An Analysis of The Allegory of the Cave
The Allegory of the Cave is Plato’s explanation of the education of the soul toward enlightenment. He sees it as what happens when someone is educated to the level of philosopher. He contends that they must go back into the cave or return to the everyday world of politics, greed and power struggles. The Allegory also attacks people who rely upon or are slaves to their senses. The chains that bind the prisoners are the senses. The fun of the allegory is to try to put all the details of the cave into your interpretation. In other words, what are the models the guards carry? the fire? the struggle out of the cave? the sunlight? the shadows on the cave wall?
Socrates, in Book VII of The Republic, just after the allegory told us that the cave was our world and the fire was our sun. He said the path of the prisoner was our soul’s ascent to knowledge or enlightenment. He equated our world of sight with the intellect’s world of opinion. Both were at the bottom of the ladder of knowledge. Our world of sight allows us to see things that are not real, such as parallel lines and perfect circles. He calls this higher understanding the world abstract Reality or the Intelligeble world. He equates this abstract reality with the knowledge that comes from reasoning and finally understanding.
On the physical side, our world of sight, the stages of growth are first recognition of images (the shadows on the cave wall) then the recognition of objects (the models the guards carry) To understand abstract reality requires the understanding of mathematics and finally the forms or the Ideals of all things (the world outside the cave).
But our understanding of the physical world is mirrored in our minds by our ways of thinking. First comes imagination (Socrates thought little of creativity), then our unfounded but real beliefs. Opinion gives way to knowledge through reasoning (learned though mathematics). Finally, the realization of the forms is mirrored by the level of Understanding in the Ways of Thinking.
The key to the struggle for knowledge is the reasoning skills acquired through mathematics as they are applied to understanding ourselves.
The shadows on the cave wall change continually and are of little worth, but the reality out side the cave never changes and that makes it important. The ideals are mainly our concepts of courage, love, friendship, justice, and other unchanging qualities.
I know this is a bit tricky, but it is how I see the allegory, and most of it is in the preceding and following books of the Republic. I think you should read those chapters, think about what I have said and zero in on what the allegory means to you.
Plato, the most creative and influential of Socrates’ disciples, wrote dialogues, in which he frequently used the figure of Socrates to espouse his own (Plato’s) full-fledged philosophy. In The Republic, Plato sums up his views in an image of ignorant humanity, trapped in the depths and not even aware of its own limited perspective. The rare individual escapes the limitations of that cave and, through a long, tortuous intellectual journey, discovers a higher realm, a true reality, with a final, almost mystical awareness of Goodness as the origin of everything that exists. Such a person is then the best equipped to govern in society, having a knowledge of what is ultimately most worthwhile in life and not just a knowledge of techniques; but that person will frequently be misunderstood by those ordinary folks back in the cave who haven’t shared in the intellectual insight. If he were living today, Plato might replace his rather awkward cave metaphor with a movie theater, with the projector replacing the fire, the film replacing the objects which cast shadows, the shadows on the cave wall with the projected movie on the screen, and the echo with the loudspeakers behind the screen. The essential point is that the prisoners 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 enlightened can grasp. Used to the world of illusion in the cave, the prisoners at first resist enlightenment, as students resist education. But those who can achieve enlightenment deserve to be the leaders and rulers of all the rest. At the end of the passage, Plato expresses another of his favorite ideas: that education is not a process of putting knowledge into empty minds, but of making people realize that which they already know. This notion that truth is somehow embedded in our minds was also powerfully influential for many centuries.
