An allegory is a kind of story in which writer intends a second meaning to be read beneath the surface story. One of the most important allegories ever to be gifted to humankind is Allegory of the Cave. Plato’s Allegory of the Cave is one of the most potent and pregnant of allegories that describe human condition in both its fallen and risen states. The Allegory of the Cave is Plato’s explanation of the education of the soul toward enlightenment. It is also known as the Analogy of the Cave, Plato’s Cave, or the Parable of the Cave.
It is written as a fictional dialogue between Plato’s teacher Socrates and Plato’s brother Glaucon at the beginning of Book VII of The Republic. The allegory of the cave: Plato illustrates his dualistic theory his famous allegory of cave. Plato asks us to imagine a dark scene. A group of people has lived in a deep cave since birth, never seeing the light of day. These people are bound so that they cannot look to either side or behind them, but only straight ahead. Behind them is a fire, and behind the fire is a partial wall.
On top of the wall are various statues, which are manipulated by another group of people, lying out of sight behind the partial wall. Because of the fire, the statues cast shadows across the wall that the prisoners are facing. The prisoners watch the stories that these shadows play out, and because these shadows are all they ever get to see, they believe them to be the most real things in the world. When they talk to one another about “men,” “women,” “trees,” or “horses,” they are referring to these shadows. These prisoners represent the lowest stage on the line—imagination.
A prisoner is freed from his bonds, and is forced to look at the fire and at the statues themselves. After an initial period of pain and confusion because of direct exposure of his eyes to the light of the fire, the prisoner realizes that what he sees now are things more real than the shadows he has always taken to be reality. He grasps how the fire and the statues together cause the shadows, which are copies of these more real things. He accepts the statues and fire as the most real things in the world. This stage in the cave represents belief.
He has made contact with real things—the statues—but he is not aware that there are things of greater reality—a world beyond his cave. Next, this prisoner is dragged out of the cave into the world above. At first, he is so dazzled by the light up there that he can only look at shadows, then at reflections, then finally at the real objects—real trees, flowers, houses and so on. He sees that these are even more real than the statues were, and that those were only copies of these. He has now reached the cognitive stage of thought. He has caught his first glimpse of the most real things, the Forms.
When the prisoner’s eyes have fully adjusted to the brightness, he lifts his sight toward the heavens and looks at the sun. He understands that the sun is the cause of everything he sees around him—the light, his capacity for sight, the existence of flowers, trees, and other objects. The sun represents the Form of the Good, and the former prisoner has reached the stage of understanding. However, the man remembers the other prisoners still trapped in the cave. He returns to them and attempts to convince them that what they are seeing are just shadows of real things.
They do not believe them and become so enraged by his foolish claims, that they kill him. Preferring the shadows, they have always known to the uncertainty of a completely new reality. For better understanding, the matter of the cave an imaginative picture of that cave is added here: Picture: Plato’s cave Most of the humankind the allegory suggests dwell in the darkness of the cave. They have oriented their thoughts around the blurred world of shadows. The goal of education is to drag every man as far out of the cave as possible.
Education should not aim at putting knowledge into the soul, but at turning the soul toward right desires. Continuing the analogy between mind and sight, Plato explains that the vision of a clever, wicked man might be just as sharp as that of a philosopher. The problem lies in what he turns his sharp vision toward the overarching goal of the city is to educate those with the right natures, so that they can turn their minds sharply toward the Form of the Good. Once they have done this, they cannot remain contemplating the Form of the Good forever. They must return periodically into the cave and rule there.
They need periodically to turn away from the Forms to return to the shadows to help other prisoners. There are four specific symbols in the cave allegory; the prisoners, the roadway, the fire and the sun. the prisoners represents people and philosophers of the real world. They discuss the shadows because it is the only thing in their world, and they discuss everything they know. They praise the ones who are quick to recognize the shadowy shapes quickley, just as society praises inventors and philosophers whenever a new machine or idea is invented, every time a new creative way to preceive and old thing becomes established.
The roadway is the intermediary, the bridge between the objects and the shadows of those objects. It seperates what is real from what is projected. The objects are real, colour and shapes illuminated by the fire behind them. They represent a form of knowledge. The prisoners are restricted to only seeing a pale ghastly reflection of that knowledge and come to believe the reflections of the thing to be the thing itself. The fire is the source of entire prisoner’s knowledge but the prisoners never even know it is there. Without that fire the cave dwellars would live in total darkness, and have no knowledge at all.
