Being an English major, I knew that learning about history's philosophers and actually reading their writings would be an asset - I just didn't think it would be an asset so quickly. It's only the third week of the spring semester, a mere two months since I finished my History of Philosophy course, and I'm already putting what I've learned to good use.
Seeing that we were assigned to read The Allegory of the Cave for today's class, I got very excited because I remembered reading Plato's entire Republic in Dr. Atherton's class. I especially remembered The Allegory of the Cave because Dr. Atherton drew an award-winning blackboard sketch of the cave in question. Knowing what I know now about Plato and his writings, I was able to read this section of The Republic with greater ease and understanding.
In The Allegory, the character Socrates describes a cave where prisoners are held, their limbs and necks chained so that their movements are completely restricted. Behind and above them is a fire, and its light creates shadows on the cave wall in front of them. These shadows are all the prisoners know of reality, and they firmly believe that the shadow of a man is in all reality the man himself.
One day, a prisoner is set free and he begins to climb out of the cave. As he reaches the sunlit opening, his adjusting eyes begin to feel immense pain. He quickly turns away from the light, not wanting to experience the pain, and returns to the shadows he is more comfortable with. As his eyes slowly begin to adjust to the light, he finds his new knowledge of reality wonderful and does not ever want to return to the cave and its shadows.
Having studied Plato's vision of reality, I know that he believes that, like the man in the cave, it is painful to realize that what you think you know is wrong, but that it is important that we aren't reluctant to believe the Truth. In order to do this, he says that we must let go of our senses, however difficult it may be. Knowledge can neither be perceived nor merely believed - it is beyond words. It can only be found through the ascension of our soul. For Plato, Truth is synonymous with Good; while our soul ascends toward Goodness, it is also ascending toward Truth and Knowledge.
The first time I read this text I viewed it as one more philosopher's rantings and did not try to apply it to my own life. Now I find myself asking questions regarding what it is we think we perceive. Have we reached the light, or are we still watching shadows in the cave?
I don't think that I'll ever be presumptuous enough to say that I've reached and accepted the light, but I think that at this point in my life it's safe to say that I've at least turned around.