A report I had to do on Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. Plato was born 427 B.C. and died 347 B.C. He was a pupil under Socrates. During his studies, Plato wrote the Dialogues, which are a collection of Socrates’ teachings. One of the parables included in the Dialogues is The Allegory of the Cave. The Allegory… symbolizes man’s struggle to reach understanding and enlightenment. First of all, Plato believed that one can only learn through dialectic reasoning and open-mindedness. Humans had to travel from the visible realm of image-making and objects of sense to the intelligible or invisible realm of reasoning and understanding. The Allegory of the Cave symbolizes this trek and how it would look to those still in a lower realm. Plato is saying that humans are all prisoners and that the tangible world is our cave. The things which we perceive as real are actually just shadows on a wall. Just as the escaped prisoner ascends into the light of the sun, we amass knowledge and ascend into the light of true reality: ideas in the mind. Yet, if someone goes into the light of the sun and beholds true reality and then proceeds to tell the other captives of the truth, they laugh at and ridicule the enlightened one, for the only reality they have ever known is a fuzzy shadow on a wall. They could not possibly comprehend another dimension without beholdin! g it themselves, therefore, they label the enlightened man mad. For instance, the exact thing happened to Charles Darwin. In 1837, Darwin was traveling aboard the H.M.S. Beagle in the Eastern Pacific and dropped anchor on the Galapagos Islands. Darwin found a wide array of animals. These differences in animals sparked Darwin on research, which lasted well up to his death, culminating in the publishing of The Origin of Species in 1858. He stated that had not just appeared out of thin air, but had evolved from other species through natural selection. This sparked a firestorm of criticism, for most people accepted the theory of the Creation. In this way Darwin and his scientific followers parallel the escaped prisoner. They walked into the light and saw true reality. Yet when he told the imprisoned public what he saw, he was scoffed at and labeled mad, for all the prisoners know and perceive are just shadows on a wall which are just gross distortions of reality. Darwin walked the path to understanding just like the escaped prisoner in The Allegory of the Cave. Plato’s parable greatly symbolizes man’s struggle to reach the light and the suffering of those left behind who are forced to sit in the dark and stare at shadows on a wall.
Allegory of the Cave
Plato illustrates his dualistic theory of reality by his famous Allegory of the Cave, at the beginning of Book VII of the Republic. Now then, says Socrates, as he introduces the allegory, imagine mankind as living in an underground cave which has a wide entrance open to the light. Deep inside are human beings facing the inside wall of the cave, with tbeir necks and legs chained so that they cannot move. They have never seen the light of day or the sun outside the cave. Behind the prisoners a fire burns, and between the fire and prisoners there is a raised way on which a low wall l?as been built, such as is used in puppet shows as a screen to conceal the people working the puppets. Along the raised way people walk carrying all sorts of things which they hold so that they project above the wall-statues of men, animals, trees. The prisoners, facing the inside wall, cannot see one another, or the wall behind them on which the objects are being carried – all they can see are the shadows these objects cast on the wall of the cave.
The prisoners live all their lives seeing only shadows of reality, and the voices they hear are only echos from the wall. But the prisoners cling to the familiar shadows and their passions and prejudices, and if they were freed and able to turn arou??d and see the realities which produce the shadows, they would be blinded by the light of the fire. And they would become angry and would prefer to regain tl?eir shadow world.
But if one of the prisoners were freed and turned around to see, in the light of the fire, the cave and his feIlow prisenors and the roadway, and if he were then dragged up and out of the cave into the ligbt of the sun, he would see the the things of the world as they truly are and finally he would see the sun itself. Wl?at wo??ld this person think now of tl?e life in tl?e cave and what people there know of reality a??d of morality? And if he were to descend back into the cave, would he not have great difficulty in accustoming himself to the darkness, so that he could not compete with those who had never left the cave? Would he not be subject to their ridicule, scorn, even their physical attack?
Of the many allegories in the history of Western thought, the Allegory of the Cave is the one most often cited. But what is an allegory? An allegory is a kind of story in which what is talked about is being compared to something else which is similar, but what that something else is, is left unstated. An allegory is accordingly defined as an incomplete simile—tl?e reader must supply what is similar to tl?e events described. What, then, is the Allegory of the Cave to be compared with? The people in the cave are living out theit lives in semidarkness, chained by their necks and legs, unable to turn around, never knowing that what they see before them on the wall of the cave are only shadows. They are in bondage, but unaware of it. They remain ignorant of them. selves and reality. With whom may they be compared?
Each historical generation since Plato’s time has been ta??talized by the question, how does the Allegory of the Cave apply to our time, to our society? To what may the cave be compared in our lives? The question tantalizes us too: What is the relevance of the Allegory of the Cave to our present world? With what in our lives may it be compared?
