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Plato's Allegory of the Cave

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Introduction

Plato's Allegory of the Cave Plato's allegory of the cave is one of the most significant early philosophical ideas. The allegory of the cave was discussed by Plato in his work, "The Republic", and is arguably his most famous and enduring contribution to philosophical thinking. As an allegory, it has meanings on various different levels, and it has no distinct moral, but various different aspects which convey Plato's meanings and understanding of the world to us. In his book, Plato uses the character of his mentor, Socrates, to convey his ideas. To describe his allegory, he writes about a fictional encounter of Socrates with a young man named Glaucon. There are also personal issues involved in the work. The prisoner who is freed and ascents to the "real world" is then ridiculed and threatened by those who are still kept prisoner. ...read more.

Middle

Between the fire and the prisoners, the captors hold models of objects, made of rock or wood. These models cast shadows on the wall of the cave. The prisoners can only see shadows on the cave wall, both of themselves and the models of the objects behind them, cast by the flickering light of the fire. Any noise which is made by the men is echoed off the surface of the cave wall, making it seem like the noise is coming directly from the shadows themselves. The prisoners have spent their entire lives watching the shadows, and so they perceive them as reality. We know that there is far more to life than shadows on a cave wall, but the prisoners have no way of knowing, or any reason to believe, that there is more to reality that the flickering shadows cast by the fire. ...read more.

Conclusion

decides to return to the cave to teach them that there is more to life than the shadows on the cave wall. Upon his arrival and the amazing revelation the man gives, the prisoners react angrily, hating to have their long-held beliefs challenged. They tell the man his journey has made him mad, and has damaged his eyes, (he no longer finds it easy to make out the shadows on the wall.) Plato tells us that if it were possible for the prisoners to, they would kill this "troublemaker" who had returned to lecture them, and question what they held to be certain. The allegory of the cave is strongly linked to Plato's "theory of forms," which, at its heart, tells us that our senses cannot be trusted, they can be tricked easily. Plato tells us that true knowledge can only be acquired by thinking and reasoning, not by looking or listening. ...read more.

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