Philosophical Concepts in “Allegory of the Cave” by Plato

Plato’s Allegory of the Cave excellently presents the sharp contrast between daily and philosophical life. This short account talks about life and the role of philosophy using the story of a group of prisoners bound in such a manner that they cannot turn their heads around. The allegory touches on the differences between perception and reality. According to Plato, daily life consists of talking about perceptions of things, while philosophical life consists of comprehending the forms that generate them and the larger truths of life (Yonit & Iris, 2017). Plato’s narration succinctly shows how different the layman’s approach to life is from the philosopher’s; the former is mired in appearances, while the latter deals with reality.

Plato sees daily life as composed of people talking, thinking, and speaking about ideas of forms without seeing the forms themselves. He likens human beings to prisoners in a cave, who can only see shadows cast by puppets held by puppeteers behind them. The reality of these individuals is composed of the images they see on the wall in front of them because they are bound in place. As such, they cannot turn around to see that what they think is real is only a shadow (Yonit & Iris, 2017). Plato holds that this is the convention of life, how people see the truth. Human beings deal with, speak, and think about an idea of the truth as presented to them and not the truth itself.

In their dealings, people apply their ideas of the truth, not the truth as it is. The truth is objective and consistent, but people use its appearances without thinking about its real nature. Therefore, just like the prisoners believe the shadows they see are objects, human beings mistake appearances for reality. However, this is so because it is the situation they were bound to since birth (Yonit & Iris, 2017). Plato tells of what would happen if one somehow finds a way to break out of these bonds.

The allegory uses an instance where one of the prisoners is freed and allowed to see what is going on to show how humans would react to perceiving the truth. At first, they would experience some form of resistance, shown by the prisoner’s initial negative reaction to the reality of the puppets inside the cave. After some time, he accepts what he thought was real was not (Yonit & Iris, 2017). The prisoner is then dragged by force into the outside world, where his sight takes a little while to acclimate to the light. He now sees the truth and reality and understands that even the fire in the cave is part of a bigger phenomenon. Plato likens the prisoner’s experiences to the path of the philosophical life.

The philosophical life involves being free of the bounds that keep humanity from seeing reality. The first glimpse at the forms behind what we think is reality is initially shocking but leads to a deeper understanding. Further contemplation leads the philosopher to the whole truth and reality. On the other hand, daily life consists of dwelling on the same appearances without even a thought that there may be more. Plato proceeds to outline what happens when philosophical and daily life encounter each other.

He uses the story of the freed prisoner to illustrate the interaction between two ways of life. Upon returning, the freed prisoner, whose eyes have become acclimatized to the light outside the cave, is momentarily unable to see well in the cave. Upon seeing this, the other prisoners receive his words with hostility and laughter, scorning him because they think what he is preaching is the cause of his blindness to appearances they consider reality. The sole freed prisoner has to contend against the many chained ones, who would even kill him if they could (Yonit & Iris, 2017). This is how it is in life; an interaction between the few and the many. Few people leading the philosophical life have comprehended the truth and have to deal with the hostility of the many that are yet to see it.

Plato holds that transcendence to the truth is not impossible. People would comprehend the truth if one could turn them towards it, the doing of which is an art (Yonit & Iris, 2017). The freed man had to be dragged forcefully to the outside to see the whole truth, but making the rest of the prisoners see the truth would need a better approach. Plato compares and contrasts the realities of the philosophical and daily life. The former is tuned to reality, while the latter is mired in appearances it considers true. There is also a big discrepancy between those living philosophically and those lost in the darkness. However, every human being can acknowledge the truth if they could be turned to see it. The philosopher acknowledges, upholds and works with reality while the layman is stuck with perceptions and estimations of the truth.


Yonit, N., & Iris, P. (2017). From an ancient text to new interpretation “The allegory of the cave”. Creative Education, 8(03), 389-404.

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