For the young people I've worked with, who describe living "in a warzone", discussing philosophy isn't only an alternative to the restrictions of traditional learning. It empowers them to think critically about their own livesby Ciaran Thapar / May 10, 2018 / Leave a comment
To grapple with Plato’s ‘allegory of the cave’ we are expected to imagine a group of people who have been chained-up in a cave since childhood and forced to watch shadows cast on a wall in front of them. They are unaware, however, that the shadows are even shadows at all, shapes being deliberately manipulated by captors stood out of view, holding objects in front of a bright fire. But the shadows are all that the enchained know, and thus represent the full extent of their reality—one that is constructed, artificial, untrue.
This thought experiment, described in Plato’s Republic, poses that to uncover truth we must be able to think critically about the world and free ourselves from the restrictions of what we are told or taught to know. More broadly, the allegory of the cave was Plato’s grand, colourful way of explaining the importance of philosophy as a life-changing practice. According to him, only a philosopher can cut the prisoners’ chains and liberate them from their captive state. Only by mastering philosophy can we turn to realise the fire, the source of our false reality, and exit the cave to discover the bright sky and fresh air of absolute truth.
“So the shadows are things like shottin’ and carrying a shank?” a boy I mentor responded with a raised eyebrow, referring to drug-dealing and carrying a knife, when I showed him a diagram of the cave. “The cave is LJ,” he added, referring to his home of Loughborough Junction in Brixton, South London—a hotspot of inner-city poverty and youth violence.
We were sat in a stuffy classroom at Marcus Lipton Community Centre, a single-floor building which cowers in the shadows of Loughborough housing estate’s huge, forgotten white towers. The centre’s front door is reinforced by a thick, padlocked metal gate and CCTV cameras record every inch of floorspace within its walls.
At the time, my mentee was fifteen-years-old, and like a growing number of others like him across London, he had that week been permanently excluded from his school for bringing in a knife. “If you woke up every morning thinking there was a chance you might die, wouldn’t you protect yourself?” he…