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Plato’s Allegory of the Cave

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As I explained my frustration with the thought of going to a liberal education school later next month, the three men before me: Plato, Aristotle and Augustine, were all contemplating why I would feel such a way towards the subjects. So, in order to persuade me, Plato spoke up and gave his words of wisdom on the matter.

“There is much to learn in this world,” he said, “and with the absence of knowledge, there isn’t any good to come from an individual without them understanding what it takes to be good. Do not think that without proper schooling or teaching you are fine in this complex life that you have. Aristotle, being one of my students, can vouch for me and further elaborate on what it takes to be good, or even happy. However, I shall do my best to give interpretation.”

“You may have heard of my ‘tale’, the Allegory of the Cave,” he advertised, “in your own studies as I do tend to affect others with my trivial words (which is why I died the way I did). In summarizing what happens in this metaphor, I would be taking away the message and impact of the piece as it relies heavily on details. Yet, I will try my best to convey what is going on.” He continued with saying, “individuals are familiar with the reality that surrounds them. Whether this is the way they see their home, animals, plants, or others, they come to have an understanding of how these things work in their everyday lives.

In the Allegory of the Cave, individuals are restrained all their lives and come to know the world through shadows, projected by fire, and dictated by overseers who create the sounds for the shadows to help give them better identity. Some may not make a sound entirely, just like we encounter. These shadows become their reality, but one day, an individual escapes into ‘our world’. Blinded by the Sun, surrounded by new experiences, and distorting what they know as reality, they learn the truth… (Plato ) There is a whole process of learning about good and discovery. Your elders are there to teach you how to go about it, and bring you into the light.”

“This is just the starting point, though, as you will find out.” Plato proceed, “in life there is the individual and there is the statesman contributing to his community. We are all dependent upon one another whether we realize it or not. In a sense, we must learn to give back, and that should be done in multiple areas of study. I will list a few so you have an idea. You have arithmetic and geometry, where everyone seems to hate the subject but me. Physics and astronomy, these being more of your sciences I’m sure you know. Music and gymnastics, more so your electives, nevertheless still vastly relevant to reaching inwards to the human soul. Lastly, dialectic is the one I find to be most substantial. I will get to it in a second. These cover the basics when you fight for your home as someone in the military, or take part in governmental action. I know Fredrick Douglas and Wendell Berry, who lived closer to your time, sort of have the same ideals that they bring up in their arguments.”

“Yes,” I replied, “I was hoping to discuss some of what they shared on education a bit later.”

“And we shall,” Plato picked back up, “but I wanted to finish by mentioning the end all, be all, being… Reason. There is a reason to work, why we work, and also reasoning what is good. That is where dialect comes in finding a sort of truth or good in opinion. Nothing quite matters in this world, since we will all die our inevitable deaths, but in our conclusions we should be able to take away our physical work and turn it into a metaphysical construct. I believe all of us here would agree upon this principle. When you reach that point in time, in distinguishing what it takes to determine what good is, (be warned it will be awhile, since you HAVE to be 50 to fully comprehend or grasp the concept) you will apply these philosophies in order to have a successful future career.”

“Thank you for that,” I told him.

“I can enlighten you as well,” Aristotle began as he raised a finger into the air. “As Plato’s student, I flourished in understanding what is considered good, or to know good, the ultimate good. Everything Plato mentions is really crucial, from being a considerable statesman to reasoning all that you encounter. Despite all of this, I have to inform you of a special ingredient that one may miss out on considering if they are not careful: happiness. “Happiness is action,” happiness requires character, and intellect (Aristotle 400).The very essence of virtue plays a key role to this as well. Be thankful for the life you have, use it to the betterment of society, and continue to thrive on achieving good, or you will never ‘feel good’.”

“However, we need a goal to work towards. In this goal, we must define what it is we are seeking. Your degree may be what you are after, and although you feel indifferent about which school you are attending, or even the type of school, determining what the means to the goal is, is vital as well. They are one in the same, though completing the goal in unjust means does not qualify as good.”

“How does one become good,” Aristotle continued on. “Well, I like to cover three distinct things that help answer this question. Nature, where humans do not act in animal-like behavior. Habit, repeating the everyday routine as it fulfills the person’s supposide duty. Lastly, we circle around back to what we mentioned earlier, which is reason. The animal partakes in the previous two, but the last one they are incapable of. So, when you add in reason with these other two traits, a person can figure out what it takes to be good. That is the rough idea. Be careful in how you school and do so publicly. Private schooling tends to restrict the boundaries of contributing to society and weakens the overall foundation. I say this because, though you seem to be attending such a school, a democracy demands a democratic people. The same goes for any form of government, and separating yourself from those you live with can be harmful to everyday functionality.”

“That makes sense, I understand where you are going from. I shall keep it in mind,” I told him.

Augustine perked up ready to give his word on how to handle the situation.

