Plato’s Cave

20.03.2015 |

Episode #3 of the course “Philosophical ideas that everyone should know”

Think about being imprisoned all your life in a cave. Your feet and hands are bound, and your head is placed so that you can’t look anywhere but straight ahead. The shadows on the wall produced by a constant burning fire are the only things you and your inmates have ever observed and the only idea you can discuss.

Plato, the philosopher, uses this analogy in the Allegory of the Cave. In this theory, he investigates the ideal state and its ruler, the philosopher king. That is, Plato justifies the rule of a philosopher and uses the cave as context.

Plato’s concept of knowledge is complex and contains layers. For example, if your shackles were removed and you could walk around the cave, you would be awed by the fire at first. You would slowly begin to understand how it casts the shadows you have seen. Finally, you are released from the cave and can observe how the sun lights the world, providing a new level of understanding.

The cave signifies “the realm of becoming,” the part of our experience where nothing is perfect. Chained prisoners, referring to everyday people, have limited views, while the once prisoner is able to walk around the cave, he gains a better view of reality. Further, the world above the cave is “the realm of being,” or the world of truth inhabited by knowledge.

In Plato’s view, the known has to be pure, complete, and last forever. However, nothing in the world of life inside the cave stands up to this definition. Plato suggests another realm (outside the cave) that is perfect and unchanging. Plato suggests that there is a hierarchy of the knowledge. The highest is the Form of the Good (the sun), which creates the ultimate meaning for all the other forms and is the basis for their existence.


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