Plato's Allegory of The Cave

Essay by letsrockUniversity, Bachelor's February 2008

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Plato presents the simile of the cave as a vehicle to explain his philosophy on how people learn. Plato uses this particular simile to express the world of ordinary people. Plato tells a story of people who have been imprisoned inside a cave, and chained in such a way that they cannot move. They are only able to look straight ahead at the wall of the cave. This wall is like a screen on which men outside the cave, by means of a burning fire, project shadows and images. These men outside the cave, who provided the truth for these people, may symbolize the Sophists, the philosophers, who taught the people before Socrates. Plato's use of the fire is a symbol for the limited light of learning available to these people. The chained people see the images or shadows on the wall and accept this as the real thing.

These prisoners were only able to see what the men outside the cave were willing to project. These prisoners are tied together and united in their belief and certainty that their knowledge is the true one. Plato uses the cave to symbolize the darkness and lack of true knowledge. The cave is like a tomb, and these people are locked in without the ability of seeing true life. However, this is the only home the prisoners know, and they feel secure there. These people do not have to cope with real life. Their truth is also correct, but it is only partial. It is enough for these people since they do not know anything else.

Plato develops his argument by describing a situation when one of the men is let loose. He is forced to stand up and walk out of the cave towards the fire. The process of going...