Allegory of the Cave

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THE ALLEGORY OF THE CAVE The following is an excerpt from Plato’s dialogue called “The Republic.” In this section of the dialogue called the “Allegory of the Cave,” Socrates creates an allegory to help illustrate his theory of knowledge. “Now then,” Socrates said, “let me tell you a story about ignorance and education which will explain the condition of man’s nature. Imagine that there is an underground cave with a long entrance open to the light. In this cave men have been chained from birth, fettered by the neck and legs so they cannot move. They cannot turn their heads around; they can only look forward at the wall of the cave. A light comes to them from a fire burning some distance behind them. Between the fire and the chained men is a raised platform on which a low wall has been built. Behind the wall are people, like puppeteers, who carry all sorts of articles like statues of men and other living things which they hold above the wall. Some of the bearers speak and others are silent, as you might expect.” “I see,” said Glaucon [Socrates’ student]. “Truly a strange place and strange sort of people.” “Actually, they are just like ourselves.” Socrates explained, “What do you think these chained men would know of themselves or each other or anything else? They will know only the shadows which the firelight casts on the opposite wall of the cave.” “They could not know anything else if they were chained so that they could never turn their heads,” exclaimed Glaucon. “True;; and what about the things being held above the wall? Would not they only know the shadows of these things?” asked Socrates. “Of course,” Glaucon answered. “Suppose the prisoners could talk to each other;; and
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