Analogy of the cave

Philosophy essay on analogy of the cave 

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The analogy of the cave is a metaphorical description used by Plato, to emphasise just how
possible it is that the world around us is in fact an illusion created by our senses and not true
reality at all. Plato believed strongly in the concept of appearance versus reality, and this great
contrast is illustrated in his analogy of the cave. The main message of the teaching is centred on
the concept of there being two worlds, the visible, ever changing world opposed to the invisible,
eternal and unchanging realm. Plato attempts to prove that there is more to this world than the
corporeal world we know, and this analogy symbolises man's struggle to reach understanding and
enlightenment.
In the analogy, Plato describes a group of prisoners chained up with their back to the wall in an
underground cave. They are unable to turn around so all they see is the wall and the shadows that
are cast from the burning fire behind them. As these prisoners can only see what is in front of
them they will know no other reality than that which is being projected to them. They are in
bondage, but unaware of it. They remain ignorant of themselves and reality.
A prisoner is suddenly released from his shackles, when he turns round he discovers the fire and
the objects that are casting the shadow. The fire will be too bright for him at first, he won't be able
to directly look at it. Eventually he will compelled to explore. He is forcibly dragged upwards out of
the cave into the real light, the light of the sun. He would finally see the sun for what it really is,
the source of life t all things. He would realise that what he perceived as true, is in fact false. He
would stumble into a dawn of realisation. He would then return to the cave and attempt to tell the
others what he had learned, they however do not believe him and class him as insane, and if he
were to try and convince the others to accept the truth and follow him, he would be put to death.
For Plato the analogy of the cave was used to emphasise the distinction between the appearance
of the world and the true reality behind these appearances. Firstly, the prisoners represent the
rest of humanity who have not yet discovered true knowledge and understanding. They have been
deceived by what they see, into believing there is nothing beyond the shadow play. In the same
way, our senses convince us that there is nothing more beyond what they experience.
It is evident that Plato views most of humanity as prisoners, chained in a dark cave watching the
shadows. Plato is saying that humans are all prisoners and that he tangible world is our cave. We
do not try to resist the chains and restrictions that hold us back in life. We have gotten used to this
world of visage that we no longer desire to search further for true reality.
The shadow play represents the illusion, which in Plato's teachings is created by our senses. Just as
the shadows seemed real to the prisoners, so too, do the sights and sounds that we experience
seem to be genuine. However our senses are deceived by our surroundings and are therefore
unreliable. The shadows emphasise that we are to living in a world filled with illusions, and
because we do not know anything beyond them, we cannot come to an understanding of
knowledge and truth. Plato teaches that we are living in a world of falsehood, we are surrounded
in `shadow play' and our physical existence is not real but is merely a shadow itself. They are just a
gross distortion of the truth.
The cave represents the corporeal world, the realm of appearances. It was the cave that kept the
prisoners in darkness and misunderstanding, and it is too, the visible world that keeps us from the
light of truth and knowledge. The cave is pictured as a boundary, which ultimately implies this
world created by our senses is too in fact, a dividing line between appearance and reality.
The journey out of the cave into the outside world is representative of the philosopher's discovery
of true knowledge and understanding. The escape of the prisoner symbolises philosophical

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The journey out of the cave is
agonising because it requires us to reject everything that we thought was to be true. The fact that
the prisoner escapes suggests that there is also an opportunity for us to escape this world of
appearance and seek reality.
The sun is representative of the perfect form of the good, the source, and the illuminator of all
other forms.…read more

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