However, a sublime enlightment comes when one compares the fire inside the cave to the sun outside. The sun is knowledge itself. Plato would call it the ‘form’ of knowledge. that is knowlwdge in its true and absolute form. The fire in the cave is just a pale mockery of what true knowledge is. when the prisoners represent society and light represents knowledge, it can be seen with comparison of the fire to the sun just what a small fraction of true knowledge mankind possesses. There are also some other interpretations of this allegory which are specifically relavent to our own society and to the present time.
They are footnoted: 1. The allegory of the cave may be viewed as a devastating criticism of our everyday lives as being in bondage to superficialities to shadow rather than to substance. Truth is taken to be whatever is known by the sences. A good life is taken to be one in which we can satisfy our desires. We are unaware that we are living with illusion, superfitial knowledge and false conflicting ideals. Our lives are dominated by the shadow-play on the walls of our cave made by newspaper headlines, by radio broadcast by the endlessly moving shadows on the telivision screen by the echoing voice of the telivision makers. . the allegory of the cave may be taken as an equally devastating criticism of much of the sciences of our time, with its emphasis upon that which is known by the senses.
Science,too is chained so that it can see only shadows. Its basis is in sensory observation, its conclusions are only in the from of correlations of observations. It does not venture into causes or into long-range concequences. It is a criticism also of our scientific technology and industry developing and producing to meet superficial needs without regard for true needs for moral or environmental consideration. 3. ome critics also say that it is a political allegory. The life in the cave is the life of politics to ignorence and passions, to mobhysteria for or against fleeting issuses, believing in current ideologies which are the illusions, the shadows of the movements on the walls of the cave. 4. it is an allegory of the philosopher and king. The liberated one, having made the ascent to know the truth and the good, has a mission: to return to the cave to bring enlightment, to bring good news even though he may be killed for his services. Plato was thinking of Socrates; we think about Jesus Christ.
For Plato, those who have completed the ascent out of the cave into the light of the sun are thereby alone fitted to govern, to be the philosopher and king of the society, to be its guardians. But here suddenly the allegory of the cave comes into conflict with contemporary views of ourselves, the world and the politics. 5. finally the allegory of the cave may be seen as an allegory of despair and hope. Like Plato, we live in a time of loss of meaning and commitment of corruption in political life and decline in personal integrity. This is our despair.
But there is a hope that we share with Plato’s allegory, the hope of ascending to the truth and values which are the best we can know as guide to the good life. Plato’s main point is in comparing the relationship between the darkness of the cave and the world beyond, to the relationship between the empirical world and the world of ideas and forms. The world as all human see and experience is dark and disfigured in comparison to the complete clarity of ideas. Plato believes that all things is conceivable, and that the human mind has the capacity to discern the ‘ideal forms’.
Plato goes on to say there are two ways that vision may be dulled; either by the absence of light, or the abundance of it. A man who walks from darkness into the light such as in the cave allegory becomes dazzled and blinded by the light until his eyes become accustomed to it. similarly, a man who walks from light into darkness cannot see untill his eyes adjust to the poorer light. It is identical with knowledge. the man who escaped the cave was at first blinded by the light of the sun as he become adjusted to it, he saw shapes and colors, creatures and plants.
But when he went back down into the cave, he could no longer clearly see the shadows on the wall. he begins to tell the other cave dwellars of what there really is in the world, but they who have never seen it, refuse to believe it. Further, he can no longer see the shadows on the wall as well as the rest of them, and so he is labeled an idiot. One should never judge a man to be a fool, because it is impossible to determine whether he has actually comes from the darker world, or in fact comes from a much brighter one. The concepts one can grasp is by no means on the same lebel as the thing one can perceive.
Conclusion: The Allegory of the Cave is Plato’s explanation of the education of the soul toward enlightenment. It shows the pleasure of the good; comparing to the bright colorful world under the sun to the dark dreary shadows the prisoners are content to spend their lives with. It explains the distinction among knowledge, opinion and ignorance. In addition, it expresses Plato’s concept of forms, by how real objects are compared to dancing shadows. Each person has the ability to perceive more than just the empirical world around him or her, because everyone has the capability to reason.