Plato’s Allegory of the Cave

Humanities I – 13Z

Summer 04

Because of how we live, true reality is not obvious to most of us. However, we mistake what we see and hear for reality and truth. This is the basic premise for Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, in which prisoners sit in a cave, chained down, watching images cast on the wall in front of them. They accept these views as reality and they are unable to grasp their overall situation: the cave and images are a ruse, a mere shadow show orchestrated for them by unseen men. At some point, a prisoner is set free and is forced to see the situation inside the cave. Initially, one does not want to give up the security of his or her familiar reality; the person has to be dragged past the fire and up the entranceway. This is a difficult and painful struggle. When individuals step into the sunshine, their eyes slowly accommodate to the light and their fundamental view of the world, of reality, is transformed. They come to see a deeper, more genuine, authentic reality: a reality marked by reason. The individual then makes the painful readjustment back into the darkness of the cave to free the prisoners. However, because he now seems mad -describing a new strange reality - they reject him to the point of threatening to kill him. Plato’s Allegory of the Cave is a direct representation of the human condition, the circumstances we as humans presently encounter, circumstances such as conceptual frameworks, or basic beliefs, and our typical behaviors in society. The allegory metaphorically describes our situation as human beings in the world today. In his story, Plato utilizes several key elements to portray his metaphor of the human condition. Plato’s image contains pertinent ideas about society that are relevant to my everyday life. Through his reading, I have begun to discover the ideal form, the use of reason over perception to approach, view, and judge all things.
Prisoners, watching life unfold on the cave wall in front of them, accepting what they see as truth, as reality, are literally people. Every average person in this world is a prisoner, chained down. These chains that bind the prisoners to the floor are beliefs. Take clothes for instance, a person may not have very much money, so they should not spend enormous amounts on clothing, but the fear of not being accepted due to out of style clothes requires said person to spend too much money on their clothes. The fear spoken of is derivative of the person’s beliefs, holding them to abide by the cultural norms, in this case purchasing over priced clothing. The prisoners are gazing at shadows on the wall, until he or she breaks free. To break free in this world, you must look at objects, individuals, cities and societies, even the universe as a whole, with reason. Do not simply rely on perceptions and senses to grasp concepts.
People carrying figures of humans, animals, and plants crafted from wood or stone, cast images on the wall for the prisoners to gawk at. These people are the political, business, and educational leaders that feed the average person their own ideologies, beliefs about various things. These individuals are in today’s society, people like George Bush, the President. He makes decisions for us, and tells us what to believe on certain subjects. After the attack on our country, he decided to send to troops in and attack Afghanistan. In this particular example, the President’s beliefs may be correct, however, that is not a relevant fact. What is relevant, though, is that in questioning his decision, I have now formulated my own opinion and belief on the subject, thus not simply buying into the views and beliefs being fed to me.
A roadway is described as being behind the prisoners, and it is this roadway that the men walked on when carrying the figures. This roadway depicts the path used to deliver whatever message it is that the leaders previously mentioned want delivered. The Internet and television both are very profitable sources for these men. If someone hears on the news that there was a war going on in the Middle East, than they would believe it. Without ever personally viewing the war,