PLATO’S THEORY OF KNOWLEDGE
PLATO DESCRIBED HOW THE HUMAN MIND ACHIEVES KNOWLEDGE, AND INDICATED WHAT KNOWLEDGE CONSISTS OF BY MEANS OF;
(1) HIS ALLEGORY OF THE CAVE
(2) HIS METAPHOR OF THE DIVIDED LINE, AND
(3) HIS DOCTRINE OF THE FORMS.
PLATO ASKS US TO IMAGINE SOME MEN LIVING IN A LARGE CAVE WHERE FROM CHILDHOOD THEY HAVE BEEN CHAINED BY THE LEG AND BY THE NECK SO THAT THEY CANNOT MOVE. BECAUSE THEY CANNOT EVEN TURN THEIR HEADS.
THEY CAN ONLY SEE WHAT IS IN FRONT OF THEM. BEHIND THEM IS AN ELEVATION THAT RISES ABRUPTLY FROM THE LEVEL WHERE THE PRISONERS ARE SEATED.
ON THIS ELEVATION THERE ARE OTHER PERSONS WALKING BACK AND FORTH CARRYING ARTIFICIAL OBJECTS INCLUDING THE FIGURES OF ANIMALS AND HUMAN BEINGS MADE OUT OF WOOD AND STONE AND VARIOUS OTHER MATERIALS.
BEHIND THESE WALKING PERSONS IS A FIRE, AND FARTHER BACK STILL IS THE ENTRANCE TO THE CAVE. THE CHAINED PRISONERS CAN LOOK ONLY FORWARD AGAINST THE WALL AT THE END OF THE CAVE AND CAN SEE NEITHER EACH OTHER NOR THE MOVING PERSONS NOR THE FIRE BEHIND THEM.
ALL THAT THE PRISONERS CAN EVER SEE IS THE SHADOWS ON THE WALL IN FRONT OF THEM WHICH ARE PROJECTED AS PERSONS WALK IN FRONT OF THE FIRE. THEY NEVER SEE THE OBJECTS OR THE MEN CARRYING THEM NOR ARE THEY AWARE THAT THE SHADOWS ARE SHADOWS OF OTHER THINGS.
THEN THEY SEE A SHADOW AND HEAR A PERSON’S VOICE ECHO FROM THE WALL, THEY ASSUME THAT THE SOUND IS COMING FROM THE SHADOW SINCE THEY ARE NOT AWARE OF THE EXISTENCE OF ANYTHING ELSE. THESE PRISONERS THEN RECOGNIZE AS REALITY ONLY THE SHADOWS FORMED ON THE WALL.
(This is us, when knowledge (light), comes to us)
WHAT WOULD HAPPEN ASKS PLATO IF ONE OF THESE PRISONERS WERE RELEASED FROM HIS CHAINS, WERE FORCED TO STAND UP, TURN AROUND AND WALK WITH EYES LIFTED UP TOWARD THE LIGHT OF THE FIRE? ALL OF HIS MOVEMENTS WOULD BE EXCEEDINGLY PAINFUL.
SUPPOSE HE WERE FORCED TO LOOK AT THE OBJECTS BEING CARRIED, THE SHADOWS OF WHICH HE HAD BECOME ACCUSTOMED TO SEEING ON THE WALL.
WOULD HE NOT FIND THESE ACTUAL OBJECTS LESS CONGENIAL TO HIS EYES AND LESS MEANINGFUL, THAN THE SHADOWS? AND WOULD NOT HIS EYES ACHE IF HE LOOKED STRAIGHT AT THE LIGHT FROM THE FIRE ITSELF?
AT THIS POINT HE WOULD UNDOUBTEDLY TRY TO ESCAPE FROM HIS LIBERATOR AN TURN BACK TO THE THINGS HE COULD SEE WITH CLARITY, BEING CONVINCED THAT THE SHADOWS WERE CLEARER THAN THE OBJECTS HE WAS FORCED TO LOOK AT IN THE FIRE-LIGHT.
