Plato used the "Allegory of the Cave" to differentiate real knowledge from knowledge gained through the use of the senses. He pioneered the theory to explain human perception and the fact that real knowledge is gained through philosophical reasoning as opposed to logic by use of senses which he considered to be more of an opinion. Plato uses the Allegory of the Cave" to create a distinction between people who see the truth from those who define truth through sensory knowledge. The allegory consists of the cave, the shadows, the game, the escape, and the return (Plato, 1945).
Using the cave, Plato creates a mental picture of prisoners who are in a cave with their legs and arms bound together. The prisoners have been in the caves since they were born and had never stepped out of the caves. They are tied to rocks and heads tied in such a manner that they can only look at the stone wall in that is before them. There is a raised walkway between the prisoners where people pass carrying things on their heads and fire behind them. The dark cave in the allegory symbolizes the level of ignorance entertained by individuals while those prisoners who are tied represent the ignorant people in the world. These are the people who believe in empirical evidence and in the idea that knowledge is gained from what they hear and see happening in the world. The walls in the allegory symbolically represent the how limited people are in their thinking (Comford, 2003).
In the shadows, the prisoners can only see the shadows of the things that the people who are passing on the walkway are carrying cast on the walls. These prisoners, having not seen the real objects, would result to believing in that the shadows of the objects were the actual objects. Plato uses the shadows symbolize the thinking and perceptions of the ignorant and those who believe in empirical evidence. These are the people who believe that knowledge is guaranteed through what they see and hear. These shadows are what form the sensory perception and which are usually nothing but illusions. People who believe in what they see and hear are considered to be seeing an imitation of the real physical world which is the shadow of what is true (Plato, 1945).
The prisoners would then engage themselves in a guessing game of the shadow that would appear next and whoever was the first to make a correct guess would be considered a master over the others and of nature. Plato uses the game to disregard the belief that a person is seen as a master when they prove to have knowledge that is based on sensory perception and empirical evidence. Such people are not aware of the truth that exists in the physical world and instead choose to bask in the glory of baseless beliefs and thus do not deserve any admiration (Plato, 1945).
The escape of the prisoner who goes on to discover an entirely different world from the world that he is used to symbolically represents a philosopher who defies the odds and proceeds to seek true knowledge outside of the caves that are not based on sensory perceptions. The sun that the escaped prisoner sees represents true knowledge and philosophical truth while the intellectual journey that he embarks on symbolizes the journey of a philosopher in search of more wisdom and truth. The dazzling of the eyes twice symbolizes difficulties, first, represents the difficulties that we face trying to deny the material world and the second one depicts the difficulties that we have accepting empirical knowledge after confronting the world of truth and reality. The return of the philosopher to the caves after an encounter with reality and the unwillingness by the other prisoners to be set free show how scared they were to face the world of true knowledge that is based on pure philosophical truth (Comford, 2003).
Aristotle, on the other hand, disagrees with Plato's dual perception of the world, either of ideas or senses. Aristotle argues that impairment of rational thinking is not in any way related to imitation and ignorance. Aristotle states that ideas are obtained from nature and reshaped into medium and matter unlike Plato's argument that ideas based on what is seen and heard are baseless and does not conform to the physical world. He believed that even imagination bore a direct connection with common senses and that the senses provide the information required to be knowledgeable and think rationally (Rescher, 1977).
The Aristotelian and the Platonic theories differ in the idea of the existence of form and its interdependence to the physical particular. Aristotle argues that in the acquisition of knowledge, the senses are always key in gaining knowledge of the form which transforms substance to what it is unlike the Platonic thinking. Aristotle thus represents a modern empiricist who believes that particular science truths are known through experience after which deductions follow. The mind then apprehends the forms obtained from the basic facts (Rescher, 1977).
Cornford, Francis M. Plato's theory of knowledge: The theaetetus and the sophist. Courier Corporation, 2003.
Plato. The republic of Plato. Vol. 30. London: Oxford University Press, 1945.
Rescher, Nicholas. Dialectics: A controversy-oriented approach to the theory of knowledge. Suny Press, 1977.
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