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Aristotle Allegory Of The Cave Analysis Essay

Why does Plato compare ordinary human existence to that of chained prisoners in a cave?”

The Allegory of the Cave is an allegory to evaluate a journey from darkness to light as the mind moves toward the Forms. The “cave” is considered the world of the five senses meaning we acquire our opinions through the influence of others.   Once free from the cave, individuals are on a constant upward path by the means of intellect rather than by the persuasion of the senses.

These chained prisoners reside in a cave only able to be guided by their sense. Their eyes are fixed on the wall and they are unable to move their bodies or head. Behind these prisoners is a large fire and in between the fire and prisoners is a walkway, which various puppets and marionettes move. These figures cast shadows amongst the wall which is what the chained prisoners lock their eyes on. Behind this cave there is a used road and upon this road people are walking and talking and making noises. The prisoners believe that these noises come directly from the shadows projected on the cave wall.

The prisoners come to this conclusion because this is all that they see and know using their senses. The truth to the prisoners is nothing but the shadows on the wall. When one is compelled to get up and look towards the light he is struck with pain for he is experiencing the unknown, something he cannot explain: the light. He then realizes that everything his eyes were fixated on in the cave was just a false sense of reality and by looking at the sun he questions his existence. He begins to pity the prisoners in the cave for being naive and not knowing what he just learned. If he were to return to the cave and share his new findings he would seem ridiculous for he would have to re-adjust to the cave’s setting and none of the prisoners could possibly grasp these new and complex ideologies.

There is always journey upwards to the path of intellectual growth that is in ones hands to choose to travel on it or not. It is based on an individual’s desires. To see and understand true good comes with effort, and in order for one to be revealed to the source of reason and truth they must embark on this path of intellect.

The ‘Allegory Of The Cave’ is a theory put forward by Plato, concerning human perception. Plato claimed that knowledge gained through the senses is no more than opinion and that, in order to have real knowledge, we must gain it through philosophical reasoning.

‘The Allegory of the Cave’ by Plato

 In the Allegory of the Cave, Plato distinguishes between people who mistake sensory knowledge for the truth and people who really do see the truth. It goes like this:

 The Cave

  • Imagine a cave, in which there are three prisoners. The prisoners are tied to some rocks, their arms and legs are bound and their head is tied so that they cannot look at anything but the stonewall in front of them.
  • These prisoners have been here since birth and have never seen outside of the cave.
  • Behind the prisoners is a fire, and between them is a raised walkway.
  • People outside the cave walk along this walkway carrying things on their head including; animals, plants, wood and stone.

 The Shadows

  • So, imagine that you are one of the prisoners. You cannot look at anything behind or to the side of you – you must look at the wall in front of you.
  • When people walk along the walkway, you can see shadows of the objects they are carrying cast on to the wall.
  •  If you had never seen the real objects ever before, you would believe that the shadows of objects were ‘real.’

 The Game

  • Plato suggests that the prisoners would begin a ‘game’ of guessing which shadow would appear next.
  • If one of the prisoners were to correctly guess, the others would praise him as clever and say that he were a master of nature.

 The Escape

  • One of the prisoners then escapes from their bindings and leaves the cave.
  • He is shocked at the world he discovers outside the cave and does not believe it can be real.
  • As he becomes used to his new surroundings, he realizes that his former view of reality was wrong.
  • He begins to understand his new world, and sees that the Sun is the source of life and goes on an intellectual journey where he discovers beauty and meaning
  • He see’s that his former life, and the guessing game they played is useless.

 The Return

  • The prisoner returns to the cave, to inform the other prisoners of his findings.
  • They do not believe him and threaten to kill him if he tries to set them free.

‘ The Allegory of The Cave’ by Plato – The Meaning

 The Allegory of the cave by Plato should not be taken at face value. In essays and exams, whoever is marking it expects you to have a deeper understanding of the meaning of the theory. You can then use these to think about criticisms and then to form your own opinion.

The Cave

  • In Plato’s theory, the cave represents people who believe that knowledge comes from what we see and hear in the world – empirical evidence. The cave shows that believers of empirical knowledge are trapped in a ‘cave’ of misunderstanding.

The Shadows

  • The Shadows represent the perceptions of those who believe empirical evidence ensures knowledge. If you believe that what you see should be taken as truth, then you are merely seeing a shadow of the truth. In Plato’s opinion you are a ‘pleb’ if you believe this (their insult for those who are not Philosophers)!

The Game

  • The Game represents how people believe that one person can be a ‘master’ when they have knowledge of the empirical world. Plato is demonstrating that this master does not actually know any truth, and suggesting that it is ridiculous to admire someone like this.

The Escape

  • The escaped prisoner represents the Philosopher, who seeks knowledge outside of the cave and outside of the senses.
  • The Sun represents philosophical truth and knowledge
  • His intellectual journey represents a philosophers journey when finding truth and wisdom

 The Return

  • The other prisoners reaction to the escapee returning represents that people are scared of knowing philosophical truths and do not trust philosophers.

It is always recommended that you read the original text by Plato to reach the top grades. If you would like to purchase ‘The Republic’ by Plato, click here! We also found a FREE kindle version.

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By Amy Trumpeter • Posted in Uncategorized • Tagged Allegory of the Cave, Plato, Platos cave, Platos Republic

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