SUPPOSE THIS PRISONER COULD NOT TURN BACK, BUT WAS INSTEAD DRAGGED FORCIBLY UP THE STEEP AND ROUGH PASSAGE TO THE MOUTH OF THE CAVE AND OF THE RADIANCE OF THE SUN UPON HIS EYES WOULD BE SO PAINFUL THAT HE WOULD BE UNABLE TO SEE ANY OF THE THINGS THAT HE HAS NOW TOLD WERE REAL.
IT WOULD TAKE SOME TIME BEFORE HIS EYES BECAME ACCUSTOMED TO THE WORLD OUTSIDE THE CAVE. HE WOULD FIRST OF ALL RECOGNIZE SOME SHADOWS AND WOULD FEEL AT HOME WITH THEM. IF IT WERE THE SHADOWS OF A MAN, HE WOULD HAVE SEEN THAT SHAPE BEFORE AS IT APPEARED ON THE WALL OF THE CAVE.
NEXT HE WOULD SEE THE REFLECTIONS OF MEN AND THINGS IN THE WATER AND THIS WOULD REPRESENT A MAJOR ADVANCE IN HIS KNOWLEDGE, FOR WHAT HE ONCE KNEW ONLY AS A SOLID DARK BLUR WOULD NOW BE SEEN IN MORE PRECISE DETAIL OF LINE AND COLOR. A FLOWER MAKES A SHADOW WHICH GIVES VERY LITTLE, IF ANY INDICATION OF WHAT A FLOWER REALLY LOOKS LIKE, BUT ITS IMAGE AS REFLECTED IN THE WATER PROVIDES THE EYES WITH A CLEARED VISION OF EACH PETAL AND ITS VARIOUS COLORS.
IN TIME HE WOULD SEE THE FLOWER ITSELF. AS HE LIFTED HIS EYES SKYWARD, HE WOULD FIND IT EASIER AT FIRST TO LOOK AT THE HEAVENLY BODIES AT NIGHT, LOOKING AT THE MOON AND THE STARS INSTEAD OF AT THE SUN IN DAYTIME.
FINALLY, HE WOULD LOOK RIGHT AT THE SUN IN ITS NATURAL POSITIONS IN THE SKY AND NOT AT ITS REFLECTION FORM OR THROUGH ANYTHING ELSE. THIS EXTRAORDINARY EXPERIENCE WOULD GRADUALLY LEAD THIS LIBERATED PRISONER TO CONCLUDE THAT THE SUN IS WHAT MAKES THINGS VISIBLE.
IT IS THE SUN, TOO, THAT ACCOUNTS FOR THE SEASONS OF THE YEAR, AND FOR THAT REASON THE SUN IS THE CAUSE OF LIFE IN THE SPRING, NOW HE WOULD UNDERSTAND WHAT HE AND HIS FELLOW PRISONERS SAW ON THE WALL, HOW SHADOWS AND REFLECTIONS DIFFER FROM THINGS AS THEY REALLY ARE IN THE VISIBLE WORLD, AND THAT WITHOUT THE SUN THERE WOULD BE NO VISIBLE WORLD.
HOW WOULD SUCH A PERSON FEEL ABOUT HIS PREVIOUS LIFE IN THE CAVE?
HE WOULD RECALL WHAT HE AND HIS FELLOW PRISONERS THERE TOOK TO BE WISDOM HOW THEY HAD A PRACTICE OF HONORING AND COMMENDING EACH OTHER, GIVING PRIZES TO THE ONE WHO HAD THE SHARPEST EYE FOR THE PASSING SHADOWS AND THE BEST MEMORY FOR THE ORDER IN WHICH THEY FOLLOWED EACH OTHER SO THAT HE COULD MAKE THE BEST GUESS AS TO WHICH SHADOW WOULD COME NEXT. WOULD THE RELEASED PRISONER STILL THINK SUCH PRIZES WERE WORTH HAVING, AND WOULD HE ENVY THE MEN WHO RECEIVED HONORS IN THE CAVE?
INSTEAD OF ENVY HE WOULD HAVE ONLY SORROW AND PITY FOR THEM. IF HE WENT BACK TO HIS FORMER SEAT IN THE CAVE HE WOULD AT FIRST HAVE GREAT DIFFICULTY FOR GOING SUDDENLY FROM DAY LIGHT INTO THE CAVE WOULD FILL HIS EYES WITH DARKNESS.
