Plato, The Allegory Of The Cave What is the purpose of this Allegory? answer for 1 page Plato, The Allegory of the Cave, excerpt from Book VI, The Republic

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 What is the purpose of this Allegory? answer for 1 page

Plato, The Allegory of the Cave, excerpt from Book VI, The Republic

Susan E. Gallagher, Intro to Political Thought, Political Science Dept. UMass Lowell 1

Raphael, The School of Athens, fresco, 1509-1511 (Stanza della Segnatura, Papal Palace, Vatican).

Born into an aristocratic family in Athens, Plato (428-348
B.C.E.) was a student of Socrates (470 – 399 B.C.E.), who is
widely recognized as the founder of Western political thought.
When Socrates was condemned to death for corrupting the
youth of the city, Plato decided to devote his life to writing and
teaching philosophy. In 387 B.C.E., he opened the Academy, a

school designed to promote the Socratic method, his teacher’s technique of
conveying and refining knowledge by asking and answering questions.

Reflecting this method, Plato wrote dialogues in which Socrates figured as the
central speaker, posing questions and providing responses to lead students to greater
understanding. Plato relied on this approach in the Allegory of the Cave to elaborate a symbolic
description of the human condition. He presented a dialogue between Socrates and Glaucon, a
student, in which the philosopher depicts the prevailing limits of perception by likening humans to
prisoners chained to a wall in a cave who can only see shadows of puppets and remain oblivious to
the real world above them. Somehow, one of the prisoners frees himself and ascends to the surface
where he discovers the dazzling truth of reality. According to Socrates, this liberated soul is an
enlightened philosopher who, it turns out, must descend back into the cave to spend his life
educating the prisoners rather than remaining in the realm of sunlight (truth). In fulfilling this
obligation, the enlightened individual makes possible the good society, that is, a social order
governed by a wise Philosopher-King whose only motive is to promote the public welfare.

The Allegory of the Cave appears in Book VII of Plato’s most widely read work, The Republic, a
multifaceted dialogue on the nature of justice.

Plato, Allegory of the Cave

Susan E. Gallagher, Intro to Political Thought, Political Science Dept., UMass Lowell

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PLATO: ALLEGORY OF THE CAVE

The following selection from The Republic, Book VI, is taken from the Benjamin Jowett translation
(Vintage, 1991), 253-261.

* * * * * *

[Socrates] And now, let me show in a figure how far our nature is enlightened or
unenlightened: –Behold! Human beings living in an underground cave, which
has a mouth open towards the light and reaching all along the cave; here they
have been from their childhood, and have their legs and necks chained so that
they cannot move, and can only see before them, being prevented by the chains
from turning round their heads. Above and behind them a fire is blazing at a
distance, and between the fire and the prisoners there is a raised way; and you
will see, if you look, a low wall built along the way, like the screen which
marionette players have in front of them, over which they show the puppets.

[Glaucon] I see.

[Socrates] And do you see, men passing along the wall carrying all sorts of vessels, and statues and
figures of animals made of wood and stone and various materials, which appear over the wall? Some
of them are talking, others silent.

[Glaucon] You have shown me a strange image, and they are strange prisoners.

Plato, Allegory of the Cave

Susan E. Gallagher, Intro to Political Thought, Political Science Dept., UMass Lowell

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[Socrates] Like ourselves; and they see only their own shadows, or the shadows of one another,
which the fire throws on the opposite wall of the cave?

[Glaucon] True, how could they see anything but the shadows if they were never allowed to move
their heads?

[Socrates] And of the objects which are being carried in like manner they would only see the
shadows?

[Glaucon] Yes.

[Socrates] And if they were able to converse with one another, would they not suppose that they
were naming what was actually before them?

[Glaucon] Very true.

[Socrates] And suppose further that the prison had an echo which came from the other side, would
they not be sure to fancy when one of the passers-by spoke that the voice which they heard came
from the passing shadow?

[Glaucon] No question.

[Socrates] To them, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images.

[Glaucon] That is certain.

