All of these people are cave dwellers. They live in the gloomy cave that Socrates describes in Book VII of The Republic (see http://www.historyguide.org/intellect/allegory.html). They are all looking at the wall in front of them upon which there are shadows cast by images behind them. They are all chained to their seats and as you might see they are quite taken with looking at the shadows. They take delight in guessing what the shadows are. The shadows are cast because certain men are holding little stone statues or wooden images in front of a fire, and therefore a shadow is cast upon the wall in front of the men.
These men are not free and they do not know it.
Liberal education has to do with Freedom. That much can be guessed from the “liber” part of the word liberal.
But why would anyone want to pursue a liberal education if he thought he was already free? The fact of the matter is that most people do not want a liberal education precisely because most people think that they are already free.
That is the big problem with liberal education- one doesn’t quite realize that this education bestows freedom until one has gained it to some extent. Then after gaining a certain amount of freedom, one looks back and says “how could I ever have thought that?” or “boy was I a dummy!” or “I don’t know what I was thinking- maybe I was sleeping”
In other words, one cannot understand how bad it is not to have a liberal education unless one already has a liberal education.
This is the whole point of the famous cave allegory in Plato’s Republic. Those poor blighters chained up in the cave appear to have no idea about just how bad it is down there in that cave!
As you might remember Socrates describes life in the cave as a very comfortable sort of life. Aside from the ankle and neck chains,the inhabitants of the cave were very content with their gloomy environment and would be very reluctant to leave. As a matter of fact Socrates, if I remember correctly, says that one would literally have to use coercion to get a cave dweller to leave his customary habitation. The cave dwellers are quite content with their knowledge of shadows and comfortable in their coerced state. The truth of the matter is that they are all in a prison and don’t realize it. They enjoy it.
But (and I am speaking as one cave dweller to another) due to some miraculous intervention I happen to know that men are not supposed to live in a cave. Cave dwellers need to be set free. We all need to break our chains. We can help one another. And then we can all start to move slowly up the dark tunnel encouraging one another. If necessary we will try to drag a few people that refuse to join us. They will thank us later when they see the sun.
This is what liberal education is. To me it is perfectly obvious that we all need a liberal education. But how do we convince our fellow cave dwellers that they need one?
I don’t think any of the following lines would be very effective as marketing pitches to cave dwellers, but maybe one or another might get someone to start thinking.
“hey …pssst… these ankle and neck chains are for the birds”
“There is life outside of this cave even though you don’t think there is…in the mean time will you please contribute what you can towards the education of others who realize this?”
“Hey cave dweller…you do know that you live in a miserable cave don’t you?”
“Do you want your children to be chained up in a cave like you?”
“Come up this long dark tunnel with us and experience life outside of the cave!”
“I’m not crazy…I have seen the sun and you can too… oh yeah… the sun is a big ‘disk-like’ circle in the sky that is kind of like the fire that is behind you… that you can’t see….but it is the reason why you are able to watch all those stupid shadows that you seem to like so much.”
“Hey…I want to take your children up this really dark tunnel to see something really cool…I can’t tell you what it is, but it is sort of like the shadows in front of you cast by the images behind you.”
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