Plato & The Allegory of the Cave

Plato and his allegory of the cave

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Plato and his allegory of the cave

  • Found in his book "The Republic" Book 7
  • A fictional dialogue between his tutor SOCRATES and his brother GLAUCON
  • Illustrates how most people live in a world of ignorance which we are comfortable with as we do not know any different but Plato intends to enlighten us to explain the search for truth and knowledge and therefore reality too.
  • He believes in a priori as a posteriori knowledge is worthless

THE ALLEGORY: 1) people sit nearly the back of a cave, with legs and necks chained. They have been there since birth so only experience what is in front of them and no nothing else.2) above and behind them is a fire, which people walk in front of, parading and holding objects such as vessels and sculptures made of wood, stone and other materials. These cast shadows on the wall in front of the prisoners. 3) This idea corresponds with reality. The shadows that the prisoners see before them appear real to them but that is only because they do not know the whole truth. They are merely illusions, not reality itself. 4) Some of the people parading the objects are talking, whilst others are silent. Because they are in a cave which echoes, they believe that the shadows before them are talking.

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5) They play a game to try and see which shadows will come next which to us, seems worthless but they are trying to figure out the meaning of the reality which they see before them which of course is not real.

6) one of the prisoners is then set free by a philosopher. He experiences "sharp pains" when he can move his legs and neck and turns around. He feels distressed as he turns towards the light which he has never seen before and is "reluctantly dragged up a steep and rugged descent" out of the mouth of the cave.

7) He feels uncomfortable and reluctant to accept the light he sees before him as it contradicts what he has ever known from birth. The light blinds him when he looks directly at the objects which have previously cast shadows on a cave wall. However, eventually he comes to terms with the fact that these objects are reality compared to what he has been previously experiencing.

8) He eventually grows accustomed to the strong light of the real world where he sees reflections, the moon and stars by night and the sun and clouds during the day. He will finally see the sun, and not only acknowledge his reflections properly but also understand and visualise himself in his proper place and no other.

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9) prisoner is now enlightened about the concept of reality and considers the former prisoners in the cave and pities them as they are still unknowingly in the darkness of truth and knowledge. He realises that all of the guessing games they played are false and along with Homer he would rather be the "poor servant of a poor master" than "think as they do and live after their manner"

10) because the other prisoners in the cave feel betrayed ,they then deny anyone else leaving the cave, charged with the death penalty (this corresponds to the death of Socrates) as when the former prisoner returns to the cave, he is unable to see and comprehend the shadows so he is "without his eyes"

  • S encourages G to ascend his soul to the intellectual world where he will experience knowledge and truth and with effort, he will be able to recognise knowledge of the good which is the IMMEDIATE SOURCE OF REASON AND TRUTH.

Plato uses the analogy of the cave as a metaphor to correspond with those who have no yet reached the state of reality. He uses comparisons to relate the search of truth:

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CAVE being trapped in a different world away from light and reality. It is the physical world which we experience with our senses.

PRISONERS are those with limited knowledge. They are held there by their own ignorance and are enslaved by everyday sense experience

SHADOWS assumed reality but instead mere appearances removed from reality.

GAME PLAYED this game requires no physical evidence, just guesswork. The want of humans to distract themselves from reality.

PRISONERS JOURNEY the realm of ordinary sense experience to the realm of truth and reality

SUN the form of the Good. Reality not appearance. Can never be looked at fully but can make other forms visible

VISIT BACK TO THE CAVE show how he pities those who are ignorant. Equivalent of philosophers looking at ordinary people.



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Light is sourced from the sun- main goodness and the origin of all other forms (like the sun is the origin of all things on earth).

Plato believes prisoners are in "EIKASIA" as they have the lowest level of understanding.

One must escape the world of experience and illusion to enter the world of the forms and truly understand life.

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