What is the main idea of Platos Allegory of the Cave?

What is the main idea of Platos Allegory of the Cave

Who is Plato?

Plato is an ancient philosopher from Greece who lived from the 340s to 420s. His major interest was philosophy as he was a student of the greatest philosopher Socrates himself taught Plato. After being a student of Socrates, he made remarkable contributions to the field. He founded the first higher learning institution in the west. Read further to know more about the main idea of Platos Allegory of the Cave.

Plato’s school had a unique curriculum called Platonism which focused on using rational reasoning to prove a statement right or wrong. Plato was a great teacher who taught great minds such as Aristotle, Philip of Opus, Eudoxus of Cnidus, and Heraclides Ponticus.  Plato’s Platonism was a school of thoughts that focused on the existence of intangible objects and reasoning to prove their existence. He preached philosophy.

What is Philosophy?

Philosophy means the love for wisdom. It uses rationality to answer the most complex questions. Since some questions require some sort of proof or evidence for them to be considered true but these pieces of evidence are not considered plausible hence there is much controversy in the topics discussed in Philosophy. It has four major branches which are

  • Axiology
  • Metaphysics
  • Logic
  • Epistemology 

What is the Allegory of the cave?

An allegory is one of the several literary devices that can take the form of a poem, or a story that may seem simple but has a subtle meaning to it. Amongst Plato’s, many contributions to Philosophy is also the allegory of the cave, during the year 375 B.C.E.  He proposed “The allegory of the cave” which can be found in his book “The Republic”. The Allegory of the Cave focuses on how our ideas and perception differs from what is the actual reality of life. It compares human knowledge to their ideas and beliefs and how someone different is treated.

Allegory of the cave

About 5-6 people are chained up in a cave facing a wall. They are shackled in such a way that they can’t turn in any direction and can only see the wall. Each of these individuals has never seen each other but can only hear each other. Behind these hostages is a big fire that casts shadows on the wall they are facing. Anytime someone outside the cave walks by, they are able to see the shadows on the wall. Their entire life, they have only known these shadows and consider them the reality of life.

As the day would go by, many people would walk past the cave and the hostages would see their shadows on the wall. They have gotten so used to witnessing the shadows that they can tell the shadow just by hearing the footsteps of the passers. They also know what time each shadow passes the cave and can easily tell each shadow apart.

One day, one of the hostages escapes the cave and walks out in the sun. At first, when he walks out of the cave, he is blinded by the sun’s bright light but soon adapts to this change. He then sees the people who would walk past the cave. He sees the people whose shadows he used to see on the wall. At first, he is unable to believe what he sees and doesn’t understand this new reality, He runs away and hides and denies everything he sees. With every encounter, he finds something new and learns a different reality, all his beliefs start to change. 

After several months of learning about this new reality, he feels more confident and starts to understand things. He then visits his fellow cave members to tell them about this reality and how they have been living in ignorance and how the reality is completely different from what they think it is. He tells them about the sun, the big fire behind them, and all the things he has discovered. He tries to tell them that what they see on the walls are mere shadows and the actual reality is different. He tells them about his entire experience and how he couldn’t believe it at first either. But they ridicule him and call him crazy, saying that everyone who leaves the cave goes crazy and says such nonsense. They do not believe him and continue to live in the cave.  

Main idea

The allegory depicts the reality of the world we live in. There are several allusions in the story. The shadows the hostages see on the wall and believe as reality is like the world we live in. We believe what we see, without questioning anything. According to Plato, reality is different from what we see in this world. What we see in this world are mere shadows of reality that have not been discovered yet. In his view, reality is perfect and constant. Since nothing is constant or perfect in this world, it cannot be the reality. Read further to know more about the main idea of Platos Allegory of the Cave.

The people in the cave are the ones who have been living in ignorance and have not yet discovered the reality of life. The hostages in the cave are the imagery of the people of the world who believe that they know the reality. As for the hostage who is able to escape the cave evinces people who are curious and are able to attain enlightenment. When they first learn the truth they deny it as all their previous beliefs are shattered by this new reality. As they question everything, they learn something new. They soon start to believe this reality.

For when the hostage returns to the cave and tells his fellow cave mates about the actual reality and the ignorance they have been living in and their rejection to acknowledge his discovery is just like how when someone discovers something new and shares this discovery and gets ridiculed. The people of the world do not accept anything that they do not understand and if someone does not follow the crowd then he is considered deviant and daunted for being different.  

Conclusion

Plato is one of the greatest philosophers who had made major contributions to the field of philosophy. Among his most notable works is the Allegory of the cave. It is a small story that talks about how a majority of the world lives in ignorance and calls the ones who achieve enlightenment crazy. The story starts with 5-6 people who are chained up in a cave with a great fire behind them. They see shadows of the people who walk past the cave and believe them as the only reality. This signifies the people of the world who believe everything they see. The one hostage who is able to escape the cave and discover the actual reality refers to those who are curious and achieve enlightenment and realize that what they see and know is just a shadow of reality. His return and rejection by his fellow cave mates show how the world rejects what they do not understand and their criticism for those who are different and don’t follow the crowd.

What is the main idea of Platos Allegory of the Cave?

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