Instructor: Teddy Chocos
Freshmen English 102
There are dichotomies that constantly concern great thinkers and academics fellows. From ancient time till nowadays the issues like society justice, blindness and being enlightened, choices and reasons of being enlightened or blind are raised by famous philosopher and writers. The essay is covering the diverse forms of ‘blindness’ and the preferences and motives of being blind or enlightened based on the ideas expressed in the “The Allegory of The Cave” by Plato and “The Loss of The Creature” by Walker Percy. In the first part of the paper the views and thoughts of being blind in the vision of Plato and Percy are represented. Advantages and disadvantages are illustrated with an attempt to answer the stated question.
Being born in the family of aristocrats and quite wealthy people in 428-347 B.C.E. Plato was given proper education according to that time and eventually became a student of Socrates and was involved in works and teaching. They lived in the hard time for thinkers – the government of Athens was defeated and taken by tyrants of Sparta and Socrates was sentenced to death. Plato had founded the academy in an olive grove in Athens, which endured for almost a thousand years.
Plato uses the special technique of writing such as allegory: rhetorical method of expressing the things and actions in another context. Likewise, Plato shows the technique of dialogue that is also was in the work we were discussing. Moreover, Plato has the technique of question-and-answer, which is basically assumed from Socrates. Plato’s thoughts were valued and a lot of people followed his teaching and points.
In “The Allegory of The Cave” Plato discusses the characters and situations in the cave and in the «upper world» representing his ideas and thoughts about darkness and enlightenment. According to Plato there are different forms of blindness. One of the forms is described as a human inability to expose the situations in a greater extent not having the full scene and
vision. Human beings who live in the cave since their childhood are described as «Chained so that they cannot move, and can only see before them» (Plato). They are prisoners of the den and darkness who cannot see the things appropriately. Their perception of everything around is based on the shadows of themselves and others. Due to echo that exists in the cave their voices become distorted and false adding to the misunderstanding of the reality. Hereby, Plato maybe wants to highlight the situation and environment when people do not have the full picture of the things going around and their perceptions are deceptive. The illusions in the cave are alike misconceptions in the real life.
Later Plato explains the other kind of sightlessness when some prisoners dare to escape from the den to the light and new responsibilities. This type is a temporary condition before getting fully enlightened and entirely adjusted to the sun and a new world: «When he approaches the light his eyes will be dazzled, and he will not be able to see anything at all of what are now called realities»(Plato). Human beings accustomed to darkness will experience problems in getting into new realities. Plato thinks the final stage of getting into the upper level comes when one sees the sun and sunlight.
The situation is different when the former prisoner somehow returns to the den. His vision becomes much worse after enlightenment and he cannot see because of the excess of the light. Therefor, «the eyes may be blind in two ways, by excess or defect of light». Walker Percy represents the similar ideas and concerns towards the problem of blindness in his work named “ The Loss of The Creature”. Being born in a family of talented and educated people, Percy’s life was not the one someone would call nice. At the age of 12, Percy was a witness of his father suicide and two years later his mother died. That was the scar on his heart and mind for the rest of his life. Therefore, these life tragedies could be the reason of such deep
thinking and analyzing of any creature existence and life philosophies. Percy presents very deep and philosophical approach to the human sovereignty and the forms of its deprivation, equal to the concept of blindness. Unlike Plato, Percy never mentioned the word ‘blindness’ and spoke about the concepts and ideas, of how human beings acquire knowledge or perceptions, meanwhile loosing their sovereignty and becoming consumers of the ‘pre-packed’ experiences and feelings. He somehow compares this ‘certified experience’ and knowledge to the blindness imposed on people by experts and theorists. He stated that a layman surrenders the sovereignty and takes up «the role not of the person but of the consumer», thus acquiring blindness. Percy’s examples range from sightseers to students in laboratory who all get in to a fatal gap between the real life and what is mend to be learnt. «The reader may also be content to judge a life by whether it has or has not been formulated by those who know and write about life». People in general become blind receivers, conformists or need the approval of more advantageous knowers. For example, Percy describes the couple which seen a corn dance in Indian village because of they had lost their way to direct purpose. After they have seen that dance and found it exciting the couple want their friend to confirm it. The author argues with that point of reality – he deems that experience should not be confirmed by anyone; after that it is not your own experience and feelings, it starts to be a conformism. He calls it «a radical loss of sovereignty». The couple wants someone to prove that the new experience was genuine – they cannot consider it as a qualified without someone’s opinion, what is quite common in every part of our life. Conformism is the way people follow the mainstream and it’s point. Moreover, under the pressure of society the points of each person could be changed in the case of the majority has
an opposite points. All of that cause the loss of sovereignty and brings about blindness on the general public.
