parable of the tower

My boyfriend always tells me that perception is reality.  Having studied philosophy, he asked me to read Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” to understand what he meant.  In his book, The Republic, Plato describes a scenario in which prisoners, who are stuck in a cave, view shadowy images on the walls.  The cave is their physical world; and, in their ignorance, the prisoners do not realize that these images are merely reflections of reality.  In short, to these prisoners, perception is reality.

Though far from being prisoners, as law students, we inhabit a cave of our own.  We sit in a tower for the majority of our time, understanding class material and student interactions to be reality.  We prepare for class so we aren’t embarrassed in front of our peers.  We stay after class and go to office hours to make good with our professors.  We go to social events so we talk about grades and each other — mostly the latter.  And we place a lot of weight on every minute of it because this is our reality.

Plato goes on to describe what would happen if a prisoner escaped.  At first, he would resist knowledge.  The freed prisoner would hold onto the limited perspective of reality he had known in the cave before finally embracing reality.  If he returned to the cave, he would be “corrupted” and “no longer being accustomed to the darkness,” but he would be enlightened.

As we continue our legal educations, escape from the cave will come in the form of volunteer activities, clinical programs, internships, and memories of professional experiences prior to law school.  Real world perspective may also come in the form of personal reflection or struggle.

Either way, we will inevitably realize that law school is a small world operating in a much larger one.  We will see that acquiring a legal education was a means to a much larger, more important end, as we apply the knowledge we garnered in the cave to the world outside.  And, I suppose the day  will come when we look back at our tiny reality with a greater perspective and remember why we entered the cave to begin with.


Chip posted on January 19, 2011 at 5:35 pm

boyfriend… booo!

1L posted on January 30, 2011 at 3:20 pm

Great article!

I often struggle with the disconnect between law school and reality. Making the connection can seem difficult, but perhaps there is some relevance to this period of time in the tower…er…I mean cave.

A Reader posted on February 6, 2011 at 9:44 am

Alex – Can you give lectures to other 1L’s?! This is the best law school metaphor I’ve heard yet.

agutie posted on February 16, 2011 at 3:08 pm

thanks, alistair!

greenebl posted on February 19, 2011 at 6:44 pm

good post

Claire posted on February 25, 2011 at 8:55 pm

Ahhh, the good old argument that if perception is reality and everyone has different perceptions then there must be multiple realities. Although I’m sure the reality of the practicing law world will be very different from your law school perception!