The allegory of the cave by Plato is a series of dialogues by Socrates who was his biggest influence and by Glaucon who was Plato’s older brother. The allegory see’s men since birth sitting in a cave in near total darkness but for a fire behind them with their heads chained to a stick and forced to look at the wall in front of them. The fire that creates the artificial light also has people and animals passing in front of it, which then in turn casts shadows on the walls in front of the prisoners.
Essentially the only images they are able to capture throughout their life are these shadows in front of them. However first of all it is important to know exactly what an ‘allegory’ is. Ted Ellen’s definition of it sees an allegory as being a kind of metaphor which uses objects, people and events to compare to things other than their literal meaning this making an allegory a story with two meanings; one which has a literal meaning and the other which has a symbolic one.
1 It is common misconception to see the cave for just a cave; it has a much bigger and deeper meaning to which philosophers have been trying to uncover for thousands of years. 2 ‘Like ourselves’ says Socrates to Glaucon when talking about the prisoners. 3 The prisoners are basically being paralleled to us right now. We are essentially the prisoners living in this cave according to Plato. What we see is what’s given to us since birth and that is the only truth we can know. The ‘academic’ in this clip also agrees with this as he states that we are in the middle of a cave right now too.
4 The phrase ‘Like ourselves’ could suggest in theory another Socrates and Glaucon who are looking at their own mirror image in another dimension essentially discussion the strangeness of the subject thus meaning they could in essence be the prisoners. Plato’s conclusion on the allegory see’s it as being a process to who should govern in the present day. 5 To be able to answer the question of what ‘truth’ is according to Plato it is essential to look at other philosophers and scholars take on the subject. There are also different interpretations of the allegory of the cave, which could also give a different meaning to the word ‘truth’.
The main argument in this essay is that truth is not merely about right and wrong but about what we know and what we don’t. What we are shown and what we are restricted from seeing and what we have grown accustomed to. The ‘pursuit of truth’ could determinedly be what Plato’s truth is. Many scholars regard the allegory of the cave to have stages of ‘truth’ in which every stage is a step closer to absolute truth. 6 However it does not mean to say that because the final stage in truth hasn’t been reached the stage at which one prisoner is at is a lie.
It just means there are other dimensions to truth and the further one goes the further he is enlightened; the decent out of the cave represents this. Reeve names the stages of truth in his book; the first one sees prisoners only having shadows cast upon the wall in front of them, they are attached to bonds of ‘unnecessary appetite’. 7 They only know what’s put in front and because of their lack of training and education they take them (shadows) to be the reality of truth so they are satisfied with what is there and base their thoughts around them.
The second stage of truth is named as being ‘necessary appetites’. This occurs when the prisoner is able to turn around and see that the originals of the images he had seen all his life. He is now able to advance his knowledge of truth to the next level through training in music and gymnastics and see the shadows for what they really were; puppets, moulds of men and artificial animals. However some are bound to stay at this level in a state of confusion and never make it up road to the outer world into true light.
This metaphor can be seen as one person realising that they have been fed lies throughout their life but because their imagination is limited to only seeing the real things in front of them they are confused on to what to do, they may not even realise that they are required to look deeper to advance for a greater knowledge of truth. In a sense the chains are still on but the rope they are tied to gets longer. For the ones who are able to escape Reeve names their needs as ‘aspiration or spirited desires’.
The prisoner is now out in the open free to look at the sunlight that surrounds him. It is here that they now see the originals to what they previously only saw models and puppets. They are enlightened a step further. However some are still destined to stay at this level too chained unable to see further. In reality this stage is reached through training in music, gymnastics and maths. The final stage to absolute truth according to Plato is when the prisoner is finally motivated by rational desires and able to see the reasons for the shadows, models and originals.
The prisoners at this stage are no longer motivated by personal benefits. Their purpose in life becomes to educate and free other minds of this cave. It is because they don’t want to rule is why they are best suited to rule. 8 The stages have truths have been utilised one by one and it could be argued that it is this pursuit of truth is truth since the cave is about progressing through to light. However it is unclear on how the prisoners are able to advance to the next stage in the allegory. The underlying question is what happens that makes them question deeper.