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Ethics, Introduction to Philosophical Inquiry

Curiosity – Emily

Plato’s Allegory of the Cave is a famous philosophical tale told to illustrate the philosophical way of thinking and how it can change us. What struck me most when we discussed the allegory was the why. I tried to imagine why and how such a thing could take place.

Curiosity. Isn’t that why experiments like the Stanford Prison and Milford Experiments happened? I always guessed these scientists and psychologists had some information or hypotheses about what people would do in such situations, but they went and conducted these experiments to learn more. Because they were curious.

So  I wondered: could something similar happen with Plato’s Cave? Could this possibly ever happen? With the Nuremburg Code, however, this is unlikely, but there have been experiments and more experiments before and supposedly since the Code was put in place. The David Reimer Experiment, MKULTRA, The Well of Despair and The Monster Experiment are all examples of experimentation that did not follow the Nuremburg Code and cause amounts of disgust and revulsion in many. In the Monster Experiment, groups of orphans were given specific feedback that affected them throughout the rest of their life.

The psychologists did this experiment to see the effects of positive and negative feedback. Those who had received the negative feedback on their fluency and speech imperfections had psychological issues and speech problems throughout the rest of their lives. Pardon me, but who are these scientists to do such a thing to a child, something that rests with them all their life?

The Allegory of the Cave is quite similar – from a young age, the participants or subjects would be forced to see only the shadows on the cave wall. When released, such an experience would surely affect them the rest of their lives, as did the negative speech therapy in the Monster Experiment. Some may argue, “But at least the kids in Monster actually got to experience life, even if they had speech impediments! The ones stuck watching shadows never got to do any of the things we do!”

This brings me around to Mariana’s and Kristina’s points: is ignorance bliss? If all you had ever known was the cave wall with the shadows, would you ever dream of there being more to life? Maybe you live watching shadows, or you’re the best or the fastest at identifying them. You might be the biggest fish in your little pond. Living in the cave with the shadows would be a completely different life, not one as we know. Perhaps living with the shadows in the cave is a far better existence and a more pleasurable and fulfilling life than we’ve ever known. We can’t know. Maybe you would have more time for introspection and thought. Or, what if you were freed and guided into living in modern society? I doubt you would take as many things for granted as we do today.

How would we find this out, other than putting some kids through this kind of existence? We’re curious. Maybe, there’s a small egoistic part of us that wants this experiment to happen – as long as it’s not to us – so we can find out a little about what it’s like.  It’s our curiosity that led us to learn so much thus far. And to me, that’s philosophy. Wondering. Thinking. Curiosity.

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Discussion

2 thoughts on “Curiosity – Emily

  1. I would speculate about your question “is ignorance bliss?” by suggesting that, in the beginning, the children in the caves would dream about what more there is outside. But after years, I think that they would consulate themselves with the shadows on the wall, and they would eventually become completely different people than when they started, unable to adjust to life outside were they to ever be released.

    Posted by littlewonder2 | September 27, 2012, 6:34 am
  2. I agree, I think that if the children were put there young enough, they wouldn’t dream about anything outside; and even those who were put in at a more advanced age would eventually be consoled and contented, or at least occupied with the shadows. I have no doubt that the prisoners would be affected by their experience, but I’m sure the scientists would try to bring the prisoners out back into “our world”, and depending on the conditions in the cave and the amount of time spent there, I feel like the scientists would have some measure of success bringing them into society or the “real world”, either trying gently or forcefully. And as much as I harped against these kinds of experiments in my post, I confess myself curious as well as to how this experiment might have turned out.

    Posted by anafricanswallow | September 28, 2012, 6:05 am

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