The Obligation to Transcend
What is the ideal environment in which one can reach intellectual potential? What environment prevents one from reaching it? What is intellectual potential? These are the kind of questions addressed in Plato’s story,
The Allegory of the Cave
. According to Plato, the human soul must be exposed to certain developments in order to progress and lead others. His story details the experiences of a prisoner who has little knowledge of the real world due to his life in a cave, and his ascent into intellectualism. Associatively, the work of
Maslow’s Hierarchy details the stages of human needs. In Plato’s allegory, he expresses his theory that a leader must progress through several stages, similar to those presented in Maslow’s Hierarchy, before they can properly educate and enlighten others.
The first steps of Maslow’s Hierarchy describe the need for biological, psychological, and safety essentials. Such needs are regarded by Plato as necessities to maintain human life, but not necessarily contributory to intellectual development. In the cave, the prisoners are shackled to look straight ahead and watch shadows projected on a wall, with no indication that the shadows are not real beings. Though this activity seems to be all the prisoners are capable of doing, it is inferred that they are supplied with basic survival needs when stated, “they have been in this dwelling since childhood.” (Plato 1) The shadows and the cave relay them a sense of protection, law, and order, all elements that relate to Maslow’s stage of safety. When these things are threatened, their stability is shattered. Possessing no comprehension of an enlightened lifestyle, and having their basic needs provided for, the prisoners are content with their
unconscious lack of insight. Only upon being exposed to the foreign needs they have been deprived of, will they recognize the importance of pursuing their undeveloped knowledge.
In relation, Plato’s story goes on to discuss the next stages of
cognitive and aesthetic needs, by detailing the prisoner’s inability to experience intellectual appreciation when they fail to be cognitively challenged. When the prisoner is freed and is able to attain knowledge of the outside world, he is able to immediately recognize the difference between what he now knows, and what was considered “knowing” in the cave. When the prisoner sees the sun, he is able to use reason to acquire new knowledge of many things. Looking at the sun was once a painful process, but it was finally deemed worthy in his mind because of what he was able to gain. Below, the idea of the risk that is necessary to gain that knowledge, is shrouded by the prisoner’s fear of losing the first stage’s safe and routine elements of stability.
Maslow’s stages of love and belonging are not prevalent in Plato’s writing, but his stage detailing the need for esteem and achievement can still be applied. When the freed prisoner experiences the wonders of the outside world, he masters the ability to no longer fight incoming knowledge, and learns instead to accept it. In this new world, there is an ability to pursue goals and knowledge that is lacking in the cave. The absence of this denies the shackled prisoners of selfesteem and opportunities for personal achievement. These opportunities presented, the individual is exposed to the idea of selfactualization.
The final steps of
Maslow’s Hierarchy cover selfactualization and transcendence, the pinnacle ideas of Plato’s theory. Initially, upon ascending to the upper world, the freed prisoner is hesitant to accept what he sees due to the pain of the sun’s light, and the pain of losing the stability allowed to him below. Nevertheless, after experiencing a cycle of growth on the surface,
this newfound growth provides him a sense of