Monday, 4 October 2010
The Allegory of the Cave, also commonly known as Myth of the Cave, Metaphor of the Cave, The Cave Analogy, Plato's Cave or the Parable of the Cave, is an allegory used by the Greek philosopher Plato in his work The Republic to illustrate "our nature in its education and want of education". (514a) The allegory of the cave is written as a fictional dialogue between Plato's teacher Socrates and Plato's brother Glaucon, at the beginning of Book VII in Benjamin Jowett's translation and in chapter IX in Robin Waterfield's translation (514a–520a).
Plato imagines a group of people who have lived chained in a cave all of their lives, facing a blank wall. The people watch shadows projected on the wall by things passing in front of a fire behind them, and begin to ascribe forms to these shadows. According to Plato, the shadows are as close as the prisoners get to seeing reality. He then explains how the philosopher is like a prisoner who is freed from the cave and comes to understand that the shadows on the wall are not constitutive of reality at all, as he can perceive the true form of reality rather than the mere shadows seen by the prisoners.
The Allegory is related to Plato's Theory of Forms, wherein Plato asserts that "Forms" (or "Ideas"), and not the material world of change known to us through sensation, possess the highest and most fundamental kind of reality. Only knowledge of the Forms constitutes real knowledge. In addition, the allegory of the cave is an attempt to explain the philosopher's place in society.
The Allegory of the Cave is related to Plato's metaphor of the sun (507b–509c) and the analogy of the divided line (509d–513e), which immediately precede it at the end of Book VI. Allegories are summarized in the viewpoint of dialectic at the end of Book VII and VIII (531d-534e). This relates to the idea of forms as people struggle to see the reality beyond illusion.