What is the relationship between the allegory of the cave and education?  

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timbrady eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The allegory of the cave tells us what education is about.  In the cave, the citizens never see "reality" (the Forms) ... they only get to see the shadows on the wall that the Forms cast.  Of course, they have never seen anything else, so they think the forms are reality.  They are chained so they cannot look behind them or gain any insight from those around them who also suspect that the shadows are reality and make more noise than sense.  If one of them can break free into the light of day, that person (the philosopher) may then be able to come back into the cave to enlighten the other citizens about what reality is.  Of course, they are not going to take what he has to say all that well ... after all, he will be negating all they have ever held as true.

The purpose of education is the same.  Although there are many intermediate goals (facts to be learned, skills to be mastered), the ultimate goal of education is to move us out of the cave, out of what Frost calls, "[The] darkness as it seems to me/Not of woods only and the shade of trees" (Mending Wall) and into the light of knowledge.  Education leads us to question facts, to seek new information, to question old assumptions, and to move closer to the "truth" than students and teachers were before.

thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The allegory of the cave in Plato's Republic is meant to help readers think about the difference between appearances and underlying realities. It suggests that appearances or "phenomena" are mere shadows of a more complex reality apprehensible only by the intellect. This metaphor suggests two things. First, it implies that our senses or immediate perceptions are unreliable, a theme Plato returns to in numerous places in his dialogues. Second, it suggests that it is only by deep cultivation of the intellect that one can achieve understanding. These two positions combined emphasize the importance of education in training the intellect to see beyond limited and superficial impressions.

The other major point Plato makes in this allegory is the moral necessity for the philosopher to return to the cave and share knowledge with those who do not have it. In a sense, this is a justification of Socrates' acts as a public philosopher, who acted as a gadfly or educator to Athens, rather than simply philosophizing in private. 

smart-tutor | Student

Plato’s ‘Allegory of the Cave’ and the education learning process are closely related.  The former illustrates the correlation between ignorance and knowledge which form the core attributes that describe the latter.  The image of men chained against the wall in such a way that their movements are restricted and are only able to look ahead denotes the real nature of humankind. Human beings are forever restricted by the bounds of their ignorance. The meager knowledge acquired through natural learning, education from schools and parents form the basis of what they know. The images and shadows that pass before them symbolizes humanity’s immediate environment that they are unable to comprehend due to their limited knowledge.  Humanity’s desire for more knowledge leads them to the cave’s mouth of ignorance, and thus finds the key to escape the world of ignorance below to the world of knowledge above.  

harmoni88 | Student

The relationship between the allegory of the cave and education is that the cave represents the effects of education on the human condition. Plato used this allegory to demonstrate how education can change our view of reality and show us truth. 

In the allegory, prisoners are chained since birth to look only at the walls of the cave. Not only that, but they could never even look at the entrance of their cave.They saw nothing but shadows cast by people and objects moving about outside. Plato stated:

“True, how could they see anything but the shadows if they were never allowed to move their heads?”

 Due to being able to rely only on their eyes, they believe that the shadows themselves are real objects. They cannot begin to fathom that they are simply shadows created by real objects outside of their cave. 

These prisoners represent the uneducated in the allegory. They are doomed to experience the world through their senses and perception alone, which Plato perceived as inferior to logic and reasoning, aka Platonic education. 

If a person were to escape and experience for himself the outside world, he would be in shock and pain because of the brilliance of the sun.  He would have a hard time believing that it is the objects that are real, not their shadows. Eventually he would come to see the truth. He would be able to see the difference between shadows and objects, matter and mere reflections, and in time be able to bare looking into the sun itself.  In other words, an educated person would be able to use logic and reasoning to decipher truth from fantasy. Education to Plato was like an ascension of the soul, starting from the pits of a cave, eventually rising up to the sun. 

In the allegory of the cave, the escaped prisoner returns to tell his friends all he has learned about the outside world. They resist and are hostile against any attempt to enlighten them. Plato is illustrating here the duty, and the difficulty, of one who has gained an education:

“It is the task of the enlightened not only to ascend to learning and to see the good but to be willing to descend again to those prisoners and to share their troubles and their honors, whether they are worth having or not. And this they must do, even with the prospect of death.” 

Plato believed that most people are happy in their ignorance and will sometimes even fight to defend it. However, Those who have been educated however, would never be able to go back to their previous state. 

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