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Allegory of the cave

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Platos Allegory Of Cave Support Theory Of Forms Philosophy Essay

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Although Plato's famous allegory of the cave is subject to many interpretations, many philosophers believe that it was designed to encapsulate and support his theory of Forms.

To a certain extent it does, however it is essential that in order to determine whether it does, we must first grasp what the complex theory of the Forms really meant to Plato, and then one may begin to put the allegory into context of his theory of Forms.

Plato believed that there were two distinct worlds, and those worlds provide the framework from which his theory of Forms is built.

Plato, in his allegory of the cave uses the cave itself and everything inside the cave as a metaphor to provide persuasive support for the material, illusionistic world or senses.
Plato’s “The allegory of the Cave” addresses so many different areas of philosophy including, epistemology, metaphysics, asceticism, ethics, etc. In his allegory it is important to seek what Plato is trying to accomplish through locating his rhetorical devices, his tone, his position and arguments, in order to develop meaning to his allegory. Plato’s philosophies include education, interaction, individuality, and human nature to make his statement of what the correct path to “enlightenment” should be, being expressed through symbolism, imagery, themes, and metaphors to convey his message. Plato’s allegory however is actually represents an extended metaphor that is to contrast the way in which we perceive and believe in what is reality.

Plato believed that the material world is subject to a constant state of flux making it is impossible to know the truth of reality. Plato states that it is 'ourselves' [1] who live in this material world.
Middle complicated, so seem less favourable to their original ideas and thus cause confusion and maybe distress as the person has been forced to examine what they thought was reality. The prisoner is then forced up a steep and rocky incline to the daylight outside, it is bright and his eyes are still not adjusted, the journey will be painful. His journey upwards is very symbolic of the journey we go on in our minds when we start to ask philosophical questions, the fact that it is not an easy journey shows how you cannot go from ignorance to wisdom is one step, but that it will take a while and the path their may not be easy. Once the prisoner is outside he will not be able to take in everything he sees, much like a person receiving a wealth of knew information, it will take him a while to 'digest' his surroundings and make sense of them. Plato's point here is that this world of truth and real reality is so different it takes us time to adjust from our previous mistaken existence. In time the prisoner will be able to look at the ground, trees, objects and see himself in water. Eventually he will be able to look at the sun and see it as the basis for all life. more.

Our world, Plato likens to a cave, and we in the allegory are presented as the prisoners chained inside, who live in a material world of illusion which we think is real and important. The cave represents our own imperfect and changing experiences.
The chained prisoners personify the phrase 'ignorance is bliss' and it could be said that their chains are influences of society which stop us from questioning but also represents that people are scared of big changes. The cave could also be a useful allegory to explain Plato's world of Forms; the shadows of the cave represent the falsities of this world, the imperfect, transient and changing qualities, whereas the outside and daylight are the perfect Forms of justice, truth, beauty etc which are unchanging. People think that what they can see visually is reality when in fact it is, according to Plato, what they cannot see that is actually reality. The fact that the prisoner who has been outside cannot convey what he has experienced to the others shows how we can only describe through experience and that you have to go on the long, arduous journey yourself The prisoner who is freed could also represent Socrates, who tried to inspire thought among the people of Athens but was killed for turning people against the ideas of the normal Greek gods and corrupting the young. Nowadays we could compare the cave to technology and the media, many peoples opinion's are narrowed by what they see on T.V or read on the internet, and so they do not look 'outside' to find knowledge themselves but accept what they read on a screen, like shadows on a wall. more.

The chains that constrain "us," the prisoners, represent our false beliefs which obstruct our understanding of true reality. Thus, it is we who stare at our 'own shadows, or the shadows of one another' [2] . In his allegory, everything outside the cave is portrayed as the eternal world, which possesses the object of knowledge and contains the true perfect world of the Forms.
Plato’s ideal society contains the correct functions of politics and motive. He argues that the philosophers, or individuals who have acquired knowledge of virtue and truth, should lead society. Another example is that in his allegory there are malicious individuals who stand in front of a fire as to be able to create shadows which the prisoners perceive as incorrectly reality. They are both aware of a slightly higher level of truth and capable of manipulation of average people’s perception but still unaware of the nature of the forms and of the form of the good. Philosophers should be the ones to lead rather than those who simply have the ability to manipulate the masses. This is because the philosopher is knowledgeable about the forms of the virtues and the good and is more likely to apply them to society.

Plato regards Forms as ideal, abstract objects which are perfect, eternal and unchanging. They are the perfect paradigm of each sort of object we see around us, and there is a Form for each characteristic or property and object could have.

Plato’s allegory of the cave presupposes a group of prisoners who have lived chained and uneducated in a cave “since childhood”. To the back of the prisoners, people cast the shadows on the wall in which the prisoners perceive as reality, questioning “is it reasonable for the prisoners to…In every way believe that the truth is nothing other than the shadows of these artifacts” Although if one were “released from their bonds and cured of their ignorance” the prisoner would now be confused as to what is real. The thesis behind is the basic tenets that all we perceive are imperfect “reflections, which subsequently represent truth and reality. This is an important development to the story because it shows us that what we perceive as real from birth is completely false based on our imperfect interpretations of reality and goodness. The importance of the allegory lies in the belief that there are invisible truths lying under the apparent surface, which can only be obtained through being enlightened, being “dragged” out of the darkness and seeing the light.

