In Book Seven of The Republic, Plato presents his famous “Allegory of the Cave”. Socrates describes to Glaucon a scene in which there are people chained by their arms and legs to the wall of a cave. They cannot turn their heads, so they can only see what’s right in front of them. The people of the cave are only able to hear echoes from outside, and see shadows of people as a result of a fire behind the cave. They are limited to only these observations. Once the prisoners climb out of the cave, they are exposed to reality and they see what caused the noises they heard and the shadows they saw. Socrates explains that these prisoners are like unenlightened people who have only an ideal version of reality, which is to say their imagination of how life should be. This is portrayed as an idealized sense of what goodness and justice are. When the prisoners leave the cave, Socrates explains that these are the philosophers who have come to an understanding of what life really is. The “people” they see are the realities of life.
To me, this is an almost accurate description of life, and the process one goes through with the passage of time. In the start, we have a sugarcoated, childlike perception of reality, which is our “natural condition” before “education”. The “education” Socrates mentions is our inevitable exposure to reality. As we age and are exposed to many different things in life, we realize that things are not always in accordance with the idealized version of the world we had in our heads as children. The goodness and justice we thought was inevitable is in fact not guaranteed to occur. However, when Socrates and Glaucon agree that the freed prisoner would not want to go back to their state of idealized imprisonment, the allegory veers into op-ed territory. I have always identified with the expression “ignorance is bliss”. As a teen, the moments when one realizes that life isn’t always fair are often the hardest moments of “growing up”. Sometimes, and I’m sure many people feel this way, we want to return to that cave of shadows an echoes, because dealing with reality isn’t as easy as people make it seem.
The allegory of the cave is an accurate description of the philosophical process one must face throughout ones life. Socrates and Glaucon agree that this process is preferred over the unenlightened state of the cave prisoners. However, I do believe that if Socrates and Glaucon had heard of the phrase “ignorance is bliss”, they might have drawn a different conclusion.