Home Concepts Organizational Theory Professional Coaching, Plato’s Cave and the Sociology of Knowledge

Professional Coaching, Plato’s Cave and the Sociology of Knowledge

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Inside the cave, its inhabitants (as prisoners) are chained so that their legs and necks are fixed, forcing them to gaze at the wall in front of them and not look around the cave, Behind the prisoners is the fire, and between the fire and the prisoners is a raised walkway with a low wall. People walk behind the wall so their bodies do not cast shadows for the prisoners to see, but the objects they carry do. Prisoners cannot see any of this behind them and are only able to see the shadows cast upon the cave wall in front of them. The sounds of the people talking echo off the shadowed wall, and the prisoners falsely believe these sounds come from the shadows.

Leaving the Cave

What happens when one of these people is unchained and leaves the cave, discovering that the world is something more than the shadows they have always assumed were reality. This single prisoner is freed, being forced to turn and see the fire and then forced (allowed) to leave the cave and confront the outside light directly. The light would hurt her eyes and make it hard for her to see the objects that are casting the shadows. She would not believe it if she were told that what she saw before was not rea. Instead the objects she is now struggling to see are real.

The prisoner would be angry and in pain, and this would only worsen when the radiant light of the sun overwhelms her eyes and blinds her. The sunlight is representative of the new reality and knowledge that the freed prisoner is experiencing. Slowly, her eyes adjust to the light of the sun. Gradually she can see the reflections of people and things in water and then later see the people and things themselves. Plato continues, saying that the freed prisoner would think that the real world was superior to the world she experienced in the cave. She would feel blessed for the change, pity the other prisoners, and want to bring her fellow cave dwellers out of the cave and into the sunlight

Returning to the Cave

Can this person come back into the cave and what would the “enlightened” person say to those still in the cave. How would they take in this radically different perspective? The cave dwellers don’t know what to do with the returning unchained “revolutionary” who talks about a different reality. What happens when this person returns to the cave? Would she be considered a “philosopher” (as Plato suggests) or would she be identified as a “fool” or as a person who is “mad”? Her experiences terrify compatriots. She realizes that she cannot remain in the cave. She would stagnate. Other cave dwellers will not change or move forward. They perceive her as dangerous.

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