Plato and the Allegory of the Cave (Analysis)

plato cave allegory

Today we speak about the most famous text of the philosophy: The Allegory of the Cave, by Plato, from the Book 7 of The Republic.

The context of The Republic:

The work focuses on the concept of justice, both from the standpoint of the individual and the collective view, social. Plato and Socrates trying to find how a society and an individual can be fair, trying to rise to the Idea of ​​Justice.

The Allegory of the Cave presents the theory of Ideas of Plato, who is both his metaphysics (= his theory of knowledge) and ontology (= his theory of being). Also a political dialogue, as Plato explains his theory on the ideal organization of the City.

This text is therefore quite representative of the Platonic philosophy.

Brief analysis of Book 7: Men live in illusion. Only the philosophy, free from opinion, can access ideas. The world is thus divided into two : sensible and false things and their ideas real. But the truth is preferable to illusion, knowledge must guide man and the City. So, it is the philosopher to rule.

Let us now detail the text.

The ontology of Plato:

The real is not homogeneous according to Plato. It is divided into two parts: first the physical world accessible to the senses, the real immediate source of error and illusion, the other the intelligible world accessible to reason alone, instead of ideas and truth. Combining reality and truth, Plato condemns the world of sense. The horse is not the truth, only the idea of ​​a horse is true.

Thus, the Cave means the material world, whose wise-philosopher has to divert to the world of ideas. Access to the Truth through contemplation, the exercise is to make use of his reason.

The Platonic ontology is dualistic because of this dichotomy sensible / intelligible.


Opinion and Knowledge: The Cave as an epistemological theory

Cave reveals also the epistemology of Plato. Cave means the world of opinion, while the outside means the world of knowledge. Plato says that the natural place for men is ignorance. Rocked by the senses and prejudice, most men live under the yoke of “doxa” (opinion). We must therefore do work on itself, bring about a revolution in the way of seeing the world, convert his eyes to get rid of the doxa.

Of course, the philosopher feels loneliness and misunderstanding of the crowd, but its role remains to inform the host through the Socratic method (delivery of souls).

The idealism of Plato

Plato was an idealist insofar as he posits the primacy of ideas over matter. The world of ideas, eternal and still prevail over the sensible world, world of illusion, temporary. Intelligible reality is the true reality. The objects of the world are only reflections (Marx, a materialist, reverse the hierarchy Platonic world of ideas is the reflection of the world of objects (relations of production)

The political consequence, the obvious political organization: the philosophers must become kings. By asking to know the center of the political community, Plato presents a political theory elitist.

Selected excerpts from the book 7 of the Republic:

“These men in an underground dwelling in a cave, which has its input length, opening daylight throughout the cave, where they are from childhood, legs and neck caught in the links force them to stay put and not watch that b forward, they are unable, because of the connection, turn the head reaches them in light of a fire that burns up and away, behind them, and between the fire and the men chained up in a road, along which a wall here was raised in the same way as demonstrators puppets have walls that separate people, c ‘ is above them show their wonders. […]

– See also, along the wall, men who wear c artifacts of any kind beyond the wall, statues of humans and other living beings, made of stone, wood, and in any material; Among these carriers, as is normal, some people speak, and the others are silent.

– It’s a strange image that you describe here, “he said, and strange prisoners. “- Like us, I say. To begin, in fact, do you think such men could see anything else about themselves and each other, the shadows, as a result of fire, are projected on the wall of the cave opposite them? […]

– Consider then, I say, what would happen if we cut them off from their relationship and if they are cured of their error, should naturally would happen roughly as follows. Each time one of them would be posted, and would be forced to get up immediately, turning his head, walk, and watch the light, each of these gestures would suffer, and the glare would make it unable to distinguish the things of earlier he saw the shadows that you think he would respond if someone told him earlier that he saw nothing but nonsense, while now it is is a little closer to what really is, and he is facing what is more real, he sees more correctly? Especially if, pointing to each of the things that pass, he was asked what it is, by forcing him to answer? Do not you think it would be lost, and it was satisfied that what he saw earlier were truer than what he shows now?

– And again, if we also forced to turn their eyes to the light itself, would it not hurt my eyes, and he does not flee to return to the things he is capable of distinction, considering the latter as actually sharper than those shown to him?

– And if it snatched away by force, I say, by pushing up the steep rocky slope, and if we do not let go until you have pulled out until the sunlight, did he suffer not and indignant he not be dragged this way? and when he arrived at the light, his eyes flooded with the light of day, would it be able to see if only one of the things that now he seems to be true?

– No, it would not, he says, at least not right away.

– Yes, I think it would require habituation to see things from up there. To start this would be the shadows that distinguish more easily, and after that, on the water, images of men and those “other realities that are reflected, and still later the realities themselves. Following which he would be able to contemplate more easily at night, objects that are in heaven, and heaven itself, turning his eyes toward the light of the stars and the moon b, than watching by day the sun and sunlight.

– So I think it’s just to finish it would prove capable of distinguishing the sun, not his appearances on the water or in a place that is not his, but he himself in himself, in the region of its own, and to contemplate as it is.

– And after this, therefore he would conclude by reasoning about the sun, it is he who gives the seasons and years, and governs everything in the place of the visible, and also somehow, it s because of what they saw there.

– But tell me: do not you think that, remembering his first home, and “wisdom” out there, and his fellow prisoners at the time, he considers himself happy with the change, while that them he complain?

– The honors and praise, so they could entertain each other, and privileges reserved for those who differed from the most acute things passing, and remembered the best of which usually passed before the others, which after, and that together, and on this basis that guessed the most effective way which was to come, you think he would have the desire for these benefits there, and he be jealous of those who, in these people, and are honored to have the power? and undergo all the world and instead rely on appearances, and live that way?

– So this is-you too, I say, If such a man sit down again in the same place, would it not be filled with dark eyes, came to be suddenly full sun?

– Then again if he had to make judgments about the shadows there, in competition with those men who do not cease to be prisoners, when he is blinded before his eyes not have recovered, and while the time needed for addiction would be far from negligible, does not lend it to laugh, and would it not be said of him: to be mounted up there, here he returns with eyes damaged? and: it’s not even worth trying to go up there? As for those who undertake them and lead them away from above, they could in one way or another to seize him and kill him, did they not kill? ”


Cite this article as: Tim, "Plato and the Allegory of the Cave (Analysis), May 22, 2012, " in Philosophy & Philosophers, May 22, 2012,

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