[Socrates] And now look again, and see what will naturally follow if the prisoners are released and
disabused of their error. At first, when any of them is liberated and compelled suddenly to stand up
and turn his neck round and walk and look towards the light, he will suffer sharp pains; the glare will
distress him, and he will be unable to see the realities of which in his former state he had seen the
shadows; and then conceive someone saying to him, that what he saw before was an illusion, but that
now, when he is approaching nearer to being and his eye is turned towards more real existence, he
has a clearer vision, -what will be his reply? And you may further imagine that his instructor is
pointing to the objects as they pass and requiring him to name them, -will he not be perplexed? Will
he not fancy that the shadows which he formerly saw are truer than the objects which are now
shown to him?

[Glaucon] Far truer.

[Socrates] And if he is compelled to look straight at the light, will he not have a pain in his eyes
which will make him turn away to take and take in the objects of vision which he can see, and which
he will conceive to be in reality clearer than the things which are now being shown to him?

[Glaucon] True, he will.

[Socrates] And suppose once more, that he is reluctantly dragged up a steep and rugged ascent, and
held fast until he’s forced into the presence of the sun himself, is he not likely to be pained and
irritated? When he approaches the light his eyes will be dazzled, and he will not be able to see
anything at all of what are now called realities.

[Glaucon] Not all in a moment.

Plato, Allegory of the Cave

Susan E. Gallagher, Intro to Political Thought, Political Science Dept., UMass Lowell

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[Socrates] He will require to grow accustomed to the sight of the upper world. And first he will see
the shadows best, next the reflections of men and other objects in the water, and then the objects
themselves; then he will gaze upon the light of the moon and the stars and the spangled heaven; and
he will see the sky and the stars by night better than the sun or the light of the sun by day?

[Glaucon] Certainly.

[Socrates] Last of he will be able to see the sun, and not mere reflections of him in the water, but he
will see him in his own proper place, and not in another; and he will contemplate him as he is.

[Glaucon] Certainly.

[Socrates] He will then proceed to argue that this is he who gives the season and the years, and is
the guardian of all that is in the visible world, and in a certain way the cause of all things which he
and his fellows have been accustomed to behold?

[Glaucon] Clearly, he said, he would first see the sun and then reason about him.

[Socrates] And when he remembered his old habitation, and the wisdom of the cave and his fellow-
prisoners, do you not suppose that he would felicitate himself on the change, and pity them?

[Glaucon] Certainly, he would.

[Socrates] And if they were in the habit of conferring honors among themselves on those who were
quickest to observe the passing shadows and to remark which of them went before, and which
followed after, and which were together; and who were therefore best able to draw conclusions as to
the future, do you think that he would care for such honors and glories, or envy the possessors of
them? Would he not say with Homer,

Better to be the poor servant of a poor master,

and to endure anything, rather than think as they do and live after their manner?

[Glaucon] Yes, I think that he would rather suffer anything than entertain these false notions and
live in this miserable manner.

[Socrates] Imagine once more, such a one coming suddenly out of the sun to be replaced in his old
situation; would he not be certain to have his eyes full of darkness?

[Glaucon] To be sure.

[Socrates] And if there were a contest, and he had to compete in measuring the shadows with the
prisoners who had never moved out of the cave, while his sight was still weak, and before his eyes
had become steady (and the time which would be needed to acquire this new habit of sight might be
very considerable) would he not be ridiculous? Men would say of him that up he went and down he
came without his eyes; and that it was better not even to think of ascending; and if any one tried to
loose another and lead him up to the light, let them only catch the offender, and they would put him
to death.

[Glaucon] No question.

Plato, Allegory of the Cave

Susan E. Gallagher, Intro to Political Thought, Political Science Dept., UMass Lowell

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[Socrates] This entire allegory, you may now append, dear Glaucon, to the previous argument; the
prison-house is the world of sight, the light of the fire is the sun, and you will not misapprehend me
if you interpret the journey upwards to be the ascent of the soul into the intellectual world according
to my poor belief, which, at your desire, I have expressed whether rightly or wrongly God knows.
But, whether true or false, my opinion is that in the world of knowledge the idea of good appears last
of all, and is seen only with an effort; and, when seen, is also inferred to be the universal author of all
things beautiful and right, parent of light and of the lord of light in this visible world, and the
immediate source of reason and truth in the intellectual; and that this is the power upon which he
who would act rationally, either in public or private life must have his eye fixed.

[Glaucon] I agree, as far as I am able to understand you.

