Allegory of the cave

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The Allegory of the Cave – also known as the Analogy of the Cave, Plato's Cave, or the Parable of the Cave – is an allegory used by the Greek philosopher Plato in his work The Republic to illustrate "our nature in its education and want of education" (514a). It is written as a fictional dialogue between Plato's teacher Socrates and Plato's brother Glaucon at the beginning of Book VII (chapter IX in Robin Waterfield's translation) (514a–520a). The Allegory of the Cave is presented after the metaphor of the sun (507b–509c) and the analogy of the divided line (509d–513e). Allegories are summarized in the viewpoint of dialectic at the end of Book VII and VIII (531d-534e).

Socrates describes a group of people who have lived chained to the wall of a cave all of their lives, facing a blank wall. The people watch shadows projected on the wall by things passing in front of a fire behind them, and begin to ascribe forms to these shadows. According to Socrates, the shadows are as close as the prisoners get to viewing reality. He then explains how the philosopher is like a prisoner who is freed from the cave and comes to understand that the shadows on the wall are not constitutive of reality at all, as he can perceive the true form of reality rather than the mere shadows seen by the prisoners.

The Allegory is related to Plato's Theory of Forms,[citation needed] according to which the "Forms" (or "Ideas"), and not the material world of change known to us through sensation, possess the highest and most fundamental kind of reality. Only knowledge of the Forms constitutes real knowledge.[1] In addition, the Allegory of the Cave is an attempt to explain the philosopher's place in society.[citation needed]

Contents

Synopsis

Inside the cave

Socrates begins by describing a scenario in which what people take to be real would in fact be an illusion. He asks Glaucon to imagine a cave inhabited by prisoners who have been chained and held immobile since childhood: not only are their arms and legs held in place, but their heads are also fixed, compelled to gaze at a wall in front of them. Behind the prisoners is an enormous fire, and between the fire and the prisoners is a raised walkway, along which people walk carrying things on their heads "including figures of men and animals made of wood, stone and other materials". The prisoners watch the shadows cast by the men, not knowing they are shadows. There are also echoes off the wall from the noise produced from the walkway.

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