The Allegory of the Cave
Plato’s Allegory of the Cave is the most comprehensive and far-reaching analogy in his book, The Republic. This blanket analogy covers many of the other images Plato uses as tools through out The Republic to show why justice is good. The Allegory of the Cave, however, is not the easiest image that Plato uses. First, one must understand this analogy and all of it’s hidden intricacies, then one will be able to apply it to the other images Plato uses such as the Divided Line, or Plato’s Forms.
As Plato begins his story, he describes a dark cave. Contained inside of this cave are many people who are tied up into seats, unable to move. For their entire life, these people have been tied up without even being able to rotate their heads. They have chains that bind their hands to their seats. They have never seen anything apart from the wall directly in front of them. Their entire lives have been spent watching the wall and communicating with each other about the things they see on the wall.
Behind these chained people is a large fire. This fire burns bright and allows shadows to be cast onto the wall. Below this fire is a small trench where the others of the cave lie. Here they hold up puppets and objects, casting shadows onto the wall. They essentially create the reality that the chained down live in, however, those chained down do not know this. They know only of the shadows on the wall and these shadows interactions with each other. If they see the shadow of a book, they will say to one another, in their own language, “look at the book on the wall.” They will not know that it is only a shadow, an image of the real object that is held up behind them to cast the appearance of a book onto the wall. They will only see what appears to be the real book in front of them.
One day the shadow makers free one of the chained down individuals. At first he is hesitant, he does not understand what is happening. Their intentions are to bring him out of the cave. As they lead him past the fire and he sees the others casting shadows on the wall he is dumb founded. He cannot comprehend what is happening as they push him further, out of the cave.
As he emerges from the cave the sun blinds him. Never before has he witnessed something so bright and intense. Eventually he grows accustomed to the light and begins to see things. He sees trees and birds. He sees houses and people. He is taken back by all there is outside of the cave. He sees a book and then notices it’s shadow. He finally understands that all of his life and all of his experiences were based on shadows, images of things real. No sooner does he understand this than the others try to push him back into the cave. He doesn’t want to go, however. He has seen a new and fuller world.
The others finally push him back into the cave and as he tells the others of the world above they mock him. They make fun of him because all that he says is nonsense to them. Their reality...