There is a cave, in the cave are prisoners who have been chained up their whole lives so that they are facing a wall. Behind them is a fire which people pass in front off displaying puppets which create shadows on the wall the prisoners face. They believe that what they see and hear is reality.
Release from the cave into the World of the forms
- One of the prisoners is freed.
- He is confused with what he seesn and begins to realise his distorted sense of reality
- The prisoner is dragged up a steep bank out of the cave, leading to sunlight
- At first he cannot see but gradually he can see the world around him
- After experiencing this other reality he does not wish to go back into the cave but feels a duty to tell the other prisoners
- When he descends into the cave he cannot see again
- The prisoners do not want to go outside and wish death upon anyone who tries to free another prisoner
Symbolism of the cave
The chains: These represent our senses, how they restrain us from discovering any other reality
The prisoners: These are people trapped in their reality of appearance (like us in our world). The prisoner who is dragged out of the cave is symbloic of a philosopher such as Plato. He does not want to leave as it is symbolic of how we do not want to change our perceptions of reality. When the prisoner returns to the cave, the others don't want to leave. This conforms to Plato's idea of the philosopher king- that since only Philosophers are enlightened, they should rule the city state.
The prisoner's reality: The shadows they see cast onto the wall and the muffled sounds of the puppeteers is their reality and understanding of the world.
The fire: This symbolises the illusions that keep us hidden from the truth. It represents the sun but it is only a shadow of the real sun in the World of the forms as in that world, the sun is the form of the Good-The highest form
Symbolism of the cave part 2
The shadows: The shadows are made by people who carry statues/puppets along the back of the cave. The reality of these people is also the cave. The shadows symbolise the perfect form of the object in the world of the forms.Everything seen in the cave is a shadow of a form which is perfect and unchanging in the world of the forms. We recognise these forms due to a priori knowledge of the ideal forms.
The natural light/The sun: The sunlight blinds the prisoners eyes when he is released.This is symbolic of the difficulty we have understanding another reality. The sun represents the form of the good. When the prisoner gradually begins to see this is the philosopher learning to distinguish the ideal forms from their imitations/shadows of them in the other reality.