Plato also believes that there are forms for abstract objects and concepts such as beauty, numbers and goodness to name a few. Perhaps, most importantly Plato explains that the Forms are real, however the material objects are not.
We can only know what is true when we know what is importance to us beyond what our senses perceive. We can not live ethically if we do not understand this. The virtues of the soul are akin to bodily qualities however we can not rely on these qualities for the truth, we must only understand their implications. Opinion gives way to knowledge through reasoning. Through the reasoning of this statement we can assess that our senses (opinions or perceptions) give way to understanding (knowledge) through their implications, or in other words, by our reasoning of their implications.

In the allegory of the cave, Plato portrays the shadows on the cave wall as a metaphor for material objects, in the hope of providing persuasive support for his theory of Forms. He reminds us that the shadows are all the prisoners would have seen and talked about, and the point he makes is that these shadows would be as close as the prisoners got to experiencing and seeing reality.
The prisoners may learn what certain objects are as they would have seen the shadows of them but if they referred back to a certain object thinking of the shadows they would be mistaken.

Therefore they simply mistake them for reality, 'the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images' [3] . Socrates raises an important and efficacious question when he asks; 'if they were able to converse with one another, would they not suppose that they were naming what was actually before them?' [4] Hence, for example, if one of the prisoners identified a shadow of what they learnt was a book in their language, and said "behold, a book;" Plato argues that the prisoner would be making the mistake of referring the word "book" to the shadow they see in front them. The real referent to the book however, is the object that cast the shadow; which the prisoner cannot see because it his behind him.
Plato’s allegory of the cave shows that society is in a state of ignorance. Though they might be bounded in one position, they accept that it is their natural ‘place in society’. However when one is exposed to the ‘dazzling light’ they begin to see truth through a long, tortuous intellectual journey, discovering a higher realm, true reality and having awareness of goodness. A person who has gained such insight, according to Plato is best equipped to govern in society, having knowledge what is ultimately good, however, will frequently be misunderstood by ‘the other prisoners’ who haven’t obtained intellectual insights. Plato remains convinced that the best rulers, the philosopher-kings, are suited not only because of their education, experience, and wisdom, but also because they would prefer not to rule. More emphatically, nonetheless Plato finds that because of their enlightened minds, the philosopher-king has a duty to rule that transcends their personal preference for anonymity.

Plato intends to support his theory of Forms in writing this because he wants to make the point that the general terms of our language are not the names of the physical objects that we see. Plato says that they are names of things that we can't see, and believes they can only be grasped with our minds.
Both the leaders and the public are ignorant and corrupt, without true knowledge of themselves or the world, motivated by self-gratification. They are chained in slavery to ignorance and passions, to mob hysteria for or against fleeting issues, believing in the illusions, the shadows. We live in a time of loss of meaning, of crumbling values of truth and morality, of corruption in political life and decline in personal integrity. This is our despair. But there is a hope with Plato’s allegory, the hope of ascending to truth and values, even though we might be shunned, we have a grasp of the light.

Likewise, Plato argues that although we may obtain concepts by our perceptual experience of physical objects, we are sure to be mistaken if we think that the concepts we grasp are on the same level as the things we perceive.
People today are like the people of the cave because we are chained by our senses to what we perceive to be the true. The darkness is a metaphor for our eyes not being able to see in the dark how things physically are because sight is a sense that we can not rely on to see the truth even in the light. Plato implies that reality is like sitting in a cave with our back to the light. We can describe the shadows we see on the wall, but we never turn our heads around to see where the light comes from. Even worse, we never really see each other -- we are in the dark.

Plato thinks that we can have only have genuine knowledge of things which are perfect and unchanging, and that although we can have knowledge about the forms, we cannot have knowledge about material objects.

Plato believes we only have opinions or beliefs about the material world.
The Allegory of the Cave implies that if we rely on our perceptions to know the truth about existence then we will know very little about it. The sense are unreliable and their perceptions imperfect because perceptions are only how we as individuals view things and not how they truly are. People are like the figures in the cave because they believe the things they see are how they truly are, much the way we believe the things we perceive to be the truth. The cave is like the world we live in because the things we see only resemble their true forms, much they way the shadows on the wall were only resemblances of their physical form.

In the allegory of the cave, Plato purposely creates a new analogy when Socrates asks Glaucon to 'see what will naturally follow if the prisoners are released' [5] . This action is important because it essentially enables the prisoners to grasp the theory of Forms with their minds. After one prisoner is compelled to turn their head around, at first distressed by the fire he soon discovers that the shadows on the wall are imperfect representations of the real objects.
The world we live in is like the cave because the shadows represent the objects we perceive to be t...

It is clear to the prisoner that what he considered to be reality, is now ordinary shadows on the wall of the cave.

