Plato's analogy of the cave 


The analogy of the cave

 Plato uses an analogy story to illustrate his theory of knowledge 

Part one :   “An odd painting” 

Imagine a group of prisoners chained since childhood in an underground cave. They are unable to move their heads, able to look forward only. Imagine also that behind them is a fire burning up higher and at a distance; between the fire and the prisoners a low wall has been built.  Behind the wall, there is a walkway where some people are walking carrying various puppets that rise above the wall. These puppets have different forms including shapes of objects and animals. The fire casts shadows of the figures and objects onto the wall in front of the prisoners. Plato argued that such prisoners would deem reality to be nothing else than the shadows of the artificial objects.


Part two : “ the liberation”

One of the prisoners is freed from is shackles and compelled to stand up suddenly to lift his eyes to the light. And in doing all this, he felt pain as the brightness of the fire’s light hurts his eyes. So that it’s difficult to see the objects casting the shadows. But with time, his eyes get accustomed to the light, so he can see the objects and the source of the light.  Then he realises that what he has seen before was all the cheat and illusion. He is then dragged by force up the ascent which is rough and steep out into the light of the sun in the outside world. It’s difficult for his eyes to adjust the brightness so that he struggles to see.  At first, he can only bear to look down at the shadows and reflections in the water and later he can look to the things themselves and from these he would go one to contemplate the light of the stars and the moon. Finally, he would be able to look upon the sun itself. By now he has learned that it’s because of the sun that he can see anything at all and that the sun is in some sort the cause of all that exist on earth.

Then if he recalled to his mind his first habitation still chained and deceived in the cave, he would pity the prisoners there. If there had been honours and commendations among them which they bestowed to one another and prizes for the man who was quickest to make out the shadows as they passed; he would not envy and emulate those who were honoured but enjoy anything rather than turn back with them and live that life.


Part 3 : Back into the cave

Plato ask us to imagine that the former prisoner were compelled to go back in the cave. If he were to go down again and take his old place in the cave, he would find it hard to see in the darkness coming from the bright light and if he tried to join in evaluating these shadows while his vision was still dim and before his eyes were accustomed to the dark, the shackled prisoners would laugh at him for his inability to recognise the shadows. They would say he had returned from his journey aloft with his eyes ruined and if he tried to release and lead them up to the light, they would kill him if it were possible.

 Questions about the text :

In your opinion, what does the light stand for?

Why is it so difficult to stare at the light ?

Do you agree with Plato when he writes : “we look like the cave’s prisoners” ?








Hellenic Philosophy Origin And Character
Document Adobe Acrobat 15.7 MB
._Modern Philosophers.pdf
Document Adobe Acrobat 4.0 KB