Having all these descriptions and analysis about the blindness, according to Plato and Percy the central question of the topic should be attempted to be solved: is it better to be blind or enlightened and why? Let us consider both options. On one hand being blind provides one stability and easy lifestyle without any serious problems, efforts and doubts. Others lead you and you always can blame them for your failures and misfortunes without taking responsibilities for your life and actions. Whether what is seen is real of fake shadow of the reality is not known or being questioned. ”It is the mistaking an idea, a principal, an abstraction, for the real”. People go sightseeing receiving prepared information and services for our convenience. Everything is decided and managed for public and it surrenders sovereignty «to a class of privileged knowers». Being blind we receive all the necessary information «in certain package» from the main channels of TV and mass media for example about the ‘necessity’ of war in Vietnam or Iraq, about ‘glories’ of communism or ‘advantages’ of the nuclear weapon programs. Brands, fashion and multinational corporations dictate the society what to want, wish, buy and eventually how to be happy and people do not need to think too much. There is need to adjust the sight, fix the eyes to get out from the cave. Hence, it is all up to everybody to make a choice.
From the other hand if someone chooses to become enlightened he steps to the thorny way of life, leaving «the beaten track», taking a challenge of being responsible for not only his own life but for the life of others. Many activists around the world in any time have been withdrawing from the restful life in the search of the wisdom and enlightenment, disseminating knowledge, «care and providence of others» to make the world a better place.
«… the idea of good appears last of all and seen only with an effort»(Plato).Activists as Martin Luther King, Indira Gandhi, George Washington, and Nelson Mandela had seen the darkness of the den and acquired the habit to see in the upper world descending back and becoming able to see «the beautiful and good in their truth». Their lives were not easy entailing constant challenges, obstacles and even dangers. The choice of being blind or enlightened cannot be justified in on essay. Many factors can influence the decision. Family values, the environment around, the society where people leave in, the education they obtain can be the factors triggers of the choices of their life path. There is no one and certain answer for the question whether it is better to be blind or enlightened applicable for everybody. Being enlightened means being alive, struggling for the truth and justice. And I fully agree that «…unless the person struggles for himself, unless he knows that there is a struggle, he is going to be just what the planners think what he is»(Percy). Unless people get this awareness and stand for their right to be persons they would become faceless masses. Those people will be easily led and manipulated.
Both Plato and Percy described states of human being, which can be summarized as being blind. Plato mentioned various kinds of ‘blindness which could be applicable for any century, any place. Percy’s ideas of it are quite similar to Plato’s, bearing the touch of his days. Being blind carries a lot of ‘conveniences’ and easy ways. Meanwhile, being enlightened bears extra responsibilities, difficulties and dangers. There is no one universal answer to the question if it is better to be… or not to be… It is even more complicated to answer to the question ‘why’ as different factors affect people’s choices and preferences.
Lee A. Jacobus, “A World Of Ideas”, BEDFORDS/ST. MARTINS, Boston; New York, Plato “The Allegory of the Cave” (865-877).
Walker Percy “The Loss of The Creature”