Plato’s analogy of the Cave is one of the key texts that you ought to read in great detail and with great care. The details are fairly straightforward; the prisoner in the cave is released and discovers that the images and shadow on the wall of the cave that he and all the other prisoners have been watching are not real, as they believed. He sees the wall, the fire, and the puppeteers who are responsible for the illusion. Passing beyond them he is dragged out of the cave and into the world. Here he is at first blinded by the light of the sun, but gradually his eyes become accustomed to the daylight and he sees the objects in the world and eventually may even be able to look at the sun itself.
For Plato this story reveals his thinking about the nature of the world and reality.
Reality is not something we discover with our eyes and our senses. These may delude us. What we see in our world around us are copies and shadows of reality.
Only through the long and difficult path of learning and education can a person begin to understand what is real. Plato refers to these realities as Forms, which are located in the world of Forms.
It is a compelling idea and while we may or may not agree with Plato’s views, there is sense in which the analogy of the cave fascinates us. Where is reality found?
In a previous article I suggested that a modern comparison with Plato’s analogy might be found in the cinema.
The theme is duplicated in specific movies, plays and literature.
If you have never seen the film The Matrix – then watch it. It is the story of Plato’s Cave all over again. In the film what appears to be the normal world is an illusion created by computers called The Matrix. At the beginning of the film a computer programmer, Thomas Anderson tries to learn what the Matrix is. He becomes involved on the side of those few refugees who have escaped the clutches of the machines. They know the reality behind the computer generated illusory world. They have learnt the secrets of true knowledge which are unavailable to the masses.
Dante’s Divine Comedy also has similarities to Plato’s Cave. This epic poem, written between 1308 and 1321describes Dante’s journey through Hell, Purgatory and Heaven. He is guided from the deepest levels of Hell, through Purgatory and into Paradise. There are lines in the poem which caution against bringing knowledge back to mankind. The prisoner in Plato’s cave is given similar warnings.
Remember the Harry Potter books? In the first story Harry grows up in the Dursley’s home. He seems aware that there may be more to life than what he sees around him. He gradually gains the feeling that Uncle Vernon is keeping things from him. Once Hagrid arrives and drags Harry from the family clutches, he gains access to a world of different values and realities which others cannot see. It is a good example of a parallel world to the empirical world or everyday life.
There we are then three suggestions that might a) throw a bit of light on Plato’s story and b) might be quoted as later examples of the use, or familiarity with, the narrative of the Cave.
Always aim to impress your examiner.