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

Summary of Platos Cave

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.

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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!

 

You might also like to read about Plato’s Theory of Forms.

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

      1. But is it really believe, or is that just what you percieve it to be? Is that just the shadow you have seen cast on the wall? Or have you seen it in a mirror, reversing the i and the e from thier correct position? Have you ever truly seen believe in its true form to know that it is believe, instead of beleive??? Lol

  1. 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

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

    1. 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?

  4. 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.

    1. 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.

    2. 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.

    3. Rather, it is the opposite. It is about how materialism, or modern atheism, is based on using observations of the shadows and not seeking the truth that has always been outside their realm of “knowledge.” I believe you are missing the entire point of the allegory.

    4. This story can be interpreted in many ways. Whether you view it from a religious, philosophical, or other perspective, it can mean different things. Some people may relate this story to religious beliefs, while others may think of an entirely different circumstance, such as social problems. In the end, no matter how you perceive it or what you may relate it to, this story is representing enlightenment from the simplicity that was previously known and the ignorance and distrust of those who are still oblivious.

  5. 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).

    1. They were held captive because they were tied up, they just used prisoners to describe them because it’s more convenient.

  6. 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.

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

  9. 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.

  10. 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

  11. THE THEORY IS UTMOSTLY IMPORTANT CONSIDERING THAT AT TIMES INDIVIDUALS LIVE IN SELF ENDORSED BONDAGE. UNTIL ONE COMES OUT OF THE CAVE THEN THEY MAY PICK REALITY AND HAVE SUBSTANTIATED PERCEPTIONS REGARDING MYSTERIES OF THE WORLD, AND THUS ATTAIN MENTAL LIBERATION WHICH WITH TIME UNFOLDS TO PHYSICAL AND TOTALLIBERATION OF THE INDIVIDUAL….

  12. Can you say ignorance is bliss no matter what stage you’re at the ones who are tied up the shadow guys and the guys on top of the fire all three stages are ignorant

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  14. Philosophy is life, to ignore the journey to search for the truth is equally to choose darkness or death. Senses deceives, its only logic/rational reasoning that yield knowledge. The truth will set you free …

  15. that is a great idea from our father.it is my wish that all people will accept his theory and goes by it to the benefit of all ,thanks.

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  17. Perhaps it simply means that our minds are imprisioned by our life experiences, represented by the prisoners in the cave. The escaped prisoner represents an ‘epiphany ‘, or ‘enlightenment’. The prisoners who wouldn’t listen, represents the difficulty people have in opening their closed minds

  18. The persons in the cave are in their comfort zone. This is true of every group or community. They do not accept of believe in an other possibility.

  19. The persons in the cave are in their comfort zone. This is true of every group or community. They do not accept of believe in an other possibility.

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