The Allegory of the Cave by Plato

The intention of The Allegory of the Cave is to address the knowledge of reality versus the appearances of everyday illusions. Plato uses his allegory and conversation with Socrates to further prove his point of human ignorance.

The intention is also to urge the educated to help free their fellow citizens who dwell in ignorance.

The arrangement of the piece is set by an allegory, created by Plato. He uses the story of two men chained up in a cave, faced away from the opening, forced to watch the shadows of the outside world passing by, out of their reach. Plato uses the story as an allegory to reference it’s hidden meaning about the morals of human beings.

Another trait characteristic of the story is that Plato incorporates a dialogue with Socrates to prove his point on human ignorance. He tells Socrates the story of the men in the cave and leaves him to question the meaning. The dialogue continues throughout the entire allegory and is used to help the audience better understand the meaning, as Plato continues. Socrates questions towards the allegory can be related to the same questions the audience may be asking as they read it. The dialogue helps the audience to stay in tune and better interpret the hidden meaning.

The imagery used in the story often describes the shadows, lights and depictions the men in the cave see when chained away from the light. When the men become unchained and are allowed to turn towards the light outside the tunnel, the descriptions of the light- reality- blind them at first. Plato states that some turn away from the light because it is too overpowering, they seek the shadows they once knew too well- allusions of appearances. The imagery of darkness and light in the allegory are simple elements that can be easily understood by readers.

–Chloe Klusman

The intention of The Allegory of the Cave, by Plato, is to examine the process of becoming less ignorant (gaining knowledge of reality) and to explain why humans may resist that process.

This piece is arranged as a conversation between Socrates and Glaucon, during which Socrates is explaining his thoughts to Glaucon as to why men resist coming into the light (or gaining knowledge of the real world). This arrangement is effective because it gives the writer a way to walk the reader through his beliefs, under the guise that they are just reading a conversation, which they may find more interesting. They may be more willing to continue reading and paying attention to what appears to be a discussion, rather than an explanation of an individual’s beliefs, so Plato uses the guise of dialogue to give a thorough explanation of his thoughts.

The speaker, or persona, in this piece is also effective because Socrates, the primary speaker in this piece, assumes a philosophical, explanatory tone that prepares the reader to learn something from what he/she is reading. As Socrates is explaining his thoughts to Glaucon, he uses words and phrases that a teacher may use when explaining something to a student, including, “And do you see,” “And suppose once more,” and “Last of all.” The persona assumed by Socrates, therefore, is one that a teacher would assume in explaining a concept to a student. Thus, the reader assumes the mental state of a student, and is prepared to learn from the piece.

One appeal to ethos in this piece is included in the line, “But whether true or false, my opinion is…” The speaker recognizes that he might not be correct. His willingness to take into account others’ possible opinions gives him credibility that makes his conclusion stronger than if he assumed his belief was the only one possible,

–Alex Stevens

In Plato’s Allegory of the Cave there are many examples of symbolism. One specific example of symbolism is the prisoner that becomes free and leaves the cave. Once the prisoner leaves the cave and discovers the real world his life is changed. At first everything is very confusing, and it takes time for him to understand it, but when he does he is inspired and goes back to the cave to tell the others. However, they don’t believe him and become upset with these new ideas. Throughout the story the escaped prisoner is a symbol for a prophet or philosopher. People who discover new radical ideas but are rejected for their knowledge. I found this symbol especially interesting because of its relatability consistently through history.

 

Plato introduces an internal conflict in readers as they finish his allegory. He causes us to question whether it is truly better to stay in the dark, satisfied with the knowledge we have, or escape the cave and see the light. Is it better to have knowledge or be naive? He puts this conflict at the end of his allegory. This placement makes the conflict have a bigger impact on readers. It is the last thing on their mind and the first thing they will remember about this piece.

 

One strange yet successful tactic of Plato in this piece is the title. He chose to call it “The allegory of the Cave”. This gave readers insight the moment they began the piece. An allegory is “a story, poem, or picture that can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning, typically a moral or political one.” By calling his piece an allegory Plato helped readers better understand the piece. Rather than reading all of the way through, then understanding the purpose the audience is given the knowledge of a hidden meaning and are able to better read and understand the piece.

–Caroline Steinmetz

“It is the duty of us, the founders, then, said I, to compel the best natures to attain the knowledge which we pronounced the greatest, and to win to the vision of the good, to scale that ascent, and when they have reached the heights and taken an adequate view, we must not allow what is now permitted,”

“And what is that?”

