How does one better understand Plato's Myth of the Cave? How do the doctrines of Determinism and Free Will contrast, and how does one use either Determinism or Free Will to interpret Plato's myth?...

How does one better understand Plato's Myth of the Cave? How do the doctrines of Determinism and Free Will contrast, and how does one use either Determinism or Free Will to interpret Plato's myth? How does one use the four-step methodology of understanding, analyzing, evaluating, and applying either to interpret Plato's myth or to create a new paradigm?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Plato theorized that divine perfect forms of everything in this world exist in the divine realm. What we see on earth is merely a flawed representation of the perfect forms. In the Republic, Plato takes his Theory of Forms one step further to argue that most people in this world have absolutely zero comprehension of the existence of forms, zero comprehension of the existence of a higher realm. He demonstrates this argument in the Republic using his cave allegory.

Plato's cave allegory describes people chained up in a cave for the duration of their lives. The people face the wall of the cave and are never able to see the cave's entrance. Immediately behind the prisoners are puppeteers and a burning fire that casts light onto the cave's wall. While the prisoners continue to stare at the wall, the puppeteers use puppets to cast shadows on the cave's wall, shadows of birds, other animals, and other objects. Since the prisoners only know the existence of the shadows, they mistake the shadows for true reality. In the allegory, a prisoner also breaks free of the chains and leaves the cave. Out in the real world, he sees real living things, not just shadows of real living things, and realizes just how much they had been duped as prisoners. He then returns to the cave to try and tell the other prisoners about the real world, but they refuse to accept anything but the reality they have known all along and even call the escaped prisoner insane.

In the allegory, the prisoners represent average citizens; the puppeteers represent those who the average citizens have accepted as leaders; and, the escaped prisoner represents the philosopher who tries to educate the average citizen but to no avail. Instead of being educated, the average citizens prefer to accept their false reality as taught by those who they accept as leaders.

It is also possible to interpret the cave allegory using the philosophies of either Determinism of Free Will. Determinism teaches that all human actions are determined by forces outside of human control, outside of humankind's own will. In contrast, free will teaches that mankind has the ability to choose between courses of action.

We could use either Determinism of Free Will to further interpret the cave allegory depending on how one wants to view things. If viewed strictly through Determinism, we might say that the prisoners were forced to view the shadows of puppets as their reality due their external circumstance of imprisonment. We might also say that their imprisonment was so influential that it also forced them to disbelieve the free prisoner. In analyzing the philosopher prisoner who broke free, we might say that the only reason why he was able to do so was simply because his chains were weaker than the other prisoners', enabling him to escape; he did not escape based on any personal choice.

Using Free Will, we might say that the prisoners made the personal choice to accept the shadows of puppets as their reality when they could have chosen differently instead. We might even use Free Will to analyze the puppeteers themselves and say that the puppeteers had every chance to choose not to mislead the prisoners. We could also use Free Will to say the philosopher prisoner managed to escape due to the personal choice to escape. What's more the other prisoners refused to listen to the reasoning of the philosopher again out of personal choice.

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