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Plato’s Allegory of the Cave

Introduction

What is truth? When should something be said to be the truth about a given area of knowledge? Who determines this truth in cases where there are several versions of perceived truths? Philosophers have considered these questions for a long time, but it is apparent that they are yet to reach an agreement on many of them. It is clear from the writings of famous philosophers that perception is shaped by what one has been exposed to and that it is possible to control the perception of people and their idea of truth by denying them exposure to ‘normal’ circumstance. While they are works of fiction, Plato’s Allegory of the Cave” and the movie “The Matrix” offer important considerations that help to understand the concept of truth and perception.

A.  The main point of Plato’s allegory of the cave is that human beings do not fully understand the reality of the world and that what one perceives as reality is the one that he has been socialized to believe as real. To illustrate his argument, Plato narrates the imaginary situation in which prisoners are chained to the ground in a dark cave and can only see shadows on the wall. Since the shadows on the wall are the only things they have ever seen, they come to perceive those shadows as the reality. For example, if they see the shadow of a man, they believe that the shadow is the reality because there is no way of knowing that it is just a shadow. The scenario presented in the allegory is similar to that presented in the 1999 movie “The Matrix” by the Wachowskis. The movie is based on an imaginary world in future, just like that of the cave. Similarly, the reality depicted in the movie is an artificial one, a simulated state of affairs referred to as ‘the matrix.’  In the two scenarios, the characters believe in a wrong reality but have no way of knowing that there is any other reality. Just like in the allegory, the characters in the movie only discover that their perception of reality is wrong when they discover the truth. A computer programmer named Thomas Anderson investigates the artificial reality and discovers that they are captives of a simulated reality. This is when he ‘freedom’ of the people begins.

B.  Similarly, Descartes presents the world in which an evil demon has so much power that it can control some events in the world. This demon presents a completely illusory worldview to Descartes, whose mind has only been exposed to the real word and its reality. Among the things the demon can accomplish is the power to alter mathematics and common sense, which is a real test on Descartes’ perception of the differences between fact and opinion. This is similar to what happens in the film “The Matrix’ when humans are enslaved and their minds controlled so that they do not know that there is another world or reality beyond what they are living. They only discover this when Trinity and Morpheus exit the Matrix and discover that they have been captive of an artificial reality.

C. Some of the theories explain the relationship between reality, truth, and perception. According to the traditional knowledge analysis systems, something that many people believe to be true is assumed knowledge even if there is no evidence to support such a claim.  Socrates points out that this is not correct because there is a need to have a justification for this common belief. He gives the example of a clever lawyer who uses a sophisticated argument to convince a jury and the public that something is true even when it is not and argues that this cannot constitute the truth. Furthermore, the theory adds that what is false is not known, and justification is an important component of truth.

The defeasibility theory refers to the ability of human beings to believe something at one time and change this belief once they acquire more knowledge to dispute the original belief (Plantinga & Kvanvig, 1996). An example of this is a contract, which is originally believed to be a binding state of truth but becomes void once it is discovered that fraud was involved in its preparation. While some philosophers argue that conditions that cause defeasibility, known as defeaters, are always external, others have argued that they are always part of the known truth even if they may not have been discovered, thus, they are internal. Therefore, most of the truths taken for granted at a certain point are subject to change once the defeaters are known.

The causal theory posits that the perception that people get off certain concepts are caused by those items (Johns, 2002). This means that if person A sees B, B causes A to get the perception. Therefore, B is not a passive party in the process of perception, but an active participant in the participation process.  On the other hand, realism theory proposes that something or belief can only be concluded to be the truth one a reliable process has been used to test that truth. It is not enough to state that something is true because many people believe it to be, but an organized and systematic process of verification of that truth must be carried out to conclude it to be the truth. They describe a process known as “analysis of knowledge,” which suggests that what people believe as true needs to go through scientific methods for verification before conclusions are made on its accuracy. In short, nothing should be taken for granted no matter how obvious it looks.

 These theories offer an explanation to the human perception of truth and belief.  It is not enough for something to be said to be the truth just because of belief. Ordinary people can gain knowledge through their experience since exposure to certain circumstances usually, tests their beliefs and makes them discard some of the beliefs they previously thought are truths. Furthermore, ordinary people experience several instances that enable them to establish the consistency of each of the things believed to be true. However, if people are put in an artificial world like the one in “The Matrix,” it becomes increasingly difficult for them to gain knowledge because they have been prevented from doing so. For example, they do have an opportunity to experience the defeaters to the circumstances they encounter, making it impossible for them to dispute some untrue perceptions.

In my opinion, we are not in a situation such as the one presented in the matrix. This is because our world is different from the one in The Matrix in various ways. For example, our perception of reality is free, which makes it possible for us to see various forms of reality. We can experience both natural and artificial states, which means what we perceive is not under the control of somebody. Furthermore, the fact that we can think about other forms of reality means we have not been prevented from thinking freely. Finally, in many cases, we are free to disagree with the common perception of the majority, which is evidence of a free mind. However, this is just an opinion, and before a verification process is undertaken, it can only be assumed correctly.

Conclusion

It is apparent that there is no agreement on what should be said to the truth in any situation, or on who should determine this truth. Surprisingly, it is possible for human beings to control the kind of perception others will have through denial of normal exposure to situations.

References

Johns, R. (2002). A Theory of Physical Probability. Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press.

Plantinga, A. & Kvanvig, J. L. (1996). Warrant in Contemporary Epistemology: Essays in

Honor of Plantinga’s Theory of Knowledge. London; New York, NY: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers.

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