The Allegory of the Cave is an allegory presented in Republic, a literary piece of work by Plato, a famous Greek philosopher. It is a dialogue between Glaucon and his mentor Socrates. The work highlights the misconceptions of society regarding knowledge and education. Plato illustrates Socrates describing a group of prisoners who have lived their entire lives chained and facing a blank wall. Behind them, there is a fire that projects shadows of puppets that pass between them onto the wall. The puppeteers chat, producing echoes that bounce off the wall, leading to the prisoners having the mistaken belief that the projected images are the ones creating the sound. Further narrative describes how one of the prisoners unchains himself, escapes, and is perturbed that what they have been considering as truth is really not; the fire, the light outside the cave, the moon, the stars, and the sun are all fake. After the new discoveries outside, the escapee feels compelled to return to the cave and enlighten his brethren. He finds them engaged in the game of naming the projected images. He tries to inform them of the new discoveries but is met with reluctance and resistance. The inmates view him as the one who has lost focus in life and threaten to kill anyone who tries to confuse them in their comfort. From the analogy above, it is evident that the Allegory of the Cave was a symbolic representation of society. The paper will elaborate on the narrative about society, as well as its power to enslave people and make them happy prisoners.
The dark cave is a symbolic representation of society. In Plato’s analogy, the cave represents the people who have the misconception that they gain knowledge from what they perceive through sight and hearing. Society has made people believe that knowledge is gained from empirical evidence, i.e., the things we see and hear in our daily lives. The cave demonstrates that individuals who believe in empirical evidence as the source of knowledge are entrapped in a ‘cage’ of misunderstanding. According to Plato, if one feels that what one sees is the truth, then one merely believes in the show of the truth. In Plato’s cave, the prisoners thought that the shadows on the wall represented the truth, and the voices emanated from the projected images. In reality, the voices originated from the people carrying the puppets. The lack of knowledge of anything else drives the prisoners to the conclusion that the shadows are real, and the voices are real. The state of mind represents people who are narrow-minded and have a limited line of thought. The people do not attempt to improve their understandings or beliefs are in an the intellectual comfort zone. Plato portends that individuals escape from the mental incapacity if they become philosophers who question popular beliefs to come with an informed understanding of various issues. The detainees represent people in society who have not opened their minds to challenge popular beliefs and do not possess the philosophical thoughts, thus perceiving the world as they see or have been told. This dogmatic belief of the prisoners mirrors our society. People have become intellectually lazy, not attempting to question things. Questioning issues removes them from the comfort of their bliss and fear of the repercussions of being seen as rebellious. This renders people prisoners of society, where one has to conform to the popular belief that results in ‘happy’ life.
In the Allegory of the Cave, the prisoner who escapes might be interpreted to be the philosopher. In Plato’s narrative, the prisoner who is removed from the shackles feels pain and discomfort. The muscles of the detainee ache because he has not used them for a very long time, and the eyes experience the pain from the blazing fire that momentarily blinds him. The prisoner is in shock and suffering when he sees the light and the objects he saw as shadows. This represents the puzzlement that people undergo when they decide to step out of their intellectual comforts and open their minds to new philosophical ideas. The new ideas might be uncomfortable, complicated, and less appealing to their original thoughts; this leads to confusion and distress, as an individual tries to connect the new discoveries and what they thought was the reality. The prisoner then takes a painful journey towards the steep steps and is met with glazing light in the outside world that momentarily blinds him. This trip symbolizes the journey we experience in our minds when we start to ask philosophical queries. The fact that it is not an easy journey symbolizes the fact that we cannot move from ignorance to enlightenment in one step; the journey is not instantaneous and may not be easy. Many people do not like challenges, and this confines them to being happy prisoners. Plato posits that with time, the prisoner will try to adjust to the new environment; he will be able to look at the ground and trees, see his image in the water, and eventually observe the sun and view it as the foundation of life. Here, the sun is imagery for enlightenment or even God. The sun is an incomprehensible higher reality as compared to what people have been accustomed to. It is only after he looks directly at the sun is he able to reason about it. According to Plato, this is the realm of pure fact, pure Form. The knowledge of Forms constitutes real knowledge or “the good,” according to Socrates. The good results in justice, truth, and equity. The lack of the pure fact results in corruption, greed, and the inequities rampant in society.
With the new enlightenment, the prisoner feels obligated to return to the cave and save the rest from the ignorance bliss. Here, Plato infers that those who have ascended to the highest level and gained real knowledge must not dwell there; they must retain to the cave and stay with the prisoners and share with their pains and sufferings and try to share the enlightenment. As he enters the cave, he is blinded by the darkness; he finds the others playing the game. He is viewed as an outcast, having lost the cave skills. Given their ignorance, they will see him as useless with no value in the cave. If he tries to tell them about his newfound knowledge, the prisoners will reject him because of ignorance and unwillingness to grasp new ideas. If he persists in his quest to spread the news, he will be killed. The other inmates’ unwillingness to embrace the returning escapee represent that people fear knowing philosophical truths and do not trust philosophers. In society, people prefer to live a non-inquisitive lifestyle rather than the scholars’ lives that inspire thinking and questioning a popular belief or a ‘reliable’ authority. To avoid being killed or labeled traitors, people sentence themselves to a prison called society and live ‘happily,’ with no one bothering them. Prisoners in society do not embrace the alternative fact; any alternative opinion to the popular belief is viewed as obsolete. If one tries to be unique and challenge ideas, the prison system created by society will turn against them. This leads to individuals being intellectually incapacitated happy prisoners.
Plato’s allegory has various meanings; it is a theory concerning human perception. According to him, knowledge gained through the senses is just a mere opinion. To obtain real knowledge, one has to acquire the understanding through philosophical reasoning; sensory experience does not amount to the truth. The chained prisoners represent the ignorance bliss; the chains symbolizes society that has put us in shackles of ignorance and fear of challenging new concepts. The freed prisoner could represent Socrates who tried to inspire critical thinking among the Greeks but was killed by the authorities for corrupting people’s minds and challenging popular beliefs. The cave is a representation of Plato’s world of Forms; the shadows symbolize the falsities of the world, while the outside and daylight represent the perfect Forms of justice and equity. People think that what they see is the reality when, in fact, it is not. Plato asserts that the reality is actually what we cannot see. The cave is an accurate reflection of the current world where people like to be in the comfort zone. People’s opinions are influenced by what they hear as truth from others and see on the surface. People are scared of wandering ‘outside’ in search of knowledge themselves, which creates a perfectly obedient society with happy and ignorant prisoners.