HE COULD NOT UNDER THESE CIRCUMSTANCES COMPETE VERY EFFECTIVELY WITH THE OTHER PRISONERS IN MAKING OUT THE SHADOWS ON THE WALL.
WHILE HIS EYESIGHT WAS STILL DIM AND UNSTEADY, THOSE WHO HAD THEIR PERMANENT RESIDENCE IN THE DARKNESS COULD WIN EVERY ROUND OF COMPETITION WITH HIM.
THEY WOULD AT FIRST FIND THIS SITUATION VERY AMUSING AND WOULD TAUNT HIM BY SAYING THAT HIS SIGHT WAS PERFECTLY ALL RIGHT BEFORE HE WENT UP OUT OF THE CAVE AND THAT NOW HE HAS RETURNED WITH HIS SIGHT RUINED.
THEIR CONCLUSION WOULD BE THAT IT IS NOT WORTH TRYING TO GO UP OUT OF THE CAVE. INDEED, SAYS PLATO IF THEY COULD LAY HANDS ON THE MAN WHO WAS TRYING TO SET THEM FREE AND LEAD THEM UP THEY WOULD KILL HIM.
MOST OF MANKIND, THIS ALLEGORY WOULD SUGGEST, DWELL IN THE DARKNESS OF THE CAVE.
THEY HAVE ORIENTED THEIR THOUGHTS AROUND THE BLURRED WOULD OF SHADOWS. IT IS THE FUNCTION OF EDUCATION TO LEAD MEN OUT OF THE CAVE INTO THE WOULD OF LIGHT.
EDUCATION IS NOT SIMPLY A MATTER OF PUTTING KNOWLEDGE INTO A PERSON’S SOUL THAT DOES NOT POSSESS IT, ANY MORE THAN VISION IS PUTTING SIGHT INTO BLIND EYES. KNOWLEDGE IS LIKE VISION IN THAT IT REQUIRES AND ORGAN CAPABLE OF RECEIVING IT.
JUST AS THE PRISONER HAD TO TURN HIS WHOLE BODY AROUND IN ORDER THAT HIS EYES COULD SEE THE LIGHT INSTEAD OF THE DARKNESS; SO ALSO IT IS NECESSARY FOR THE ENTIRE SOUL TO TURN AWAY FROM THE DECEPTIVE WORLD OF CHANGE AND APPETITE THAT CAUSES A BLINDNESS OF THE SOUL, EDUCATION, THEN, IS A MATTER OF CONVERSION, A COMPLETE TURNING AROUND FROM THE WOULD OF APPEARANCE TO THE WORLD OF REALITY.
THE CONVERSION OF THE SOUL, SAYS PLATO, IS NOT TO PUT THE POWER OF SIGHT IN THE SOUL’S EYE, WHICH ALREADY HAS IT, BUT TO INSURE THAT, INSTEAD OF LOOKING IN THE WRONG DIRECTION, IT IS TURNED THE WAY IT OUGHT TO BE, BUT LOOKING IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION DOES NOT COME EASILY.
EVEN THE NOBLEST NATURES DO NOT ALWAYS WANT TO LOOK THAT WAY, AN SO PLATO SAYS THAT THE RULERS MUST BRING COMPULSION TO BEAR UPON THEM TO ASCEND UPWARD FROM DARKNESS TO LIGHT, SIMILARLY, THEN THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN LIBERATED FROM THE CAVE ACHIEVE THE HIGHEST KNOWLEDGE, THEY MUST NOT BE ALLOWED TO REMAIN IN THE HIGHER WORLD OF CONTEMPLATION, BUT MUST BE MADE TO COME BACK DOWN INTO THE CAVE AND TAKE PART IN THE LIFE AND LABORS OF THE PRISONERS.
ARGUING, AS PLATO DID, THAT THERE ARE THESE TWO WORLDS, THE DARK WORLD OF THE CAVE AND BRIGHT WORLD OF LIGHT, WAS HIS WAY OF REJECTING THE SKEPTICISM OF THE SOPHISTS.
