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Essay/Term paper: Plato, allegory cave

Essay, term paper, research paper:  English Papers

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Comprehending the Mind's Aging Eye

"The Allegory of the Cave," by Plato, explains that people experience emotional and intellectual revelations throughout different stages in their lives. This excerpt, from his dialogue The Republic, is a conversation between a philosopher and his pupil. The argument made by this philosopher has been interpreted thousands of times across the world. My own interpretation of this allegory is simple enough as Plato expresses his thoughts as separate stages. The stages, very much like life, are represented by growing realizations and newfound "pains." Therefore, each stage in "The Allegory of the Cave" reveals the relation between the growth of the mind and age.

The first stage of the excerpt, which is characterized by chained and confined people, is a metaphor representing the infant and child ages of humans. Like the confined people, children are not allowed to wander freely outside of their home and must stay close to their parent's watchful eye. Those living in the underground den have their heads positioned in a way that they must not view a fire blazing behind them. The heads of the people only see the shadows cast by the fire and objects passing by behind them and they can only guess as to the actual physicality of the object. This also is very similar to children who are curious about objects around them. Although children do not understand complex objects, they do want to know the purpose and function of the object. The mentalities of the people in the cave and of children are 100% subjective and are trapped in their own ignorance: "To them, I said, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images."(5) Totally emerged in isolation and without experience, those in the den have no idea as to what the true nature of the shadow is. Their only truth is the shadow and they cannot learn the real meaning behind the shadow unless set free.

Furthermore, when Plato writes to set free those in the den, he is moving on to the next stage of human growth: being a teenager. The prisoners in the cave are set free to wander and move about. This symbolizes the time in life where teenagers move away from their parents. After teens have been under their parent's supervision and confinement for years, they want to go out and learn new things on their own. "At first, when any of them is liberated and compelled suddenly to stand up and turn his neck round and walk and look towards the light, he will suffer sharp pains."(5) Teenagers want to experience new things themselves, where that be drugs, sex, or other things. Although, when they do encounter new experiences, they sometimes learn that the experience has caused them great pain. In addition, teenagers may change their vision of life. Usually teens become hardened and more used to pain; they become more familiar with the real world. Even though many teenagers feel they have experienced a great deal of pain and think they know it all, they have not witnessed an extremely harsh life until completely on their own.

Adult life is what Plato intends to symbolize in the next stage, when the people are forced to see the sun. In this stage, the people are brought up a steep ascent and forced to gaze into the sun. Once more, the people experience sharp pains as they are not used to the light of the sun. The pains of adulthood may be anything including relationships, jobs, and finances. After those who are forced to stare at the sun have grown accustomed to it, they see the "big picture" and have greater awareness. Adults too have to persevere through their own pains, but the reward is worth it: a family, job, house, etc.. "And when he remembered his old habitation, and the wisdom of the den and his fellow prisoners, do you not suppose that he would felicitate himself on the change, and pity them?"(6) After seeing the light of the sun and contemplating on previous stages in life, the people pity the time spent in the cave. This symbolizes how adults are truly objective, just looking at the physical characteristics of their life now. Many adults are known for their negative thoughts about the children of today and how they pity their ignorant actions; however, they are forgetting that they too lived at that stage of life and had the same mindset. The people at the top of the ascent, like adults, want to stay on top forever, but it is nearly impossible to recognize true beauty for long.

Finally, the last stage of the allegory, which deals with the descent from the top, is like being an elderly person. Now the people must come down from their height of life back into the dark cave, which again causes them pain. This descent is truly hard as the person is now accustomed to the light instead of dark. The people who are now in the cave are seen as ridiculous as they try to describe the shadow. This is true as old people are not acknowledged by the young. Sometimes seen as slow and fragile, the elderly are not given a chance to be heard. In addition, when they do try to give insight, they are not accepted. "Men would say of him that up he went and down he came without his eyes."(6-7) Even though the people in this stage have seen true beauty and enlightenment, they are viewed as old and ridiculous. Although, the one who has come down from the top may try to educate others on what he/she has seen. An example of this is when grandparents teach their children or grandchildren about life, then repeating the cycle by giving children the determination to see the light.

Plato was thousands of years ahead of his time when he wrote The Republic. His insight on the physical capabilities of the mind may be applied to many different situations, even being applied to Hollywood movies such as The Matrix. With Plato's belief in the human mind, we have moved away from ancient thought to the technologies and advances of today. As humans grow older with age and experience, they also grow the capacity to see new things. Babies may see just a picture or a color, but an adult may see a work of art or a spiritual enlightenment. The changing of the mind's eye through out time plays an important role in the way all people view life. Comprehending the mind's eye, what Plato did a long time ago, is what may help people move on to the next stages of their own lives.

 

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