Plato's Use of Metaphor of Shadows in His Allegory of the Cave
Plato uses his Allegory of the Cave to explain to people the awareness
of his realm of forms. Plato uses the prisoners in the cave to
symbolise the people without the knowledge of the Theory of Forms.
Such prisoners would mistake appearance for reality. They would think
the things they see on the wall (the shadows) were real; they would
know nothing of the real causes of the shadows. The rare individual
escapes the cave and, through a long journey-discovers a higher realm,
a true reality, with an awareness of Goodness as the origin of
everything that exists. Plato was trying to get people to understand
that we are like the prisoners in the cave. What we think are animals,
tables, flowers etc are really only shadows of the true Forms. We,
like the prisoners are happy with what we know.. The essential point
is that the prisoners (we) in the cave are not seeing reality, but
only a shadowy representation of it. The importance of the allegory
lies in Plato's belief that there are invisible truths lying under the
apparent surface of things which only the most open-minded can grasp.
Like the prisoners, we will resist this knowledge because we are happy
with what we know and believe that what we see is all there is.
Plato used the cave and the 'outside world' to explain his idea of
there being two realms of the senses. The cave represents the
incomplete knowledge which is only practised by the body. The 'outside
world' represents the complete knowledge or the true knowledge which
is only practised by the immortal soul. Plato believes that we all
have a soul which contains the information about the true Forms
however we forget these true Forms. Therefore the shadows on the wall
of the cave represent the 'shadows' of the true Forms.