21 February 2013
Analysis of “Allegory of the Cave” In Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” Plato talks about a group of prisoners who have never seen light because they have been chained down in a cave since childhood. Down in the cave there is a fire lit behind the prisoners with a raised walkway that people walk across with objects to project shadows on the wall in front of the prisoners. The prisoners are being tricked into believing that there is no existence other than the shadows being casted on the wall. None of them ask any questions or seek knowledge or truth, until one of the prisoners is released into the real world. The prisoner may both be frightened and want to return back to the cave or look at the sun and see the world as it truly is. In this case the prisoner is forced into the sunlight and realizes that the truth lies beyond the chains. He will now start asking questions and have a better understanding of truth, knowledge, and wisdom. From his great discovery the prisoner goes back to the cave and tries to tell the others it’s beautiful, but nobody believes him and only thinks the prisoner is crazy. To know the real meaning of life requires people to stop being ignorant and more open minded.
Plato’s purpose is to show how one is enlightened and to do that one has to go through a series of stages. The four stages are imagination, belief, thought, and understanding. The best group of people will be chosen to go to school for a long period of time to be educated and the most educated will be the enlightened leader. Once a person has become enlightened after going through the education process, they will see ten thousand times better because they will now know what the shadows are; what reality is (Jowett). The prisoner will be expected to return to the cave and live his life with the other prisoners for being one who now can see better than all the rest and is able to determine truth from reality. He will also be expected to care for the other prisoners, “you have been better and more thoroughly educated than those others and hence you are more capable of playing your part both as men of thought and as men of action” (Jowett). They might not want to lead, but will have to because it’s their duty. The prisoner will have the responsibility of being the leader once they realize the forms of goodness. It may be unfair to send the prisoner back to the cave, but Socrates has made three points in response to this. Socrates reminds us that the idea is to make the city as a whole happy rather than just one group happy, that the leader was made to do that job so he can return back to the cave and rule, and that the leaders will actually want to rule in a way because they know what it would be like if they didn’t rule (Jowett). The goal is to educate those, so they can look towards the form of the good and be more open minded about everything. Plato thought that people must all proceed through the lower stages in order to reach the higher stages. Everyone begins at the level of imagination. The prisoners in the cave represent imagination because they think the shadows on the wall are the most real things in the world. Socrates says, “And of the objects which are being carried in like manner they would only see the shadows…if they were able to converse with one another, would they not suppose that they were naming what was actually before them” (Jowett). The general terms of peoples language are not names of the objects they see, but rather names of things that are not visible to them; things that they can only grasp with the mind. The prisoners also hear echoes and noises that the people are making according to the objects being shown on the wall, which they also believe to be the real thing. Socrates says, “And suppose further that the prison had an echo which came from the other side, would they not be sure to fancy when one of the passers-by spoke that the voice which they…