I have always believed that reality was something everyone in the world shares. In Plato’s The Allegory of the Cave, Socrates presents an opposing view, arguing that reality is something different for each and every individual based on his or her own knowledge and interpretations of the world.
His idea is unique because it suggests that one individual born into a certain culture is likely to adopt a view of reality based on what is being taught in that culture while an individual born into a completely different culture will have a view of reality based on that specific culture. This means that reality is not something we can define objectively, but instead something subjective that individuals must define for themselves based on their own knowledge.
As the story opens, Socrates uses the setting to help us understand his view that reality is something individually different for everyone based on his or her own knowledge and interpretation of the world. The story starts out set in a cave where prisoners have been kept since birth. They’ve been bound to the floor and are unable to see behind or to the sides of themselves; they can only see to the front. Behind the prisoners there is a fire with a partial wall behind it. Behind the wall, and out of the sight of the prisoners is another group of people. This group of holds statues up above the wall so that the prisoners can see shadows casted from them on the wall. Since the prisoners have lived in the cave their whole lives and know nothing of the outside world, what they see as shadows they presume to be the real things. They even think up different names for the objects they see, as indicated from the story. This opening scene introduces the reader to ideas that are essential to understanding what Socrates is saying. We know that the objects in the shadows the prisoners are seeing are not the real objects themselves, but mere imitations. Since the prisoners know nothing of the outside world, they presume the shadows are the real things. Socrates tells us that the shadows would actually become the truth in the prisoners’ realities.
In the next part of the story, Socrates explores his idea that reality is something different for each individual based on his or her own knowledge and interpretation of the world even more. In this part, a prisoner is released from the cave. At first, he is over whelmed by everything he sees around him. It takes him time to grow accustomed to it all. Then, he realizes he is in a world full of new, enlightening experiences and begins to pity the others down in the cave. What Socrates is trying to say by including this part in the story is that the prisoner once had his own accepted reality. While he was living in the cave, he accepted everything he saw as reality because he knew nothing of the world outside the cave. When he finally left the cave, he realized that his reality was not actually the truth. This is a brilliant metaphor used by Socrates to show us that reality is something different for each individual based on his or her own knowledge and interpretation of the world. To an individual in today’s society, their reality is based on their culture and knowledge.
For example, someone born in a country such as Iran is very likely to speak a different language, have a different religion, and have other unique things from their culture define their reality than someone born in a European country such as England. The person born in England will most likely have completely different views than the Iranian, but their views will define their reality the same way. Just like the prisoners in the cave having their own set reality based on what they see in the cave, people living on the outside of the cave have a completely different reality based on their lives in the world above it.
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