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Summary of Plato's Allegory of the Cave

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“The Allegory of the Cave”

In Plato’s Allegory of the cave, he makes us look at the nature of reality. We ask ourselves, why are we here? What is reality? What is knowledge and what are we going to use our knowledge for after it has been acquired?

The idea of Reality

   “Behold! Human beings living in an underground den, which has a mouth open towards the light and reaching all along the den; here they have been from their childhood, and have their legs and neck chained so that they cannot move, and can only see before them…” (Plato 3). Plato tries to explain that from childhood we are stuck in an unreal life and only see what we have been taught to see. Further, in paragraphs four to ten, Plato elaborates that prisoners only see shadows cast by the sun. This also relates to not being able to see the actual beauty or forms as supposed to. In other words, material items do not fully show the true forms of everything. “…when any of them is liberated and compelled suddenly to stand up and turn his neck around and walk and look towards the light, he will suffer sharp pains…” (Plato 15). In this paragraph, Plato tells us that even when freed from the cave, the prisoner will need some time to adjust to the light. He looks at reflections until his sight adjusts to the light. He can now see, at the moment, he realizes that he had been looking the wrong way and had the wrong perception of things. At first he will be surprised and in doubt about what reality truly is. Is it what he saw in the cave or the outer world?  

   After experiencing reality, he becomes compelled to return to his original habitat and redeem the others. Staying out of the cave for so long will disrupt his sight when returning to the cave, making him seem doubtful of what he has seen and not be able to convince the other prisoners.

True belief or knowledge

   This writing makes us question our primitive ways. Do we have knowledge or true belief? Paragraphs 35 to 60 tries to establish this. True belief is like a moving statue that needs to be anchored. Just like what we learn in classrooms and lecture halls. Whereas, knowledge is the exercise of reason. A reflection of what we’ve been taught. Should the prisoner return and save others? If he does, that will be knowledge. He will be exercising reasoning. For example, what is justice or goodness without the correct thought or introspection. The freed prisoner after seeing the light, knows that we are all different and not everyone has the ability to make it all the way.

   “…whereas, our argument shows that the power and capacity of learning exists in the soul already…” (Plato 45). Socrates tells Gluacon this and tries to explain Plato’s point that education is “the art of turning souls around” and therefore should be shared in the right manner and that it is natural to be educated but should not be aimed at forcing knowledge. Plato thinks that we must go through the lower stages (the cave) before reaching the higher stages (the light).

Socrates explains further that, at the lowest stage, we tend to imagine things as the prisoners did when they saw the shadows without knowing the exact forms. Secondly is when we experience belief. Being freed from the cave to see why things are the way they are. We become obliged to understand what was causing the shadows. Thirdly, we are forced to reason after believing and lastly, we gain the knowledge.

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