‘The Allegory of The Cave’ by Plato: Summary and Meaning

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.

28 thoughts on “‘The Allegory of The Cave’ by Plato: Summary and Meaning

  1. i beleive the idea of plato… the philosphers should be given the chance to manage the affirs of the state.

  2. that is true we should not relie on our senses perception instead we should goes beyond these senses perception where we can attain the true knowledge

  3. The principle behind the thought is one I believe we all know, or at least can relate to but few ever have the courage to pursue. Oh we may begin to but when it gets too difficult to ponder, we retreat back to the safety of empirical reality.

  4. your reality is a perception based on what you think you know, what do you really know. I now I can or I can not, I know I have a choice, I know that I am conscious. I can, I have, I am.

    • I still don’t understand this concept. Is this you only believe what you see or hear rather to go out and seek the truth?

  5. the prisoners are scared of knowing the truth..funny innit?hehhe lmao

  6. The shadows are religious beliefs. The other prisoners, the one who guessed what was next, and revered for his wisdom, is a symbol of religious “leaders.”. The prisoner who escapes is a free thinker. The prisoners who attack his message when he returns are bible thumping no-nothing’s who stick to the shadows as reality.

    • This isn’t about religion, it’s about seeking knowledge and being rejected for it. It’s basically a huge metaphor for what Socrates went through in the Apology when he was sentenced to death for asking questions that challenged the accepted believes of that time.

    • Plato’s allegory of the cave, is his epistemology nd view about reality. to him, dis world that is susceptible to sight nd sense experience is but an imperfect reflection of the perfect world of really real. The world of the cave nd the world of eventual reality can be akin to painting which imperfect ly copies the real one. standing on this projected fact, I think plato is right in his metaphysics.

  7. The bottom line is that the prisoners should never have committed a crime to begin with or else they would already have had a real normal reality instead of the demented one they have created for themselves by violating the law. Prisoners belong in prison (usually).

  8. Ouch George! Is this your personal experience? Anything or anyone can be guilty of that. It could even be people who are told all their lives that they are their own masters and to look after their own selves/needs – suddenly they are exposed to something other than their own selfishness and bam … they are enlightened. Lots of things that keep people in the dark – I think.

  9. The reason why dumb people do not trust philosophers is that they are too lazy to keep their minds working.

  10. FYI, IMHO, “A Course in Miracles” has a much darker, more complex, and psychologically sophisticated version of this allegory.

  11. The contrast that Plato refers to is between empirical knowledge that has to be filtered through our subjective perception and philosophical argument that does not. For example; how can we be sure that your perception of the colour green is the same as mine? We cannot. However the philosophical observation that this is the case is a pure, ultimate piece of knowledge.

  12. Socrates made it simple, our senses deceive and broke us from perceiving reality as it is. Thus, it is only logic and rational that is reliable. Thanks

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