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Imagine people chained up in a cave, far underground. The people are all facing the
wall and are chained up in such a way that they can only look ahead of them at the wall of
the cave. The only light in the cave comes from a fire. There is a wall behind the prisoners
and there is a fire located behind the wall. Behind the wall other people are walking up and
down carrying statues on their heads. What the chained prisoners see is the shadows cast
by the statues on the wall in front of them.
The prisoners believe that the shadows are reality because that is all they see. If they
hear the people behind the wall speaking they assume that the voices come from the
Suppose that one of the prisoners is freed. At first when he is turned round, he will
be confused and not understand what he sees. Gradually the released prisoner becomes
accustomed to the firelight and is able to see the statues. He is in a confused state as he
believes reality is the shadows.
Then if the released prisoner is dragged up a steep long ramp at the back of the cave
into the sunlight, he will not be able to see and will try to flee back into the cave.
However, gradually, if he is prevented from going back underground, he will be able to see
the world around him. Finally, he will look up and realise the role of the sun, supporting
life and seasons of the year. Once in this situation he will not wish to go back
However, out of duty the prisoner goes back underground again to teach the other…read more
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The tied prisoners are in an illusory world. What they think is
reality, the shadows, is not reality at all. Plato says that their
situation is no different from ours in Plato's thinking people
do not see the Forms clearly, only the illusory physical world.
In addition, the people in the cave are prisoners; they need
to be set free. In this sense the physical world imprisons a
person by stopping them seeing the Forms.
The statues that people carry are also images of the Forms.
These images are themselves only copies of the true reality
of the Forms. The people who carry the statues on their
heads are often thought to be people who are share the
same views as those chained up un the cave. The people
who carry the statues shape the prisoners' views because all
the prisoners see is the shadows of the statues. Plato
criticised philosophers and politicians who lead the people…read more