The Allegorical Cave: Knowledge vs. Truth

During our discussions of the Cave metaphor and the forms, I remembered the proofs that we had to do during Geometry and Calculus.  In these proofs, we were told to explain every step of the problem using definite and unquestionable properties as if we were going to explain the problem to someone who knew nothing about the problem, or mathematics in general.  The way that both Plato and Socrates explain things is quite similar to these proofs.  However, there is a very large gap between mathematics and “knowledge” as it were.  There is a distinction between mathematics and empirical science and philosophy.  However, I agree with what Charles Parsons states in his book: Mathematics in Philosophy, that there is an “intimate connections between the fundamental concepts of pure mathematics…and the concepts of formal logic.”

So now I would like to form a proof of the true knowledge of reality, and attempting to explain what Socrates is trying to explain. Afterall, as Professor Mackin said, “For every level of reality there is a corresponding level of knowledge.”

1. The prisoner must know true knowledge.

2. The prisoner is ignorant. PROOF: Ignorance is the opposite of true knowledge and is ordinary knowledge, known by those who are not philosophers.

3. The prisoner mistakes the shadows for real things. PROOF: The prisoner sees the shadows and mistakes them for real things because he forms an opinion of the objects.  Opinions are formed when educators (or philosophers in this case) teach what they believe is right, and the student forms an opinion that is between true knowledge and ignorance and has no actual proof.  The particular things are merely objects of opinion.

4. The prisoner asks about the shadows. PROOF: With proper education and training, the prisoner can work to find the essence of something without using the senses, because true knowledge cannot be experienced by the senses.  At this point in the training, the prisoner begins to realize that the shadows are imitations.

5. The prisoner steps out of the cave and sees real objects. PROOF: After the philosophical training is complete, the prisoner can see the Sun as the form of the good.  This allows him to see the forms of objects as objects of knowledge that cannot be doubted at all.

I think the main point that Socrates is trying to establish is that we should attempt to “leave the cave” as it were.  His ideal society would be one in which the philosophers ruled and everyone would be trained in this manner so that everyone can see the form of the good.  However, the question arises as to whether or not philosophers are the best rulers, in reality.  I think that this allegory of the cave represents a more metaphysical world or an illusion, rather than a true place.

Another blog that I stumbled upon compared the allegory of the cave to a child learning about Santa Claus for the first time.  When the child is young, he is ignorant.  He is told about Santa Claus by the media, his family, his friends, and everyone around him and believes them without any question.  He even writes Santa a letter and receives an answer.  The knowledge of the myth of Santa becomes a kind of absolute truth to the child, like the shadows are to the prisoner.  It is only until he begins to question Santa that he comes to realize the reality of the situation.  Through illusion, belief, and knowledge, the child begins to move through the steps and obtains the true knowledge.

Socrates’ society is hierarchical, but it could make sense in the real world.  What he is aiming to eliminate by appointing philosopher kings as rulers is a place ruled by opinions, rather than absolute truths.  The only problem is that the forms do not exist in the real world.  The question that I have is if true knowledge is really the truth?  I think this is why Socrates’ society is impractical for our world.


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