Unit 2: Hades and the Underworld

Article: Plato’s Allegory and “Fake News”

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Illustration by Frederick Burr Opper, 1894, from Wikimedia Commons, \ccpd

Before You Read

Discuss the following questions with a classmate.

  1. How prevalent is fake news in your country?
  2. How does fake news affect you and/or the people around you?
  3. How does social media affect you and/or the people around you?
  4. How might these two topics be related to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave?

Vocabulary in Context

The following sentences are from the article you are about to read. Guess the meaning of the vocabulary in bold.

  1. We take for granted the things we know and ultimately have the potential to fall into blind ignorance and even resort to violence to defend our ignorance.
  2. Plato then suggests a hypothetical situation to Glaucon. What if by chance one of the cave dwellers finds a way to come out of the cave to the outside world?
  3. After adjusting to the Sun’s light, the cave dweller would then be able to see all of the things in the world properly illuminated for the first time.
  4. The cave dweller is amazed at all of reality, in which he is finally able to experience for what it really is rather than the mere projection of it.
  5. Because he has gotten accustomed to the light of the outer world, when he attempts to re-enter the cave, he gets lost in the darkness and is disoriented by the lack of sunlight.
  6. When he, in turn, feels the same about them and proceeds to explain to the others what the sun is, what a real tree looks like, and the texture of the other things he has experienced, the other cave dwellers get sarcastic and dismissive. They feel that leaving the cave has blinded him and left him in error.
  7. They ridicule his ideas, feeling he has gone away from the shadowy figures.
  8. The inhabitants are a representation of the masses who have not dedicated themselves to thinking clearly or accepting new perceptions of what reality is.
  9. “The Allegory of The Cave” can be used as a cautionary tale to warn us about what happens when we are close-minded and violently against new ideas of reality.

 

The Allegory of The Cave: How It Still Matters When it Comes to “Fake News”

Adapted from a Medium article written by Nicholas Martinez, reuse permitted under \ccbysa

The ancient Greeks considered philosophy to be a therapeutic approach to life. They considered the acts of discussing ideas, arguments, etc. were helpful in discovering many things about the human condition and its relationship to the world around it. For them, philosophy taught us how to think, live, and die well. Perhaps more than any other thinker, Plato understood how philosophy could potentially help guide society to a more promising and well thought out future. Plato often used his teacher, Socrates, as a character in his famous dialogues where he would often discuss various topics including government, ethics, epistemology (the study of knowledge and how we know things), and various other issues with other citizens of Ancient Greece.

In his famous book, The Republic, Plato tells the famous story of what has now become known as “The Allegory of The Cave.” This famous story was meant to demonstrate the power of ignorance on our nature. As Plato stated, the purpose of the allegory was to compare: “The effect of education and the lack of it on our nature.” For Plato, much of our lives are spent in a passive conscious state that lacks any sort of critical thinking, reasoning or questioning. We take for granted the things we know and ultimately have the potential to fall into blind ignorance and even resort to violence to defend our ignorance. His famous allegory serves us in demonstrating that the manner in which we view the world can always be subjected to deeper analysis, and that many of the things we feel that we know are in fact a lot more complicated than they may appear.

“The Allegory of The Cave” begins as a dialogue between Socrates and Glaucon, who was the older brother of Plato. During their dialogue, Socrates asks Glaucon to imagine a cave in which its inhabitants have been imprisoned there since birth. They have never gone outside or left the cave in any way, so they know nothing of the outside world. This cave is cold, damp, and dark. There is no natural light in this cave, the only light comes from a small fire that is behind the chained inhabitants. This fire occasionally throws onto the wall the shadowy reflections of objects for the inhabitants to see. Unknown to the lifelong inhabitants of this cave, these figures are merely shadows, not the actual objects that the fire reflects. Despite this, the cave dwellers often discuss these shadows in great detail and take pride in their assumed understanding of the world around them. They believe to understand these shadowy projections would be to understand reality and life as a whole.