“The glory of God shines upon you young acolyte. His word shall guide you throughout the entirety of your life, so have no worries of where you will end up. I am positive that this school is what He intends for you, and I want to share my input as well. As a Christian yourself, you may already know that everything we do should be for Him. Our goal is to get closer to Him, Jesus and the Holy Ghost within us. Even though we are sinners, acting to improve ourselves is what will help us achieve this goal. What is the way we go about this process? Well, in life we enjoy things, and we use things.”

““To enjoy something is to hold fast to it in love for its own sake” (Augustine 9). Humankind is in favor of enjoying possessions, pets, and other people. In order for God to ‘grow’, He needs the love and attention from His children, but instead they give it to other offspring under His creation. We must learn to only enjoy the Holy Trinity. Otherwise, we are distracted from our ultimate goal, glorifying our redeemer. Now, moving onto using things in life… “To use something is to apply whatever it may be to the purpose of obtaining what you love – if it indeed is something that ought to be loved” (Augustine 9). For example, I am fascinated by what your people call the automobile. A magnificent tool bestowed upon your time, and all of those able to use it. Still, too many relish in the idea that their automobile is everything to them. I see some go as far as to collect them and NEVER use them. They take care of these things better than their own Bibles. For shame… In the test of life, we should use everything as a tool to close the gap between us and God as much as possible. An automobile that loses its use is no longer our concern. Do you know who used the tools of the earth appropriately?”

“Those that built the cars themselves?” I questioned.

“No, someone far greater,” He laughed. “Jesus. He is the perfect example and He shows us the way we need to undergo our lives. That is why God sent His one and only son to us. Who could best demonstrate the way we were meant to go about living other than our own creator? I will leave you with this. Though we are sinners, and the inevitable obsession we have with His own creation over Him from time to time, we need to at least love God through that object, animal, or person. I believe it is wonderful you are intertwining faith into your curriculum. Whatever it is you end up doing in life, use this time to build that bridge with the one who fills the void no one else can. Incorporate the love you obtain from learning and working to give it back to God Himself. I feel my repetition may be quite vexing, though the concept is relatively simple, I cannot say enough how much this means to Him. It is why we are here, and why He chose to create us in the first place. Do not feel you are wasting your time with your education.”

“I think I am starting to put it all together now. Do you guys mind if we get back to Douglas and Berry for a bit?”

“Yes, what is it you wish to talk about,” asked Plato.

“In my time, the fight for freedom is a significant struggle to those within my country and in other cultures, I brought up. Progress has been made over the centuries, but at the same time you would think we’d come a lot further. Yet, I am certain there are many explanations as to why we do not see a more absolute verdict among citizens. These two may have some sort of answer I am looking for.”

“Well, I do think you are on the right path,” Plato replied. “Frederick, having been a slave, has much insight in attaining freedom. Acceptance of change is never easy for an individual, and becomes convoluted within a society. Thus, a struggle with your inner self and how you perceive something becomes skewed. You try to adapt your views, only to then discuss it among those who think in a similar fashion. Everyone begins to echo each other to the point where they think it is okay to define hatred towards this thing since they are in agreeance. That is definitely not acceptable in the slightest. ”

“I agree,” Augustine stated. “A Person is not merely a thing. We are all the same, under God, and Jesus Christ our saviour. That is why we must teach man to think and learn for themselves. I am glad you brought this up, as both of these men have a excellent comparison to one another. Douglas argues that in order for his people to do well for themselves among those who are ahead of the game, they must be taught to operate properly. Of course, they must also use their knowledge to keep and hold onto the freedom they now have. Berry talks about the university not doing the upcoming generations any favors in being too broad and super focused on specifics where students do not have the basics skillfully mastered. It is hard for God to work through others when they are not experienced in the fundamentals, but rather something niche and obscure.”

“I believe Berry talks about ‘learning about’ things, versus ‘learning from’ things in the university, too,” Aristotle queued in. “There is a difference, obviously, each with their own intent. Learning about a subject is fine to a degree, but learning from something teaches the individual to basically learn for themselves in a necessary manner. Or is this the other way around? I’ve been gone for far too long. I simply need to get my act together. Regardless, I want to go back to Douglas for a moment to talk about a good point he makes with associating one group, or stereotype, to a particular job, or role. From what I hear and read about in your time, advancements in civilization truly showcases what it is like for these people to try and move up in the world. Discrimination limits those who have potential to succeed, though. Rather, people do not look at the character a person possesses. Not much has changed it seems. Easily human nature categorizes any trend that takes off whether it embarks fear, power, or happiness. The total opposite is a possibility, but taking a risk can be seen as degrading. The same goes for putting too much faith into something you are familiar with that can deceive you just as well.”

“Alright, I won’t take up too much more of your time, but thank you, guys. Thanks for taking your time to come back from the dead for me,” I told them. “I will be taking a lot of this into consideration when I attend school soon. Now, if you will excuse me, I have to go and finish typing this up for my final. Heaven knows I’ll still be procrastinating the paper until the night it’s due even when I have six months to do everything. God bless you all.”

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