Although Plato’s famous allegory of the cave is subject to many interpretations, many philosophers believe that it was designed to encapsulate and support his theory of Forms.
To a certain extent it does, however it is essential that in order to determine whether it does, we must first grasp what the complex theory of the Forms really meant to Plato, and then one may begin to put the allegory into context of his theory of Forms.
Plato believed that there were two distinct worlds, and those worlds provide the framework from which his theory of Forms is built. Plato, in his allegory of the cave uses the cave itself and everything inside the cave as a metaphor to provide persuasive support for the material, illusionistic world or senses. Plato believed that the material world is subject to a constant state of flux making it is impossible to know the truth of reality. Plato states that it is ‘ourselves’  who live in this material world. Our world, Plato likens to a cave, and we in the allegory are presented as the prisoners chained inside, who live in a material world of illusion which we think is real and important. The cave represents our own imperfect and changing experiences. The chains that constrain “us,” the prisoners, represent our false beliefs which obstruct our understanding of true reality. Thus, it is we who stare at our ‘own shadows, or the shadows of one another’  . In his allegory, everything outside the cave is portrayed as the eternal world, which possesses the object of knowledge and contains the true perfect world of the Forms.
Plato regards Forms as ideal, abstract objects which are perfect, eternal and unchanging. They are the perfect paradigm of each sort of object we see around us, and there is a Form for each characteristic or property and object could have. Plato also believes that there are forms for abstract objects and concepts such as beauty, numbers and goodness to name a few. Perhaps, most importantly Plato explains that the Forms are real, however the material objects are not. In the allegory of the cave, Plato portrays the shadows on the cave wall as a metaphor for material objects, in the hope of providing persuasive support for his theory of Forms. He reminds us that the shadows are all the prisoners would have seen and talked about, and the point he makes is that these shadows would be as close as the prisoners got to experiencing and seeing reality. Therefore they simply mistake them for reality, ‘the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images’  . Socrates raises an important and efficacious question when he asks; ‘if they were able to converse with one another, would they not suppose that they were naming what was actually before them?’  Hence, for example, if one of the prisoners identified a shadow of what they learnt was a book in their language, and said “behold, a book;” Plato argues that the prisoner would be making the mistake of referring the word “book” to the shadow they see in front them. The real referent to the book however, is the object that cast the shadow; which the prisoner cannot see because it his behind him. Plato intends to support his theory of Forms in writing this because he wants to make the point that the general terms of our language are not the names of the physical objects that we see. Plato says that they are names of things that we can’t see, and believes they can only be grasped with our minds. Likewise, Plato argues that although we may obtain concepts by our perceptual experience of physical objects, we are sure to be mistaken if we think that the concepts we grasp are on the same level as the things we perceive.
Plato thinks that we can have only have genuine knowledge of things which are perfect and unchanging, and that although we can have knowledge about the forms, we cannot have knowledge about material objects. Plato believes we only have opinions or beliefs about the material world. In the allegory of...
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