Plato’s analogy begins in a cave. The cave is meant to represent the physical world or the world of sense experience. A number of prisoners are bound by their necks and legs so that they cannot turn around. They have been this way since birth and know no other life than this. Behind the prisoners are a low wall, a walkway and a fire that burns. From time to time individuals carry objects like marionettes in front of the fire and shadows are cast against the wall in front of them. The prisoners observe the shadows that flicker before them and have developed a game over time. They try to predict the movements of the shadows. They associate the sounds made by the individuals with the shadows as this is all they know. They think of them as true reality.
The prisoners in this case represent the ignorant unenlightened individuals yet to discover philosophical truth. They are duped into believing that the shadows they see are the real objects in themselves or that the sounds the people make are being made by the shadows. Plato argues that the shadows and games played are equivalent to the five senses deceiving the individual. He believes that the objects we see in the physical world are pale reflections or imitations of the true ‘Form’ of that object in the World of...
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...r the nature of things.
Once the philosopher is enlightened Plato suggests that they will return to the cave to tell others of their enlightenment. He suggests that if the philosopher were to try to tell the others in the cave that there was a whole other world outside the cave they would laugh at them. If they persisted to try and convince them that this was the case then the prisoners would be prepared to kill them. Here Plato is making the point that the unenlightened are prepared to believe the established order (in Plato’s time the Athenian government) rather than think for themselves. This is a reference to the death of his teacher Socrates.
In conclusion Plato uses his analogy of the cave to demonstrate his belief in the World of Forms. Each element of the analogy highlights the specific differences between the empirical and rational; physical and spiritual.
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