Allegory of the Cave

Light of truth

Fr Joseph Pallattil

The beloved disciple of Socrates and the famous Greek philosopher, Plato narrates a story in his famous book “Republic,” i.e., allegory of the cave. In this allegory, Plato likens untutored people to prisoners chained in a cave. They are unable to turn their heads. All they can see is the wall of the cave in front of them. Behind them burns a fire. Between the fire and the prisoners is a parapet, along which puppeteers can walk. The puppeteers, who are behind the prisoners, hold up puppets to cast shadows on the wall of the cave. The prisoners are unable to see these puppets, the real objects that pass behind them. What the prisoners see and hear are shadows and echoes cast by objects that they do not see. In this allegory, Plato symbolically presents what happens to the people living in the sensory world. Plato distinguishes between people who mistake sensory knowledge for the truth and people who really see the truth. Here, prisoners represent all individuals as souls trapped in a sensory world, puppet-masters represent individuals and organizations who construct knowledge, chains represents anything that keeps the individual from having the freedom to learn. So, imagine that you are one of the prisoners. You cannot look at anything behind or to the side of you and you must look at the wall in front of you. When people walk along the walkway, you can see shadows of the objects they are carrying, cast on to the wall. If you had never seen the real objects ever before, you would believe that the shadows of objects were ‘real.’

This story is very much analogous to the present world. The allegory of the cave presents the tragic reality that the truth is forcefully hidden from the common man. Ordinary people are compelled to believe all the subjective, selfish versions of the truth which are religiously, politically vomited through all sorts of media. People are confused of different as well as contrary interpretations of events. Did any military attack happen? Does my vote directly go to my candidate? Was that particular economic policy taken by the government profitable or not? etc. Every lies are dramatically set, doubtlessly spread, repeatedly presented and forcefully believed and as a result ordinary people are in a dilemma of what the truth is.

One implication of this story is people are not willing to come to the true knowledge; they are not ready to face the nakedness of the truth. Therefore, they all are in the comfort zone of the cave enjoying what they are served and all the information producers are exploiting them shamelessly. Another implication is that if a person comes out of the cave, finds that all what he saw are illusions alone, returns to the cave and teaches other prisoners about the true reality he encountered, they will not listen him, they either accuse him as rebellious or they seal his mouth mum. Both implications lead to despair.

But hope is not lost. Sun is more powerful than the liars in the cave. Sunlight is brighter than the burning fire in the cave. Let the sun light enter into the cave and melt the chains of ignorance. Truth wins, truth prevails and truth alone can exist.

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