FOR PLATO KNOWLEDGE WAS NOT ONLY POSSIBLE, BUT IT WAS VIRTUALLY INFALLIBLE. WHAT MAKE KNOWLEDGE INFALLIBLE WAS THAT IT WAS BASED UPON WHAT IS MOST REAL.
THE DRAMATIC CONTRAST BETWEEN THE SHADOWS, REFLECTIONS, AND THE ACTUAL OBJECTS WAS FOR PLATO THE DECISIVE CLUE TO THE DIFFERENT DEGREES TO WHICH HUMAN BEINGS COULD BE ENLIGHTENED, PLATO SAW THE COUNTERPARTS OF SHADOWS IN ALL OF HUMAN LIFE AND DISCOURSE, DISAGREEMENTS BETWEEN MEN CONCERNING THE MEANING OF JUSTICE, FOR EXAMPLE, WERE THE RESULT OF EACH ONE’S LOOKING AT A DIFFERENT ASPECT OF THE REALITY OF JUSTICE, ONE PERSON MIGHT TAKE JUSTICE TO MEAN WHATEVER THE RULERS IN FACT COMMAND THE PEOPLE TO DO, ON THE ASSUMPTION THE JUSTICE HAS TO DO WITH RULES OF BEHAVIOR LAID DOWN BY THE RULER.
JUST AS A SHADOW BEARS SOME RELATION TO THE OBJECT OF WHICH IT IS THE SHADOW, SO THIS CONCEPTION OF JUSTICE HAS SOME MEASURE OF TRUTH TO IT, FOR JUSTICE DOES HAVE MODES OF BEHAVIOR, AND THERE COULD BE NO SINGLE COHERENT CONCEPT OF JUSTICE IF MEN’S KNOWLEDGE OF JUSTICE WERE DERIVED FROM THE WIDE VARIETY OF EXAMPLES OF IT. THE SOPHISTS WERE SKEPTICAL ABOUT THE POSSIBILITY OF TRUE KNOWLEDGE BECAUSE THEY WERE IMPRESSED BY THE VARIETY AND CONSTANT CHANGE IN THINGS, AND THEY ARGUED, SINCE OUR KNOWLEDGE COMES FROM OUR EXPERIENCE, OUR KNOWLEDGE WILL REFLECT THIS VARIETY AND WILL THEREFOR BE RELATIVE TO EACH PERSON.
PLATO AGREED THAT SUCH KNOWLEDGE AS IS BASED UPON OUR SENSE, EXPERIENCES WOULD BE RELATIVE AN NOT ABSOLUTE, BUT HE WOULD NOT ACCEPT THE SOPHISTS’ NOTION THAT ALL KNOWLEDGE IS RELATIVE, THE IGNORANT (ACCEPT THE SOPHISTS) WRITES PLATO, HAVE NO SINGLE MARK BEFORE THEIR EYES AT WHICH THEY MUST AIM IN ALL THE CONDUCT OF THEIR LIVES… IF ALL WE COULD KNOW WERE THE SHADOWS, WE COULD NEVER HAVE RELIABLE KNOWLEDGE, FOR THESE SHADOWS WOULD ALWAYS CHANGE IN SIZE AND SHAPE DEPENDING UPON, THE TO US, UNKNOWN MOTIONS OF THE REAL OBJECTS, PLATO WAS CONVINCED THAT THE HUMAN MIND COULD DISCOVER THAT, SINGLE MARK THAT REAL OBJECT BEHIND ALL THE MULTITUDE OF SHADOWS, SO THAT THE MIND COULD ATTAIN TRUE KNOWLEDGE.
THERE IS HE BELIEVED A TRUE IDEA OF JUSTICE, AND IDEA THAT CAN BE BLURRED BY RULERS AND COMMUNITIES. THIS LINE OF REASONING LAY BEHIND PLATO’S DISTINCTION BETWEEN THE WORLD OF SENSE AN THE WORLD OF THOUGHT, BETWEEN THE VISIBLE WORLD AND THE INTELLIGIBLE WORLD.
