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What Is the Allegory of the Cave?

Plato is one of the greatest philosophers, and the “Allegory of the Cave” is considered to be one of his most influential works.

The allegory is representation of Plato’s concept of Truth and the challenge of philosophical thought. Here, men are shackled in the caves. There are fires behind him, casting long shadows on the wall. The men, seeing these flickers and nothing else, mistake them to be the truth.

The darkness and imprisonment represent how people are trapped by the limited perceptions of their bodies. For Plato, everything we see are merely “shadows of the real.” Since we have no other comparison—and other people seem to validate what we see—we believe them to be truth.

However, in the allergory, Plato continues to reflect on what would happen if by some chance the men were released from imprisonment. Then they could leave the cave and walk into the light of the sun. Here they would see “true reality” or enlightenment. This is the truth that philosophy aspires for.

However, Plato anticipates that not all people will be ready for the truth. Instead of embracing the sun and the vividness of the real world, they run back to the comfort of the cave and the shadows that they are familiar with. This is the common reaction of people who avoid philosophical thought, and why they criticize and even ostracize philosophers who lead them to question their pre-conceived notions.

Plato also underlines, in the cave, the need for a personal search for truth. Believing someone else’s reality, without questioning it, is like falling in love with shadows. Language cannot capture truth; only real experience can give an insight to it.

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