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The Platonic Challenge in a Modern Perspective

Plato’s Theory of Forms as identified in the Allegory of the Cave calls for the problem of breaking away from ignorance in order to identify the ‘real’ truths from mere illusions. The Allegory of the Cave is the representation of the world of ideas (eidos) or forms and the world of illusions. As narrated, the cave contains two prisoners chained to their places since childhood, representing an early stage of ignorance which carries over to the development of the person. They see nothing except a blank stretch of wall as their vision is fixed toward them; a large rock impedes their view from behind.

A large roaring fire is placed behind creating light in front of them; objects such as plants and animals flit around the fire creating shadows in front of the two prisoners. They are astounded by the images they see in front of them and take them to be real. The chains and the darkness of the cave signify ignorance, the inability for individuals to aspire for greater truths. This ignorance is subsequently followed by contentment as they inhibit fear in search of new objects and falsely create happiness. In The Republic Plato only supposes the circumstance where the prisoner would break free from the chains and venture outside the cave.

Given this instance, his vision would be obscured by the fire, representing the apprehension and anxiety for new objects of experience. Eventually, the prisoner would explore the world outside the cave and would immediately be blinded by the sun, symbolizing intellectual illumination. He would then focus his gaze on the objects causing the shadows in the cave and would realize the ‘real’ truths outside the world of illusions. The challenge posed by Plato is the willing and conscious effort of breaking away from ignorance, comfort, and contentment from what is already proffered and aligns the mindset into intellectual enlightenment.

This intellectual enlightenment is not to be taken into its pure sense but rather functions as an opportunity to understand the ‘idea’ in which case are solutions to the problems posed by ignorance. Ignorance inhibits the consciousness in understanding the real ‘truths’ from mere objects of illusion. In the modern context of culture industry and different social tenets governing human life, the pressures brought about by these dictates indeed place us in chains of ignorance.

First, under the culture industry, the need of money becomes an important tool of survival – no money, no life. Thus, under the context of the industry, jobs become the ‘truths’ of existence wherein it is delimits the mind into conformity and contentment all for the sake monetary returns. For example, we become content of our jobs and inhibit our passions for the sake of our own lives and of family. Thus, even if we are discontent with a job, we remain attached for the sake of money and for the false sake of living life properly.

Eventually, it consumes the individual into passivity and therefore takes away the opportunity of greater realizations. Another example of the industry effect would be the media; motivated by financial gain, media garbles the truth in order to serve the better interest of these companies. Truth becomes irrelevant under the pretext of capitalism. The lack of health care, priority to education, faulty justice system, sex education in schools, adherence to capital punishment, cloning, gay rights, among others, function as illusions generated by ignorance or truths we choose to ignore.

These issues represent the lack of effort among individuals to fully identify the causes of such or willingly accept it as truths but refuse to provide a solution because of fear, which is worse than ignorance. This fear inhibits the prisoners in the Allegory from venturing out of the cave and functions as the same binding factor in our current context. In relation to the challenged posed by Plato, this ignorance is placed entirely on the effort of the individual to combat this growing sense of false security and contentment in order to identify the ‘ideal’.

The solution lies on the individual to break away from false contentment in order to realize the pressing issues that concern society and the self. This effort is indeed difficult, for these illusions had already formed the consciousness and provided contentment while fear continues to inhibit ourselves in contentment. The responsibility lays on the realization of these illusions as a false reality and the knowledge of such should provide a conscious effort to understand the problems and the self. Reference Plato. (1974). The Republic (D. Lee, Trans. ) Harmondsworth; Baltimore: Penguin

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