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  • What is reality, knowledge, the meaning of life?

  • Big topics you might tackle figuratively

  • explaining existence as a journey down a road or across an ocean,

  • a climb, a war, a book, a thread, a game, a window of opportunity,

  • or an all-too-short-lived flicker of flame.

  • 2,400 years ago,

  • one of history's most famous thinkers said life is like being chained up in a cave,

  • forced to watch shadows flitting across a stone wall.

  • Pretty cheery, right?

  • That's actually what Plato suggested in his Allegory of the Cave,

  • found in Book VII of "The Republic,"

  • in which the Greek philosopher envisioned the ideal society

  • by examining concepts like justice, truth and beauty.

  • In the allegory, a group of prisoners have been confined in a cavern since birth

  • with no knowledge of the outside world.

  • They are chained, facing a wall, unable to turn their heads,

  • while a fire behind them gives off a faint light.

  • Occasionally, people pass by the fire, carrying figures of animals and other objects that cast shadows on the wall.

  • The prisoners name and classify these illusions,

  • believing they're perceiving actual entities.

  • Suddenly, one prisoner is freed and brought outside for the first time.

  • The light hurts his eyes and he finds the new environment disorienting.

  • When told that the things around him are real,

  • while the shadows were mere reflections, he cannot believe it.

  • The shadows appeared much clearer to him.

  • But gradually, his eyes adjust

  • until he can look at reflections in the water,

  • at objects directly,

  • and finally at the Sun,

  • whose light is the ultimate source of everything he has seen.

  • The prisoner returns to the cave to share his discovery,

  • but he is no longer used to the darkness,

  • and has a hard time seeing the shadows on the wall.

  • The other prisoners think the journey has made him stupid and blind,

  • and violently resist any attempts to free them.

  • Plato introduces this passage as an analogy

  • of what it's like to be a philosopher trying to educate the public.

  • Most people are not just comfortable in their ignorance

  • but hostile to anyone who points it out.

  • In fact, the real life Socrates was sentenced to death

  • by the Athenian government for disrupting the social order,

  • and his student Plato spends much of "The Republic"

  • disparaging Athenian democracy,

  • while promoting rule by philosopher kings.

  • With the cave parable,

  • Plato may be arguing that the masses are too stubborn and ignorant

  • to govern themselves.

  • But the allegory has captured imaginations for 2,400 years

  • because it can be read in far more ways.

  • Importantly, the allegory is connected to the theory of forms,

  • developed in Plato's other dialogues,

  • which holds that like the shadows on the wall,

  • things in the physical world are flawed reflections of ideal forms,

  • such as roundness, or beauty.

  • In this way, the cave leads to many fundamental questions,

  • including the origin of knowledge,

  • the problem of representation,

  • and the nature of reality itself.

  • For theologians, the ideal forms exist in the mind of a creator.

  • For philosophers of language viewing the forms as linguistic concepts,

  • the theory illustrates the problem of grouping concrete things

  • under abstract terms.

  • And others still wonder whether we can really know

  • that the things outside the cave are any more real than the shadows.

  • As we go about our lives,

  • can we be confident in what we think we know?

  • Perhaps one day,

  • a glimmer of light may punch a hole in your most basic assumptions.

  • Will you break free to struggle towards the light,

  • even if it costs you your friends and family,

  • or stick with comfortable and familiar illusions?

  • Truth or habit? Light or shadow?

  • Hard choices, but if it's any consolation, you're not alone.

  • There are lots of us down here.

What is reality, knowledge, the meaning of life?

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B1 US TED-Ed plato cave allegory philosopher chained

【TED-Ed】Plato’s Allegory of the Cave - Alex Gendler

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    稲葉白兎 posted on 2015/03/19
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