13 SES 01, Plato’s Allegory
Long Paper Session
In this contribution, I attempt to offer an interpretation of one of the milestones of Western philosophy, namely, Plato’s allegory of the cave. In this sense, we are not far from truth in saying that such an allegory is the founding Western picture of how, at the same time, truth is revealed, knowledge gained and education accomplished. Then, its value is inestimable and, consequently, interpretations of such topic are innumerable. However, in my paper I wish to pay attention to what I see as a rather underestimated aspect of Plato’s allegory, namely, the severely coercive aspect of the educational landscape created by Plato.
In reading Plato’s allegory, I follow Heidegger’s interpretation that “the ‘allegory’ not only illustrates the essence of education but at the same time opens our eyes to a transformation in the essence of ‘truth.’” (Heidegger 1998/1931-32 – 1942, p. 168) However, when interpreting Plato’s narrative, I take a different path. It is my contention that both the nature of truth and the enactment of education displayed by Plato are caught in, and subservient to a mechanism that, as a matter of fact, ends in dispossessing the subject of her agency. Specifically, it is my contention that the capacity to autonomously set one’s aims and means while sharing one’s truth and knowledge with others is bracketed and, in a sense, erased by the process that the subject being educated undergoes in Plato’s narrative. Otherwise stated, while Heidegger illuminates the transformation in the essence of truth accomplished by Plato, who puts “truth as unhiddenness … under the yoke of the ίδεα” (Heidegger, 1998/1931-32 – 1942, p. 178), he fails to recognize the link between coercion, education and truth which grounds such a transformation—a transformation still haunting actual representation of education, teaching and learning.
When carefully analyzed, the language and structure of the allegory clearly displays a process grounded in coercion and obedience; a process whereby the subjects being educated, unable to understand the world, the others and even their own experience, must strictly obey to philosopher’s dictate. Outside of such a dictate there is just incapability, deceit and humiliation. As a second step, in my contribution, drawing from the Heideggerian account of possibility and projecting, I attempt to outline an alternative picture of education and teaching than that entailed by Plato’s allegory.
My attempt is a theoretical one. Through close analysis of philosophical texts, I wish to unravel the relationship between truth, coercion and education we find in Plato’s narrative. It is my contention that such an analysis is relevant for understanding much of the contemporary educational and schooling practices. Specifically, as a first step I shall examine Plato’s allegory of the cave as it is presented in Plato’s Republic (1991/390-360 a.C.), which is my main source. In examining Plato’s narrative, I draw from Heidegger’s writing Plato’s Doctrine of Truth (1998/1931-32 – 1942). The constructive part of the contribution is based on Heideggerian oeuvre. I mainly draw from three masterpieces of the early Heidegger: Basic Problems of Phenomenology (1982/1927), The Foundamental Concepts of Metaphysics (1992/1929-1930) and Being and Time (1996/1927).
While in the first step of my contribution I argue that a kind of coercive apparatus is at work in Plato’s allegory, in the constructive part of my attempt I outline a different picture of education than the one depicted in Plato’s narrative. Drawing from Heidegger, I wish to argue that students are not confined to the narrow space of their ignorance, enchained at their impotence while learning “silly nothing” (Republic, Book VII, p. 194), thus waiting for teacher’s all-encompassing voice in order to learn and follow the right track, as the analysis of Plato’s text seems to suggest. The logic displayed by Plato’s allegory, in fact, presupposes an authoritarian notion of education, one in which students, in order to gain the truth, have to obey and execute. On the contrary, drawing from Heidegger, we will come to see that students are bound to the open territory of the not-yet, responsible towards themselves and their peers, bearers of ethical and ontological possibilities. In the event of education we cannot know in advance what we will learn and find. Moreover: to define such an event in advance runs the risk of narrowing down both the concept and the practice of education. In this sense, education belongs to the not-yet.
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