Plato’s “The allegory of the Cave” addresses so many different areas of philosophy including, epistemology, metaphysics, asceticism, ethics, etc. In his allegory it is important to seek what Plato is trying to accomplish through locating his rhetorical devices, his tone, his position and arguments, in order to develop meaning to his allegory. Plato’s philosophies include education, interaction, individuality, and human nature to make his statement of what the correct path to “enlightenment” should be, being expressed through symbolism, imagery, themes, and metaphors to convey his message. Plato’s allegory however is actually represents an extended metaphor that is to contrast the way in which we perceive and believe in what is reality.
“The allegory of the Cave” plays multiple roles, all depending how we interpret it, either being used as a metaphor for the process of intellectual understandings on the quest for sense and knowledge, or a way to portray parts of his political philosophy, involving the correct the path to “the good” and ‘reality’. Plato’s allegory of the cave is a parable to understand the process of how a person becomes enlightened; including the positives and negatives influences it can have on a person in their natural environment, in other words our responses and reaction to being freed from their chains and being forced to experience life outside the cave.
Plato’s allegory of the cave presupposes a group of prisoners who have lived chained and uneducated in a cave “since childhood”. To the back of the prisoners, people cast the shadows on the wall in which the prisoners perceive as reality, questioning “is it reasonable for the prisoners to…In every way believe that the truth is nothing other than the shadows of these artifacts” Although if one were “released from their bonds and cured of their ignorance” the prisoner would now be confused as to what is real. The thesis behind is the basic tenets that all we perceive are imperfect “reflections, which subsequently represent truth and reality. This is an important development to the story because it shows us that what we perceive as real from birth is completely false based on our imperfect interpretations of reality and goodness. The importance of the allegory lies in the belief that there are invisible truths lying under the apparent surface, which can only be obtained through being enlightened, being “dragged” out of the darkness and seeing the light.
Plato’s allegory of the cave shows that society is in a state of ignorance. Though they might be bounded in one position, they accept that it is their natural ‘place in society’. However when one is exposed to the ‘dazzling light’ they begin to see truth through a long, tortuous intellectual journey, discovering a higher realm, true reality and having awareness of goodness. A person who has gained such insight, according to Plato is best equipped to govern in society, having knowledge what is ultimately good, however, will frequently be misunderstood by ‘the other prisoners’ who haven’t obtained intellectual insights. Plato remains convinced that the best rulers, the philosopher-kings, are suited not only because of their education, experience, and wisdom, but also because they would prefer not to rule. More emphatically, nonetheless Plato finds that because of their enlightened minds, the philosopher-king has a duty to rule that transcends their personal preference for anonymity.
Plato’s ideal society contains the correct functions of politics and motive. He argues that the philosophers, or individuals who have acquired knowledge of virtue and truth, should lead society. Another example is that in his allegory there are malicious individuals who stand in front of a fire as to be able to create shadows which the prisoners perceive as incorrectly reality. They are both aware of a slightly higher level of truth and capable of manipulation of average people’s perception but still unaware of the nature of the forms and of the form of the good. Philosophers should be the ones to lead rather than those who simply have the ability to manipulate the masses. This is because the philosopher is knowledgeable about the forms of the virtues and the good and is more likely to apply them to society.
‘The allegory of the Cave’ is a theory, concerning human perception that can be altered by what is seen and hidden. Plato claimed that knowledge gained through the senses is no more than opinion and in order to have real knowledge, we must gain it through philosophical reasoning. In ‘the allegory of the Cave’, Plato distinguishes between people who mistake sensory knowledge for the truth and compare them to people who actually see. Plato’s allegory revolves around truth and the reflection of truth, as devastating criticism of our everyday lives as being in bondage to superficialities, to shadows rather than to substance.
Both the leaders and the public are ignorant and corrupt, without true knowledge of themselves or the world, motivated by self-gratification. They are chained in slavery to ignorance and passions, to mob hysteria for or against fleeting issues, believing in the illusions, the shadows. We live in a time of loss of meaning, of crumbling values of truth and morality, of corruption in political life and decline in personal integrity. This is our despair. But there is a hope with Plato’s allegory, the hope of ascending to truth and values, even though we might be shunned, we have a grasp of the light.
The ‘Allegory Of The Cave’ is a theory put forward by Plato, concerning human perception. Plato claimed that knowledge gained through the senses is no more than opinion and that, in order to have real knowledge, we must gain it through philosophical reasoning.
‘The Allegory of the Cave’ by Plato
In the Allegory of the Cave, Plato distinguishes between people who mistake sensory knowledge for the truth and people who really do see the truth. It goes like this:
- Imagine a cave, in which there are three prisoners. The prisoners are tied to some rocks, their arms and legs are bound and their head is tied so that they cannot look at anything but the stonewall in front of them.
- These prisoners have been here since birth and have never seen outside of the cave.
- Behind the prisoners is a fire, and between them is a raised walkway.
- People outside the cave walk along this walkway carrying things on their head including; animals, plants, wood and stone.
- So, imagine that you are one of the prisoners. You cannot look at anything behind or to the side of you – you must look at the wall in front of you.
- When people walk along the walkway, you can see shadows of the objects they are carrying cast on to the wall.
- If you had never seen the real objects ever before, you would believe that the shadows of objects were ‘real.’
- Plato suggests that the prisoners would begin a ‘game’ of guessing which shadow would appear next.
- If one of the prisoners were to correctly guess, the others would praise him as clever and say that he were a master of nature.
- One of the prisoners then escapes from their bindings and leaves the cave.
- He is shocked at the world he discovers outside the cave and does not believe it can be real.
- As he becomes used to his new surroundings, he realizes that his former view of reality was wrong.
- He begins to understand his new world, and sees that the Sun is the source of life and goes on an intellectual journey where he discovers beauty and meaning
- He see’s that his former life, and the guessing game they played is useless.
- The prisoner returns to the cave, to inform the other prisoners of his findings.
- They do not believe him and threaten to kill him if he tries to set them free.
‘ The Allegory of The Cave’ by Plato – The Meaning
The Allegory of the cave by Plato should not be taken at face value. In essays and exams, whoever is marking it expects you to have a deeper understanding of the meaning of the theory. You can then use these to think about criticisms and then to form your own opinion.
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- In Plato’s theory, the cave represents people who believe that knowledge comes from what we see and hear in the world – empirical evidence. The cave shows that believers of empirical knowledge are trapped in a ‘cave’ of misunderstanding.
- The Shadows represent the perceptions of those who believe empirical evidence ensures knowledge. If you believe that what you see should be taken as truth, then you are merely seeing a shadow of the truth. In Plato’s opinion you are a ‘pleb’ if you believe this (their insult for those who are not Philosophers)!
- The Game represents how people believe that one person can be a ‘master’ when they have knowledge of the empirical world. Plato is demonstrating that this master does not actually know any truth, and suggesting that it is ridiculous to admire someone like this.
- The escaped prisoner represents the Philosopher, who seeks knowledge outside of the cave and outside of the senses.
- The Sun represents philosophical truth and knowledge
- His intellectual journey represents a philosophers journey when finding truth and wisdom
- The other prisoners reaction to the escapee returning represents that people are scared of knowing philosophical truths and do not trust philosophers.
It is always recommended that you read the original text by Plato to reach the top grades. If you would like to purchase ‘The Republic’ by Plato, click here! We also found a FREE kindle version.
You might also like to read about Plato’s Theory of Forms.
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