The ascent of a prisoner out of the cave from the material world and into the eternal world provides persuasive support for his theory of Forms, because it is intended to represent the process of recollecting our knowledge of the Forms.

Socrates says that the prisoners eyes would be at first 'dazzled by the light' [6] and then he would grow 'accustomed to the upper world.
However in some respects the statement doesn't reflect the truth when you think about the fact that it highlights the non-cognitive nature of religious language. It distinguishes it from other types of language, making it become more unique. Also language games provide boundaries for the correct use of language and believers can be initiated into the rules of language.

' [7] This provides support for Plato's theory of Forms, because it symbolically represents the move between the two worlds, the material world of senses to the eternal world of Forms. Once the prisoner has got used to the light, he is now able to see the truth and understand that what he and the other unenlightened prisoners saw in the cave, was actually an illusion. Plato explains that the prisoner, once he transcends beyond the cave, he will encounter real forms and not a mere approximation of the reality in the cave. He will also gain valid knowledge. The prisoner would recognise some of the shadows that he witnesses in the water, because he has seen them in the cave before. However, the reflections he would see in the water outside the cave would spark an advancement in his own knowledge, for what he once saw as dark fuzzy blurs would now be seen in precise detail of colour and lines. Plato intends this to support his theory of Forms because he wants to emphasise that the physical objects the prisoner sees represents the Forms of the physical objects. Plato also intends to represent the objects in the night sky, such as the moon and the stars, to what he believes are the Forms of abstractions. In the allegory, the prisoner is led to conclude that it is the sun that makes things visible, and it is the sun that causes the seasons of the year. The prisoner understands what the shadows are, and that the reflections differ from the objects in the visible world. The prisoner assumes that without the sun there would be no visible world. The sun is therefore a metaphor for the Form of the Good, and is the highest of all the Forms as it illuminates all the other Forms. It is the organising principle in which all the other Forms participate and is the ultimate object of knowledge.

Socrates proposes that that if the prisoner was to return to his 'old habitation' [8] he would 'felicitate himself on the change and pity' [9] of his fellow prisoners.

However, in the harsh "reality" of the material world, Socrates says that the prisoners 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 'they would put him to death' [10] . Plato uses this allegory to suggest his belief that most of humanity are like the prisoners who are prepared to dwell in the the darkness of the material world. Plato believes that the "prisoners" who have been liberated from the "cave" have achieved the highest knowledge, however he believes they should not stay in the higher world of contemplation. Instead, Plato thinks that they must be made to come back down into the the material world, the "cave", and like the philosopher educate the "prisoners" without knowledge.

In conclusion, I think that Plato's allegory of the cave does provide persuasive support for his theory of forms.

There are two worlds in the theory of Forms which Plato thinks exist, and this belief is supported in his allegory. Plato depicts the cave as a metaphor for the world of senses and depicts everything outside of the cave as the world of Forms. Plato pictures our world as a cave, and in the cave we are chained facing a wall. We are represented as the prisoners, who only see "shadows" of the true Forms. Inside the cave, although they can't see it, the fire acts as the source of all the prisoner's knowledge. Outside the cave, the sun is represented as the of Form knowledge itself. In order to discover the true Forms, Plato thinks we have to ascend to the world outside of the cave, and recollect our knowledge of the Forms. Plato, in his theory of Forms believes that in order to truly know something, you have to intelligibly capture the Form of that particular object. To understand the true meaning of a book, Plato states you have to go beyond the empirically given book and mentally contemplate 'bookness.' Plato's point is that it is not possible to understand the meaning of book just by observing different "shadows," which the prisoner do. By doing so, we are creating false beliefs that obstruct our understanding of true reality. Plato intends the chains to depict this. However, when the chains are released and we are able to adventure into the world of perfect Forms, once we have come across perfect Forms like the flowers and then the sun, only then have we gained knowledge. Plato's point I believe is that like the remaining prisoners in the cave, people do not bother trying to capture bookness in itself. He claims that they are content in watching the shadows of books, and believing that they are the Forms of the books. '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?' [11]


John Cottingham, Western Philosophy An Anthology, Second Edition (Blackwell Publishing, 2008) The Allegory of the Cave: Plato, Republic*

Nigel Warburton, Philosophy The Basics, Third Edition (Routledge, 1999)

Robert L. Arrington, The World's Great Philosophers (Blackwell Publishing, 2003)

Annas, An Introduction to Plato's Republic (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980)

D. Ross, Plato's theory of ideas (Oxford: Claredon Press, 1951)

N.R. Murphy, The interpretation of Plato's Republic (Oxford : Clarendon Press, 1951)

David J. Melling, Understanding Plato (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987)

Gail Fine, Plato on knowledge and forms: selected essays (Oxford University Press, 2003)

R. M. Hare, Plato (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982)

Jonathan Sozek (Katholieke Universiteit Leuven), The 'philosophical passages' in Plato's Republic (May 2009)

Miguel Abensour, Against the sovereignty of philosophy over politics: Arendt's reading of Plato's cave allegory (2007);col1

Theodore A. Gracyk, Plato's Philosophy:Â A VERY Basic Introduction to "THE CAVE" (2002)

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