WHEREAS THE ALLEGORY OF THE CAVE ILLUSTRATES THESE DISTINCTIONS IN DRAMATIC TERMS, PLATO’S METAPHOR OF THE DIVIDED LINE SETS FORTH THE STAGES OR LEVELS OF KNOWLEDGE IN MORE SYSTEMATIC FORM.
The second idea in tHis Allegory of the Cave2 describes how most people are trapped in their own little world, oblivious to what is really going on around them. The story is basically made up of five parts, the shadow, the fire, the common man, the ascending man, and the descending man. The shadow represents what is perhaps Plato’s most difficult philosophy to understand. The idea of forms was an original idea of Plato that has held up under the scrutiny of many until even the present day. According to Plato, things you can see, feel, or touch for example, a chair, are not a genuine article, but merely a shadow of the real thing. He believed that these forms existed in parallel somewhere, and had was the essence of the real thing. For example, the form of a chair exists somewhere, and embodies everything that all chairs have in common. It doesn’t mean that we can describe it, because not all chairs have four legs, or any legs for that matter. Not all chairs are meant to be sat in, or have arms. What does every chair have in common? No one can fully answer that question. When stated like this it can easily be understood, but when someone asks what all chairs have in common, or what all windows have in common, the idea of this form becomes cloudy because these questions can not be answered. The same can said about a truly just decision, or an action . He believed the same about ideas, such as truth and he Allegory of the Cave is the common man. According to Plato, they represent all people before they are fully educated. The common man sees nothing but the shadows on the wall of the cave. These shadows represent everything that we have ever seen, and since they are the only things we have ever seen, they constitute all that is real to us. Being fully educated involves the ability to see everything, including all that is outside the cave.
The third part, the fire, is merely there to shed light on the forms, casting a shadow into the cave. Thus creating the only reality that the common man sees.
The fourth part is the ascending man. This is the one man who manages to emerge from the cave that shelters the common man. Once he comes out, he finally understands the forms, and becomes fully educated. He sees that the shadows only hinted at the truth of reality. The fire can give you a vague idea of what the reality of things are, but until you surface, then you only see the shadow of reality.
The final part is the descending man. He’s the person who came out of the cave and became enlightened. He’s on his way back to tell the others what he’s learned, and try to get them to understand that there really is more to life than the shadows that everyone sees.
The story that basically tells us of Socrates trial by his peers because of what he saw that they could not. The man in the cave tried to return to the cave after being released, so that they might experience some of the beauty that he was allowed to view. He was murdered for his attempts to persuade. Truly in our times we have many freedoms including that of free speech. But our taking advantage of those freedoms, not using them for positive thought, puts us in that cave. The only way to release ourselves from the malaise or bonds of everyday lives, is to attempt to see every situation or thought as valuable in some way. We owe it to philosophers to at least give their beliefs an honest evaluation without condemning them. We all know what exists outside the cave. The people in the cave however, truly believe that the man allowed to leave was psychotic when he told them of what he had seen. But the true psychotics were the men who killed to prove their dogma.
“The Allegory of the Cave” and “Existentialism”
Plato’s, “The Allegory of the Cave” and Sartre’s, “Existentialism” both have a similarity of anguish but have different views of goodness, subjectivism and limitations of life, and human existence. In the “Allegory of the Cave,” the people in the cave are chained to see just the shadows on the wall to which they perceive to be real. As one of these prisoners escapes, they walk into the light to find that what he once saw in the cave was actually just an illusion of what the truth is. In “Existentialism,” there is no God so every man is free to make their own choices and give their own meaning of life; however, the choices men make are what they consider all men to do, causing men to be responsible of their actions.
Anguish is a similarity in both essays because both the escaped prisoner in the “Allegory of the Cave” and all men in “Existentialism” have a moral responsibility to their fellow man. The escaped prisoner is responsible for going back and informing the rest of the captives of what he saw. He has to explain to them that the ultimate reality is not the shadows on the wall but what is seen once you’re in the light. He then experiences anguish because the captives will not believe him. The essay states that: “Men would say of him that up he went and down he came without his eyes; and that it was better not even to think of ascending; and if any one tried to loose another and lead him up to the light, let them only catch the offender, and they would put him to death” (p. 1185). The cave is their world and what they see is their truth. The escaped prisoner is now an outsider and suffers because the other captives could not comprehend that what they are really seeing is just a bad distortion of reality. In “Existentialism,” man experiences anguish because he would not be able to get away from his responsibility of his actions and his choices because the decisions he makes not only affects him but those around him too. The narrator states that: “Every man ought to say to himself, ‘Am I really the kind of man who has the right to act in such a way that humanity might guide itself by my actions?’ And if he does not say that to himself, he is masking his anguish” (p. 1292). Every man experiences anguish because they have the freedom of choice but the responsibility of all men. Therefore every choice that man makes must be a good one.
