Allegory of the Cave
Plato presented to the world a metaphor that is widely known as the “Allegory of the cave” or the “Myth of the Cave”. It’s Plato’s view on the existence of human reality. Imagine a group of people spending their entire life tied up living in a cave, facing only a wall. Their only source of entertainment includes shadow puppets illuminated to the wall from the fire that is lit behind the prisoners. They are shown many different things that are either impossible or doesn’t exist in the “real” world” and this is what they would know their whole life. What they have been seeing will become what they view as “real”. Eventually, one prisoner manages to escape and is able to turn around. He sees that the images they saw were just shadows from the light of the fire and that it seems much more real than what he has been exposed to his whole life. he then goes up above the cave to experience the world. They first thing that hits him and pains him is the sun. It was so blinding to him that the first things he sees is the shadows of object around him and of him. He then notices a reflection of himself from a puddle. Finally he sees the actual objects, houses, flowers and trees and this seems even more real than the fire and shadows that he was shown earlier. What he saw in his past were only copies of these images. His eyes slowly and finally adjust to the brightness and he looks up at the sky to see the sun itself, which gives him sight and shadow. It is at this point where he reaches a new point of understanding. He then runs back to his “friends” and starts to tell them about the things that he saw and describes the outside world. However, they believe that he has gone crazy and is just spurting out a bunch of lies and nonsense. This is because what they view as reality is what they have been brought up to believe and see. A person’s definition of reality and what is “real” will always be different from someone else’s. The goal of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave is to bring everyone out of the cave and into the real world outside and get them to achieve the new definition of understanding.
The different objects present in the story may represent different things. I say the prisoner in the story as a philosopher who is seeking a way out of the cave to seek knowledge outside of his/her own sense and also knowledge from outside of the cave and that the cave stands for the people who believe that knowledge comes from what we are told and given in the world.. The shadows which the prisoner has seen in the cave represent just the surface of what we can scratch. Once the prisoner was able to get out, the sun represents the philosophical truth.
The story may seem a little bleak but it reflects Plato’s belief. He believed that people could eventually free themselves and realize that the world is important. The purpose is to remind people that they should be skeptical of the things that they experience. In addition, the things we experience are through our senses: sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste. We assume these senses will not lie to us but how would we know? Plato states “Anyone with intelligence, I said, would remember that the eyes may be confused in two ways and two causes, coming from light into darkness as well as from darkness into light.” I interpret this quote in the sense that there is a good and there is an evil. If we were to see an evil, there is no way of knowing if it is truly evil. We are basing it off of what our senses are giving us. He also believes that education is a big factor in the ability to notice what is real and distinguish the real from the shadow. “Education then is the art of doing this very thing, this turning around, the knowledge of how the soul can most easily and most effectively be turned around; it is not the art of putting the capacity of sight into the soul; the soul possesses that already but it is not turned the right way or looking where it should. This is what it deals with…”Plato believes that education is not to put knowledge into our “soul”. To him, knowledge is already possessed within us. He argues that we just lack the ability to use that knowledge to be able to turn ourselves in the right direction. This relates to the Allegory of the Cave because many people are stuck “in that “cave” and in order to get out and realize that there are some other things past we see, we must learn how to use our knowledge to turn ourselves around to realization. “ The realm of the visible should be compared to the prison dwelling, and the fire inside it to the power of the sun.
The Allegory of the Cave sends a powerful message about how people should not be so blind to reality even when we believe what our senses show us is what society deems to be true.