[Socrates] Moreover, you must not wonder that those who attain to this beatific vision are unwilling
to descend to human affairs; for their souls are ever hastening into the upper world where they
desire to dwell; which desire of theirs is very natural, if our allegory may be trusted.

[Glaucon] Yes, very natural.

[Socrates] And is there anything surprising in one who passes from divine contemplations to the evil
state of man, misbehaving himself in a ridiculous manner; if, while his eyes are blinking and before
he has become accustomed to the surrounding darkness, he is compelled to fight in courts of law, or
in other places, about the images or the shadows of images of justice, and is endeavoring to meet the
conceptions of those who have never yet seen absolute justice?

[Glaucon] Anything but surprising.

[Socrates] Anyone who has common sense will remember that the bewilderments of the eyes are of
two kinds, and arise from two causes, either from coming out of the light or from going into the
light, which is true of the mind’s eye, quite as much as of the bodily eye; and he who remembers this
when he sees any one whose vision is perplexed and weak, will not be too ready to laugh; he will first
ask whether that soul of man has come out of the brighter light, and is unable to see because
unaccustomed to the dark, or having turned from darkness to the day is dazzled by excess of light.
And he will count the one happy in his condition and state of being, and he will pity the other; or, if
he have a mind to laugh at the soul which comes from below into the light, there will be more reason
in this than in the laugh which greets him who returns from above out of the light into the cave.

[Glaucon] That is a very just distinction.

[Socrates] But then, if I am right, certain professors of education must be wrong when they say that
they can put a knowledge into the soul which was not there before, like sight into blind eyes.

[Glaucon] They undoubtedly say this.

[Socrates] Whereas, our argument shows that the power and capacity of learning exists in the soul
already; and that just as the eye was unable to turn from darkness to light without the whole body,
so too the instrument of knowledge can only by the movement of the whole soul be turned from the
world of becoming into that of being, and learn by degrees to endure the sight of being, and of the
brightest and best of being, or in other words, of the good.

Plato, Allegory of the Cave

Susan E. Gallagher, Intro to Political Thought, Political Science Dept., UMass Lowell

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[Glaucon] Very true.

[Socrates] And must there not be some art which will effect conversion in the easiest and quickest
manner; not implanting the faculty of sight, for that exists already, but has been turned in the wrong
direction, and is looking away from the truth?

[Glaucon] Yes, such an art may be presumed.

[Socrates] And whereas the other so-called virtues of the soul seem to be akin to bodily qualities, for
even when they are not originally innate they can be implanted later by habit and exercise, the of
wisdom more than anything else contains a divine element which always remains, and by this
conversion is rendered useful and profitable; or, on the other hand, hurtful and useless. Did you
never observe the narrow intelligence flashing from the keen eye of a clever rogue –how eager he is,
how clearly his paltry soul sees the way to his end; he is the reverse of blind, but his keen eyesight is
forced into the service of evil, and he is mischievous in proportion to his cleverness.

[Glaucon] Very true.

[Socrates] But what if there had been a circumcision of such natures in the days of their youth; and
they had been severed from those sensual pleasures, such as eating and drinking, which, like leaden
weights, were attached to them at their birth, and which drag them down and turn the vision of their
souls upon the things that are below –if, I say, they had been released from these impediments and
turned in the opposite direction, the very same faculty in them would have seen the truth as keenly
as they see what their eyes are turned to now.

[Glaucon] Very likely.

[Socrates] Yes, and there is another thing which is likely. or rather a necessary inference from what
has preceded, that neither the uneducated and uninformed of the truth, nor yet those who never
make an end of their education, will be able ministers of State; not the former, because they have no
single aim of duty which is the rule of all their actions, private as well as public; nor the latter,
because they will not act at all except upon compulsion, fancying that they are already dwelling
apart in the islands of the blest.

[Glaucon] Very true.

[Socrates] Then, the business of us who are the founders of the State will be to compel the best
minds to attain that knowledge which we have already shown to be the greatest of all-they must
continue to ascend until they arrive at the good; but when they have ascended and seen enough we
must not allow them to do as they do now.

[Glaucon] What do you mean?

[Socrates] I mean that they remain in the upper world: but this must not be allowed; they must be
made to descend again among the prisoners in the cave, and partake of their labors and honors,
whether they are worth having or not.