“That they should linger there, I said, and refuse to go down again among those bondsmen and share their labors and honors, whether they are of less or of greater worth.” This quote carries the central meaning of the piece. Plato is criticizing the education system of his time, which enlightened people but did not encourage them to go back and live among their peers. Under that system, the only learned people to return to the “bondsmen” did so unwillingly, prompting the uneducated to feel that being freed only led to misery. In Plato’s ideal education system, the enlightened would go willingly among their uneducated peers (even though they would rather live outside the cave) and try to free them from ignorance for the good of society.

“The Allegory of the Cave” is arranged as a dialogue. It reads differently than other essays because it was memorized as a speech by Plato, not written on paper. It contains the six parts of an oration that Plato was fond of using. In the exordium and narration, Plato brings up the topic of education and starts the allegory to interest readers and start building the argument. By the peroration, Plato draws together his argument by explaining that his allegory related to education and by issuing a call to action to his educated listeners to go among the people and enlighten them.

As a dialogue and a series of questions asked by Plato, this speech uses logos to direct the audience to the same conclusion. Plato asks somewhat obvious questions, like “Is X true?” The audience inevitably agrees to all his questions. Then Plato builds syllogisms by saying, “If X and Y is true, we must conclude that Z is true as well,” All of Plato’s argument is constructed to lead the audience on a logical journey that deposits them all at the same destination.

–Hannah Doll

File:Allegory of the Cave blank.png

Some lovely Wikipedia clip art demonstrating “The Allegory of the Cave.”

Intention: Plato illustrates the need for education in the political system, and demonstrates the damage ignorance has on society.

Plato’s allegory is arranged as a dialogue between Socrates and his student Glaucon. This style allows the audience to identify themselves with Glaucon and almost play a role in Socrates’ lesson. The audience is more engaged, and can have their questions reiterated by Glaucon. It also establishes a rapport between the author and the audience, because they relate to one of the main speakers. This connection makes the audience more receptive to the message.

Plato’s use of an anecdote is especially useful for providing visuals. Socrates includes many extraneous details to establish a setting. The defined characters make the story easier to imagine. The allegory itself is a tool for explanation, and Plato simplifies his ideas about government into something digestible for slightly less enlightened plebeians.

Some historical context for this:

  • Plato was taught by Socrates, which is why he attributes the work to him. It was fairly common for intellectuals at the time to name their teacher the author of their own work as a sign of deference and respect
  • The “thought experiment” style of Plato’s writing was also common to scientific practice at the time. This was particularly popularized by Aristotle, incidentally Plato’s student. Science was regarded as a scholarly discipline of the mind, and experimentation was not considered necessary or high class. This led to Aristotle’s theory that heavier bodies fall faster than lighter ones, and because Aristotle was considered the epitome of science, no one bothered to test this for a solid 1800 years.

–Rachel Meyer

Intention: In The Allegory of the Cave, Plato utilizes the narrative of a people living in a cave to show his views on human nature and to impart advice to those who read. The story carries the message that one should not live an unexplored life. Limiting oneself to just what you’re accustomed to,  the cave, causes one to lose the fun and variety of life in the outside world.

Memory: Because of the stylistic choice Plato made of asking questions, this piece is memorable to the reader. By allowing the reader to fill in their own answers in some cases, Plato also employs invention. When the reader believes they are part of the experience in a narrative, they become more engaged in the reading. This phenomenon makes the piece more effective holistically.

Delivery: Because this piece is presented as a conversation between Glaucon and Socrates, the piece is more effective overall. Because Socrates is known for being such a deep philosophical thinker and teacher, the reader is drawn to learn from this man. A conversation allows the reader to visualize themselves as the recipient of the lesson being taught by Socrates as opposed to merely being a reader. The reader is therefore more engaged.

Favorite Quote: “But the excellence of thought, it seems, is certainly of a more divine quality, a thing that never loses its potency, but, according to the direction of its conversion, becomes useful and beneficent, or, again, useless and harmful.” This quote highlights how the mind should take precedence over virtues of the body and soul, because while those change, the values of the mind never change. Intelligence is always valued; however, intelligence can be harmful as well. Sometimes ignorance is truly bliss because once you learn something unpleasant, you cannot simply forget it.

Similes: Plato utilizes similes to help the audience visualize his images. Phrases such as “Like the scene-shifting periactus in the theater” to help the reader see his thoughts and therefore embrace his message. In doing this, Plato successfully gets the reader to see his way.

–Sarah Braunstein

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