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Platos Cave

Part III A
The Dynamics of the Cave
Shirra Meiklejohn-Wilson, M.A.R.

And now," I said, "let me show in a figure how far our nature is enlightened or unenlightened: Behold human beings living in an underground den, which has a mouth open towards the light and reaching all along the den; here they have been from their childhood, and have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see before them, being prevented by the chains from turning round their heads. Above and behind them a fire is blazing at a distance, and between the fire and the prisoners there is a raised way; and you will see if you look, a low wall built along the way, like the screen which marionette players have in front of them, over which they show the puppets." "I see." "And do you see," I said, "men passing along the wall carrying all sorts of vessels, and statues and figures of animals made of wood and stone and various materials, which appear over the wall? Some of them are talking, others silent." "You have shown me a strange image, and they are strange prisoners." "Like ourselves," I replied; "and they see only their own shadows, or the shadows of one another, which the fire throws on the opposite wall of the cave?" "True," he said. "How could they see anything but the shadows if they were never allowed to move their heads?" "And of the objects which are being carried in like manner they would only see the shadows?" "Yes," he said. "And if they were able to converse with one another, would they not suppose that they were naming what was actually before them?" "Very true." "And suppose further that the prison had an echo which came from the other side, would they not be sure to fancy when one of the passers-by spoke that the voice which they heard came from the passing shadow?" "No question," he replied. "To them," I said, "the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images". "That is certain." "And now look again, and see what will naturally follow if the prisoners are released and disabused of their error. At first, when any of them is liberated and compelled suddenly to stand up and turn his neck round and look towards the light, he will suffer sharp pains; the glare will distress him, and he will be unable to see the realities of which in his former state he had seen the shadows; and then conceive some one saying to him, that what he saw before was an illusion, but that now, when he is approaching nearer to being and his eye is turned towards more real existence, he has a clearer vision, - what will be his reply? And you may further imagine that his instructor is pointing to the objects as they pass and requiring him to name them, - will he not be perplexed? Will he not fancy that the shadows which he formerly saw are truer than the objects which are now shown to him?" "Far truer," "And if he is compelled to look straight at the light, will he not have a pain in his eyes which will make him turn away to take refuge in the objects of vision which he can see, and which are now being shown to him?" "True," he said, "And suppose once more, that he is reluctantly dragged up a steep and rugged ascent, and held fast until he is forced into the presence of the sun himself, is he not likely to be pained and irritated? 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." "Not all in a moment," he said. "He will require to grow accustomed to the sight of the upper world. And first he will see the shadows best, next the reflections of men and other objects on the water, and then the objects themselves; then he will gaze upon the light of the moon and the stars and the spangled heaven; and he will see the sky and the stars by night better than the sun or the light of the sun by day?" "Certainly." "Last of all he will be able to see the sun, and not mere reflections of him in the water, but he will see him in his own proper place, and not in another; and he will contemplate him as he is."
- (Dialogues of Plato, Rep. VII. 514: Jowett's Translation. Oxford University Press.)


This paper invites the reader to hear, to examine, to experience a personal religious perspective, which has evolved through common events and revelatory moments. The author seeks only to share what she has learned in her marriage of living and thinking, while opening new avenues of spiritual growth.

This treatise reflects over thirty years of active experience in spiritual counseling. The author has facilitated a self-help group, similar to A.A., has offered comfort to the dying at Hospice, and served as a chaplain intern at an acute care hospital. None of the enclosed viewpoints are mere imaginary speculation but, rather, are the results of varied experiences and practice.

This paper is written from a subjective perspective. As such, a definition of "subjective perspective" becomes important. The key aspect in a subjective perspective is that the statements have been experienced. The statements contain both an intellectual element as well as an emotional realization of the validity of the intellectual component.

When approaching a subjective paper, the question about the ability to test objectively the truth of its statements arises. How can an objective observer test the validity of a subjective statement? The validity of subjective statements rests ultimately on two essential criteria: The first criterion is that the viewpoints must be within the realm of plausibility; but they must not be reduced to the capacities of the reader alone. Secondly, since a subjective viewpoint is the result of personal experience, the reader must test the validity of any statement through his or her readiness to participate personally in the process described herein. If the reader does not attain satisfactory results, it may not be the fault of the author's viewpoint, but rather the consequence of limited expectations on the part of the reader.


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