Plato then suggests a hypothetical situation to Glaucon. What if one of the cave dwellers finds a way to come out of the cave to the outside world? Plato then goes on to describe what would happen if one of the inhabitants of the cave were to escape. The former cave dweller would see natural sunlight for the first time which at first blinds him. After adjusting to the Sun’s light, the cave dweller would then be able to see all of the things in the world properly illuminated for the first time. He is able to observe the natural colors of objects. He is able to touch the texture of nature and have sensations he otherwise would not have felt if he had never left the dark damp environment of the cave. He finally experiences the true nature of the objects he had previously only known as shadows. The cave dweller is amazed at all of reality, in which he is finally able to experience for what it really is rather than the mere projection of it.

Out of concern for the others still stuck in the cave, the man attempts to return to the cave in order to help the others who are still amazed at the sights of the shadows being projected on the wall by the fire. Because he has gotten accustomed to the light of the outer world, when he attempts to re-enter the cave, he gets lost in the darkness and is disoriented by the lack of sunlight. To the others, he looks rather foolish and unintelligent. When he, in turn, feels the same about them and proceeds to explain to the others what the sun is, what a real tree looks like, and the texture of the other things he has experienced, the other cave dwellers get sarcastic and dismissive. They feel that leaving the cave has blinded him and left him in error. They ridicule his ideas, feeling he has gone away from the shadowy figures. When the enlightened man keeps insisting that they have been viewing merely shadows the others become increasingly frustrated and plan to kill him.

Plato’s “Allegory of The Cave” has been considered to be a representation of our society and the epistemological limitations man can place upon themselves, even if it is unknowingly. The Sun in the allegory symbolizes reason. The inhabitants are a representation of the masses who have not dedicated themselves to thinking clearly or accepting new perceptions of what reality is. The man who escapes the cave represents an enlightened person and the attitude they can expect when attempting to try to correct people who have been living in confusion and error. It is for us today a representation of a culture gone mad. A lot of what we place great importance in such as money, materialism, and social status may be one of the shadows projected onto our minds by the flames of our culture. It is a very real possibility that all these things that we obsess over may be, just like the shadowy figures in the allegory, a mere illusion.

This sort of unconscious state was not something we willingly choose to be a part of, it is merely where, in Plato’s view, we all start out. Despite this, Plato and the ancient Greeks felt optimistic that with the proper education, we could unlearn these shadowy projections that have been reflected onto our perception by the fire of ignorance that culture and mass media can sometimes create. In today’s day and age, there are infinite amounts of ways to perceive the world. The internet has granted us the ability to broadcast anything we please in an instant. The perceptions we gain when we consume media can give us a certain projection of the world that may not be entirely true. Technology has given us the ability to report and share anything in seconds but also allows us to lie in the same amount of time. News channels sometimes lack facts and instead stick a media personality in front of the camera giving their opinion on the facts which could give those without critical thinking skills a false perception of what is going on, similar to the cave dwellers in Plato’s allegory. “The Allegory of The Cave” can be used as a cautionary tale to warn us about what happens when we are close-minded and violently against new ideas of reality. It can be a guide to reminding ourselves that what we consume in media is only a shadow of the experience we could have if we got out of the cave.

CEFR Level: Low C1

Comprehension and Critical Thinking Questions

The following questions are related to the article, but may also be good points to cover in your essay if your upcoming essay topic is related to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. All questions apply to the author’s modern analysis of the story. In Martinez’s analysis…

  1. Who are the “prisoners”?
  2. What are the “shadows”?
  3. What is the “fire”?
  4. Who is controlling the “shadows” on the pathway?
  5. What is “the Sun”?
  6. Who is the “escapee”?
  7. How does this escapee react to returning to the cave?
  8. How do the prisoners react to the escapee returning to the cave?
  9. How can the prisoners be “save”?
  10. Should the prisoners be saved? Explain why or why not.
  11. What might happen if the prisoners are or are not saved?
  12. Is it important to evaluate the information on websites or apps that you use? Why or why not?
  13. How does the following infographic related to the author’s analysis?
    image
    Image by IFLA (International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions) on Wikimedia Commons, licensed under CC-BY 4.0
  14. Do you evaluate sources to make sure they are not fake news? Why or why not?
  15. If you answered “yes” to question 14, do you use the same suggestions as the infographic? Do you have any other tips for evaluating sources?

 

License

Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

It’s All Greek to Me! by Charity Davenport is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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