Friday, July 6, 2012

Allegory of the Cave

This is going to be an interesting semester: 

The “Allegory of the Cave” is a philosophy put forth by Plato in his most famous work, “The Republic.” Plato has Socrates describe the following scenario.
Prisoners in a cave are chained so that they only see the back wall of the cave; the prisoners have been there for life and can not see themselves or each other. The only things they can see are the shadows on the wall of the cave. A fire that burns on a ledge above and behind them is how the shadows are cast. There is a wall-lined path between the fire and the prisoners where people walk – carrying statues, vases, and other artifacts on their heads. The prisoners hear the echoes of voices and see the shadows of the artifacts, which they mistake for reality. Then a prisoner is unchained and turned around, forced to discover the true source of the shadows. The fire hurts his eyes; he prefers the deception of the shadows to be more pleasant. The mouth of the cave is beyond and above the fire and outside in the bright sunlight is the sky, trees, rivers, and mountains. The prisoner who was unchained is forced “up the steep and rugged ascent” (Plato’s allegory of education) and brought into the exterior world full of sunlight. The light blinds the prisoner. As he is used to shadows, he must first look at the shadows of the trees, then at the trees and the mountains. Finally, he is able to see the sun itself (the allegory of enlightenment). He now understands the true form of reality. Plato suggests that if this prisoner were to return to the cave, he would see sun spots everywhere and appear deluded, and not be able to penetrate the darkness. Also, if he tried to liberate the other prisoners, they would become angry that their illusions were disturbed and try to kill him (an allusion to the death of Socrates).


  1. I remember this! As a philosophy minor, this came up in a few classes.

    I think it is a beautiful mashal of life. We look around and we think we know what reality is...

  2. I love philosophy classes. truly my favorite!

    1. My two favorites, which if you haven't done/read/etc, you must!!!
      1. The Ship of Theseus
      2. Gettier Problem.

  3. Haven't read either, thank you so much for the recommendation!