[Glaucon] But is not this unjust? Ought we to give them a worse life, when they might have a better?

Plato, Allegory of the Cave

Susan E. Gallagher, Intro to Political Thought, Political Science Dept., UMass Lowell

7

[Socrates] You have again forgotten, my friend, the intention of the legislator, who did not aim at
making any one class in the State happy above the rest; the happiness was to be in the whole State,
and he held the citizens together by persuasion and necessity, making them benefactors of the State,
and therefore benefactors of one another; to this end he created them, not to please themselves, but
to be his instruments in binding up the State.

[Glaucon] True, I had forgotten.

[Socrates] Observe, Glaucon, that there will be no injustice in compelling our philosophers to have a
care and providence of others; we shall explain to them that in other States, men of their class are
not obliged to share in the toils of politics: and this is reasonable, for they grow up at their own
sweet will, and the government would rather not have them. Being self-taught, they cannot be
expected to show any gratitude for a culture which they have never received. But we have brought
you into the world to be rulers of the hive, kings of yourselves and of the other citizens, and have
educated you far better and more perfectly than they have been educated, and you are better able to
share in the double duty. Wherefore each of you, when his turn comes, must go down to the general
underground abode, and get the habit of seeing in the dark. When you have acquired the habit, you
will see ten thousand times better than the inhabitants of the cave, and you will know what the
several images are, and what they represent, because you have seen the beautiful and just and good
in their truth. And thus our State which is also yours will be a reality, and not a dream only, and will
be administered in a spirit unlike that of other States, in which men fight with one another about
shadows only and are distracted in the struggle for power, which in their eyes is a great good.
Whereas the truth is that the State in which the rulers are most reluctant to govern is always the
best and most quietly governed, and the State in which they are most eager, the worst.

[Glaucon] Quite true.

[Socrates] And will our pupils, when they hear this, refuse to take their turn at the toils of State,
when they are allowed to spend the greater part of their time with one another in the heavenly
light?

[Glaucon] Impossible, for they are just men, and the commands which we impose upon them are
just; there can be no doubt that every one of them will take office as a stern necessity, and not after
the fashion of our present rulers of State.

[Socrates] Yes, my friend, and there lies the point. You must contrive for your future rulers another
and a better life than that of a ruler, and then you may have a well-ordered State; for only in the
State which offers this, will they rule who are truly rich, not in silver and gold, but in virtue and
wisdom, which are the true blessings of life. Whereas if they go to the administration of public
affairs, poor and hungering after the’ own private advantage, thinking that hence they are to snatch
the chief good, order there can never be; for they will be fighting about office, and the civil and
domestic broils which thus arise will be the ruin of the rulers themselves and of the whole State.

[Glaucon] Most true.

[Socrates] And the only life which looks down upon the life of political ambition is that of true
philosophy. Do you know of any other?

Plato, Allegory of the Cave

Susan E. Gallagher, Intro to Political Thought, Political Science Dept., UMass Lowell

8

[Glaucon] Indeed, I do not.

[Socrates] And those who govern ought not to be lovers of the task? For, if they are, there will be
rival lovers, and they will fight.

[Glaucon] No question.

[Socrates] Who then are those whom we shall compel to be guardians? Surely they will be the men
who are wisest about affairs of State, and by whom the State is best administered, and who at the
same time have other honors and another and a better life than that of politics?

[Glaucon] They are the men, and I will choose them.

[Socrates] And now shall we consider in what way such guardians will be produced, and how they
are to be brought from darkness to light, — as some are said to have ascended from the world below
to the gods?

[Glaucon] By all means.

[Socrates] The process is not the turning over of an oyster-shell, but the turning round of a soul
passing from a day which is little better than night to the true day of being, that is, the ascent from
below, which we affirm to be true philosophy?

[Glaucon] Quite so.

Resources for further study:
Michael Ramsey, The Cave: An Adaptation of Plato’s Allegory in Clay, Bullhead Entertainment (2008).

Michael Gonchar, “Plato’s Allegory of the Cave and “In the Cave: Philosophy and Addiction,” Text
to Text, New York Times, October 22, 2014.

Ben Wilson, “The 10 Best Movies Referring to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave,” Taste of Cinema, PBS,
September 14, 2015.

“The Cave,” Sigh No More,” Mumford & Sons (2009).

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