Plato's Republic by Plato

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Discuss your reaction to Plato's "Allegory of the Cave."  Did you ever have a learning experience that "turned your soul toward reality?" I am not sure what the teacher is asking in the question:...

Discuss your reaction to Plato's "Allegory of the Cave."  Did you ever have a learning experience that "turned your soul toward reality?"

I am not sure what the teacher is asking in the question: "turned your soul toward reality."

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Jason Lulos eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The "Allegory of the Cave" can be interpreted in a number of ways. That number of interpretations increases in different contexts and in subsequent periods of history. The metaphor stays the same but the implications change with context. In other words, someone in 2012 will interpret the allegory differently than someone 2400 years ago in Greece. Not to mention, as each person is subjective, his/her interpretation will necessarily be different.

That being said, the general interpretation of the allegory is that we are all experiencing the shadows on the wall of the cave. The ultimate reality (Absolute Good) is outside the cave. "Turn your soul toward reality" can seem like an odd or unnecessarily spiritual phrase. Try thinking of this phrase in broader terms. More generally speaking, this phrase could mean discovering a truth you had not been aware of, or realizing that some of the experiences in life have always been veiled by a filter (such as our fallible senses or the structures and ideologies of culture and authority).

So, to turn your soul (or mind) toward reality (the ultimate reality or Absolute Truth) would be to come to some realization about truth and/or to realize some aspect of experience had been some illusion. Socrates poses the question as to what you do with this new truth/realization:

Now, if he recalled the cell where he'd originally lived and what passed for knowledge there and his former fellow prisoners, don't you think he'd feel happy about his own altered circumstances, and sorry for them?

Here, Socrates supposes that the enlightened person would feel happy about his/her realization but would also feel sympathy for those still chained to the proverbial wall in the cave.

Any such realization could be dramatic or subtle. One example might be when one realizes how rigidly a religion, ideology, political ethos, or economic system determines the way one's life is structured. For instance, perhaps one day I realize that the politics and economics of my culture have rigorously determined me (and my fellow prisoners/citizens) to be a consumer first; a human being second. I then discover the ways in which authorities of this culture (figures casting shadows) have duped me in this way. At the risk of sounding preachy, I might want to share my realization with my friends to suggest to them that sharing experiences with people is more important than buying things. That is a broad ideological and ethical example. But "turning your soul toward reality" could also be a more personal or psychological realization. Remember that the idea Socrates (Plato) wants to get a across is twofold: 1) realization and 2) do you, or how do you enlighten others without seeming mad (or, perhaps, in this day and age, without sounding preachy and annoying).

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jameadows eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In Plato's "Allegory of the Cave," people only see shadows projected on the wall in front of them by people and objects passing in front of a fire. These inmates, chained to the wall of the cave, only see shadows and mistake them for reality. Plato contrasts the inmates with philosophers, who can emerge from the cave and see reality. My reaction to this allegory is that it is difficult to break out of our own mental and philosophical caves to see reality, as we are always imprisoned by the impressions we take in with our limited senses and our limited view of the world. We find it difficult to know more than what is beyond our immediate reality.

Learning experiences that "turn your soul toward reality" are those that truly awaken in you an understanding of the wider world. Often, these learning experiences take place outside the classroom. For example, travel abroad or through an exchange program is a type of experience that helps people understand their own realities by giving them a very different perspective. The reading of literature can often make people aware of other realities by transporting them to other worlds and helping them understand other people's inner truths.

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