Both Plato and Sartre have many different views in their essays and one opposing view is about the good and the bad. In Sartre’s essay, good decisions or choices are made because it is what is good for every man and that , “to choose to be this or that is to affirm at the same time the value of what we choose, because we can never choose evil. We always choose the good, and nothing can be good for us without being good for all” (p. 1291). Every man then does not choose the evil because what is evil for him will be evil for all; therefore, when man has to make a decision, he values each choice on how much good will come out of them. Although in “The Allegory of the Cave,” good is not considered first but last and to get there is a long and tortuous journey. Once the good is seen, they will see everything of a higher realm which is the true reality and be aware that goodness is the origin of everything that exists. The narrator states, “…whether true or false, my opinion is that in the world of knowledge the idea of good appears last of all, and is seen only with an effort; and, when seen, is also inferred to be the universal author of all things beautiful and right…” (p. 1185). Instead of carefully making every decision of what is good, the very thought of goodness comes last. In Plato’s essay, to reach the goodness you have to find the enlightened path.
Another difference between the two essays is the thought of the limitations of the unlighted and enlightened path and subjectivity. In “The Allegory of the Cave,” the prisoners have to struggle to understand and reach enlightenment. The escaped prisoner had to travel through the journey of the visible, image-making realm of the cave to the intelligible realm of reasoning and understanding. He was subject to transform between these two realms. At first he had to reason with what he saw outside the cave. It was hard for him in the beginning because, “when he approaches the light his eyes will be dazzled and he will not be able to see anything at all of what are now called realities” (p. 1184). It was difficult for him to go through the transition of dark to light or unlighted to the enlightened. But once he got used to the light, he could see the truth and understand that what he saw and what the other unlighted captives still see in the cave are actually an illusion. Although in “Existentialism” men are subjected to more than two sort of realms. Since an existentialist creates their own meaning of life there is no limit like there is in Plato’s essay. The meaning of life is then changed with every decision made because there is no God or enlightened path to goodness. This leaves existentialists left with no excuses for their actions. Once they have made a choice there is no going back and he lives with his choices and blames no one but himself. The essay states: “Subjectivism means, on the one hand, that an individual chooses and makes himself; and, on the other, that it is impossible for man to transcend human subjectivity.” Since there is no unlighted or enlightened path he is responsible for what he chooses and he can not turn back once a mistake is made.
The views of goodness, limitations, and subjectivism binds together to explain the different views of human existence between Plato and Sartre. A man confined to life in a cave like Plato’s essay, is restricted to what he sees in the dark and what he will perceive as his reality and truth. While those who go into the light will have an opposing idea of what reality is and have an understanding of what the truth really is. The narrator states that: “he will first ask whether that soul of man has come out of the brighter life, and is unable to see because unaccustomed to the dark, or having turned from darkens to the day is dazzled by excess of light” (p. 1186). In Sartre’s essay, existence precedes essence where every man is free to lead his life the way he wants to. The essay states that: “Man is nothing else than his plan; he exists only to the extent that he fulfills himself; he is therefore nothing else than the ensemble of his acts, nothing else than his life” (p. 1297). Every man chooses where he wants to be in the future and his life will only go as far as he plans it to go and not restricted to any certain places or ideas like the men in the cave are in “Allegory of the Cave.”
In conclusion, there are moral responsibilities in both essays, “The Allegory of the Cave” and “Existentialism.” Plato and Sartre both imply that anguish are felt among all men but their views of goodness, limitations and subjectivism of life and the human existence vary in their essays. Whether it is best to believe in God or not, moral responsibility is placed on every man.