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Plato's Allegory of the Cave

As Riebold Benton and DiYanni (2005, p. 121) assert, ôClassical Greek civilization thoroughly explored the human condition, recognizing the realities and constraints of human life, yet constantly striving to realize ideals.ö Perhaps nothing illustrates this argument better than the striving to realize the highest truth provided by the philosopher Plato in the ôAllegory of the Cave.ö In this allegory, Plato provides an illustration of how human beings either fail to achieve or achieve the highest knowledge of ideas.

PlatoÆs ôAllegory of the Caveö contains the key to his study of manÆs knowledge of Ideas or of the ôprime intuition,ö (McLean and Aspell, 1971, p. 132). In this allegory, Plato described human beings living in an underground cave which contains a mouth reaching up toward the light. The people in the cave are chained at the neck and legs so that they cannot move, but can see the light. They can also see behind them at a distance a great and ever-burning fire, and near a low wall in front they are able to see a screen against which puppets are to be viewed in action. The lighting of the cave creates a setting in which the men and women chained to the wall of the cave see ôàonly shadows - of others, of objects, and of themselves,ö (Wild, 1956, p. 178). The point of the Allegory is that there are four grades or types or levels of knowledge through which the mind of the individual can reach up to the Ideas - or the great truths of existence, or the reality of life rather than the illusions created in the cave (Plato, 1960, 514-520).

At the lowest level of knowledge Plato positions the men in chains, who have limited knowledge of life and the self. At the second level, men are unbound or unchained in the cave and able to acquire more detailed and accurate knowledge. In both of these conditions, men are largely dependent upon knowledge gained from the senses rather t


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