Plato's Allegory of the Cave

Topics: Plato, Reality, Truth Pages: 8 (3510 words) Published: May 20, 2008
Plato was born 427 BC, and died 347 BC. He was one of Socrates’ pupils, and learned very much from him. Plato wrote dialogues which collectively described Socrates’ teachings. He was preparing to enter politics when he discovered Socrates and his ideas, which changed his life. He began to follow philosophy, and opened a school called the Academy which was outside of Athens. The school was dedicated to Socrates and his search for wisdom. Plato was both a writer and a teacher, unlike Socrates who was only a teacher. Everything he wrote was in the form of dialogue, which Socrates was always included in. His most famous work was The Republic. Its purpose was to inform people about what is necessary to educate philosophically. Within the Republic, Plato tells a story of man’s struggle for knowledge. He calls this story, ‘The Allegory of the Cave.” This is one of Plato’s many parables that explain the theory’s of knowledge. This story intertwines most of Plato’s postulations about Philosophy. These include his ideas that; the world our senses portray is not the real world but only a copy of it, and that we can only discover the real world through intellect and teaching; that knowledge is not transmitted from teacher to student, but that the teacher must guide the student towards learning what is important and let them find their own way; his ideas that the universe is good; and that individuals who have been fortunate enough to be enlightened owe it to society to show them the way. Below, some paraphrased excerpts from the Allegory will help us to analyze the story. Now then, imagine mankind as living in an underground cave which has a wide entrance open to the light. Deep inside are human beings facing the inside wall of the cave, with their necks and legs chained so they cannot move, or look in any other direction but forward. They have never seen the light of day or the sun outside the cave. Behind the prisoners a fire burns, and between the fire and prisoners there is raised way on which a low wall has been built, such as is used in puppet shows as a screen to conceal the people working the puppets. Along the raised way people walk carrying all sorts of things which they hold so that they project above the wall. These things are statues of men, animals, and trees. The prisoners, facing the inside wall, cannot see one another, or the wall behind them on which the objects are being carried - all they can see are the shadows these objects cast on the wall of the cave. The prisoners live all their lives seeing only shadows of reality, and the voices they hear are only echoes from the wall. But the prisoners do not know that these shadows are not real, or that the echoes are not coming from the shadows themselves. So the prisoners cling to the familiar shadows because that is all they have ever known. If one was ever freed, he would turn towards the fire and be blinded by the light. This would make him angry, and have him prefer to return to his shadow world. But if one of the prisoners were freed and turned around to see, in the light of the fire, the cave and his fellow prisoners. If he were then dragged upwards, out of the cave into the light of the sun, he would see the things of the world as they truly are. He would also see the sun, and eventually realize that the sun is the reason we can see all the things in the world, and that it is where light comes from. What would this person think now of the life in the cave and what people there know of reality and of morality? And when he went to descend back into the cave, to save the other prisoners, and show them the way, he would be fought against. He would be challenged to see, and would get ridiculed by the other prisoners. They would tell him that his vision was fine before he left the cave, and that going outside hurt it. So why would they want to go out there? They would not understand. They need to experience it for themselves. Some find...
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