What is the Cave Allegory

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Socrates on the Cave Allegory is found in The Republic by Plato. This allegory is a discussion between Socrates and Glaucon. The allegory poses a description of a cave, symbolizing the world. The cave could be seen as a crypt, very little to no light enters from the opening. Near the rear of the cave there is a fire, the only provider of light for the entire cave. In front of the firs people are holding objects in which to cast shadows on the walls of the cave using the light provided by the fire. These objects are made in the shapes of plants and animals, those familiar to humans. On a level below those creating the shadows are a group of men and women chained to the extent of being immobile, the are unable to turn their heads to see who is next to them also. These men and women are placed with their backs to the fire.

As the prisoners watch the shadows on the walls they shout out what they believe the shapes of the shadows to be. Those prisoners who have been in the cave longer are better at guessing what each shape is than those who have been there less time. When a man enters the cave, free of the chains, he releases one prisoner into the sun. When the prisoner enters into the sunlight it is so bright compared to the dim lighting of the cave, he is unable to see and believes himself to have gone blind. As time goes on his eyes adjust and he sees he is in a better place. One day the man is forced to go back into the cave. Because the lighting is dim he is no longer able to identify what the shadows are.

The Allegory of the Cave is a symbolic way of showing how people are enlightened. In the allegory there are two main characters, those making the shadows and the prisoner. The people casting the shadows are trying to pass on what their ancestors taught them. The same shadows were once cast to them. The prisoners are chained in chains that represent conformity. As the prisoners learn the shadows and the order in which they go in the chains are loosened. When a prisoner is able to recite the shadows in the order in which they appear they are released in order to share those same shadows with future generations.