Thursday, February 27, 2014

Normative Relativism in the Allegory of the Cave

Plato’s allegory of the cave is extremely well known throughout western cultures; people who have had almost no direct exposure to the study of philosophy are still fairly likely to be aware of it. I first read it in middle school, in a history class with a teacher who had a passion for classical thought. Since then I have read it and written on it many more times, and each time I find myself drawn to the same subjects: the epistemic ideas about our limited perception and struggle against it, the Jungian psychological underscore, and the like. This time, though, I want to write on the very end of the passage.

            The end of the allegory relates the return of the newly enlightened person to the cave. In the gloom, he is subjected to the criticism of his peers over his lost eyesight. They have been trying to understand the shadows and fancy themselves to have expertise in them. The enlightened man has seen the true nature of the figures casting the shadows, but his eyes have been impaired by the lack of light, so the inhabitants of the cave disdain his attempts to reveal anything. Because they have no evidence or even contextual grounds (other than the complete abstract) for comprehending his experience, they reject it for their truth, the truth of the cave. Here is where I find an interesting epistemology (which I think Plato disagrees with) coming through: a normative relativism of truths. The relativistic aspect is that there exist here two different truths: the enlightened truth and the truth of the shadows. I think that Plato is making a point to say that there IS a better truth (the former), but that the denizens of the cave, or the unenlightened, will not accept it. Perhaps it requires direct experience to comprehend it. This is why the enlightened must return the cave and help the inhabitants, even though they do so against what is true.

1 comment:

  1. Plato might not disagree if what you're suggesting is that given a certain perspective/assumptions, some things are true, while they are not true given another perspective/assumptions. For there is no contradiction in asserting that x is true given y but x is not true given z.