition for education or lack of it. The unlearned are symbolized by prisoners in a cave who are chained and cannot turn their heads. They only see what is in front of them and the rest are shadows cast by objects behind them. The prisoners can converse among themselves and they assume that the names they use are as a result of what they see and hear which include the shadows that pass in front of them. Socrates is trying to imply that, the shadows of artifacts comprise only the reality seen and recognized in this situation by people.
In Plato’s view, if prisoners are made free and turned towards the light of fire, they will be dazzled and become impossible for them to make the objects on the wall. If they were asked to look directly on light, they will hurt their eyes because they are used to darkness and they will prefer going back to darkness which is in prison because that is where they are comfortable.
According to Watt, Plato is trying to distinguish between visible and intelligible realms and between perception grasped things and the things grasped by intelligence or reasoning. The ordinary perceptual things are symbolized by visible realm while the forms or ideas are symbolized by intelligible realm. The uneducated person referred here to be the prisoner has no access to intelligible forms and he does not know whether such things exist. What he only knows and sees are shadows of those behind them operating in blazing fire. The world outside the cave is the intelligible realm, accessible to reasoning. It symbolizes the real people who are original unlike the artifacts in the cave. Next is the journey into the daylight, out of the cave to the intelligible realm upwards. Plato believes that it is very much possible for any one to move from one realm to the next and so nobody was born to be a prisoner.
The analogy of the Allegory of the cave is used by Plato to help the reader understand his theories and more especially that of the educational system. Plato believes that the philosopher is the ideal ruler for a just republic; however he advises that, for one to understand his educational system successfully, he has to start in darkness.