Plato's "Republic" and the metaphor of the cave. Illustrating human perception, ideologies, illusions, and sensory appearances

Essay, 2016

6 Pages


The famous metaphoric allegory of the cave presented by Plato is a brilliant work that is designed to be interpreted in many ways. The allegory of the cave is a metaphor designed to illustrate human perception, ideologies, illusions, opinions, ignorance and sensory appearances. The cave is a prison for individuals who base their knowledge based on ideologies. Knowledge based on ideologies is based on myths, sensory appearances, perception, conviction, beliefs, opinions and values. Although possible, the cave depicts that it’s extremely difficult for individuals who base their knowledge on ideology to escape because they are trapped in a circle of misunderstanding and false knowledge. The metaphor of the cave may be comprehended on an educational level, however it should not be taken lightly due to the message that it sends and the rhetorical question that it asks. One of the main messages it sends is that in order to see clearly, an individual must gain knowledge through pure education and philosophical reasoning. The big question that it poses is that how do we know what we know is real.

There are three ways which explain how the prisoners are imprisoned and why they are imprisoned. The shadows, the game and the cave paint a clear picture of why and how the prisoners are imprisoned. The shadows are an illustration of the 99% of the individuals in the cave who believe ideological reasoning, perception, illusions, opinions and sensory appearances to be knowledge. “And if they were in the habit of conferring honours among themselves on those who were quickest to observe the passing shadows and to remark which of them went before, and which followed after, and which were together; and who were therefore best able to draw conclusions as to the future?” (Plato’s Cave, par.14). The individuals in the cave play a game; just like any form of entertainment, there is always a master, someone who is admired by people for their knowledge. However, this game is different because it is based on ideological reasoning. In the game there is a master of ideological reasoning who everyone admires for his mastery of ideological knowledge. The game is simply an outline of people’s beliefs of how a person can be a master of false knowledge. While the shadows and the game are a mental prison, the cave is a physical prison that causes it. “Thus they stay in the same place so that there is only one thing for them to look that: whatever they encounter in front of their faces” (Sheehan, part one, par. 1). With a physical prison such as the cave, individuals are trapped and have no liberty. The only form of liberty they have is staring at whatever shows up in front of their faces. This is imprisonment because it deprives the individual’s free will, which then limits their potential to develop. The shadows, the game and the cave are a gateway that blind prisoners from practicing deductive knowledge and reasoning.

The prisoners “are very much like us humans” (Sheehan, part one, par. 3). As stated, the prisoners are a representation of human beings chained to their ignorant opinions, ideologies, sensory appearances, and illusions. In a world where the only means of knowledge for the prisoners is what they see and hear, Plato states that “if someone, using force, were to pull him [who had been freed from his chains] away from there and to drag him up the cave's rough and steep ascent and not to let go of him until he had dragged him out into the light of the sun” (Sheehan, Freedom, Stage Two, par. 1) To exit the cave, the individuals must be forced to leave their fundamental beliefs and seek deductive reasoning and knowledge. When the prisoner exits the cave, he goes through a series of stages. “If someone even forced him to look into the glare of the fire, would his eyes not hurt him” (Sheehan, Freedom, stage one, par. 4). The sun is a metaphoric representation of good and knowledge. In the first stage, the prisoner cannot comprehend the sun due to his long life in darkness and state of ignorance from being imprisoned in the cave. In the second stage; he goes through acclimatization; “in this process of acclimatization he would first and most easily be able to look at (1) shadows and after that (2) the images of people and the rest of things as they are reflected in water” (Sheehan, Freedom, stage two, par. 4). Shadows are representations of ignorance. In this stage the prisoner would be able to identify people’s ignorance and his own ignorance. Curiosity is a disease necessary for knowledge. In stage three, “he would be able to view (3) the things themselves [the beings, instead of the dim reflections]. But within the range of such things he might well contemplate what there is in the heavenly dome and this dome itself” (Sheehan, Freedom, stage two, par. 5). The freed prisoner would start to examine and study everything he sees, he would go as far as to look at the heavens in an astronomical perspective and study earth as-well. Studying the heavens and earth would give the prisoner everything he needs to reach his final stage. In the final stage, “he would be in the condition to look at (4) the sun itself, not just at its reflection whether in water or wherever else it might appear, but at the sun itself” (Sheehan, Freedom, stage three, par. 1). At this stage, the prisoner is able to comprehend and interpret the sun’s knowledge. He is able to understand that shadows coming from the sun are mere illusions and not knowledge. The escaped prisoner gains knowledge and escapes false reality that his fellow prisoners are living in. Completing these four stages are the required steps to exiting the cave. Overall, education through philosophical reasoning is the gateway through escaping the cave.

In this day and age, men’s greatest enemy is not terrorism or Donald Trump; it is ignorance. Edward Snowden is a former employee of national security agency; he worked as an intelligence community officer and whistleblower. He revealed classified information that showed that the government records our conversation, see pictures that others send to us or pictures that we send or take. “records of millions of U.S. citizens were being collected in bulk, regardless of whether they had any connection to potential terror suspects” (Breslow, par.5) The government sees everything we do without us being aware of it and without our permission. However, things have changed because people know about it. Ignorance is human being’s greatest enemy. With this kind of information, people should realize that they have an unethical government and they should do something to change it. Sadly, “Americans may be disapproving, but they’re not all that concerned. Only 17 percent reported that they were ‘very concerned; about government surveillance while 35 percent were somewhat concerned, 33 percent were not very concerned and 13 percent were not all concerned” (Kleinman, par.4). A large scale of American individuals are aware of government surveillance do not care. Plato’s harsh criticism of his society are fair because he makes very good points. Point one, people are blind to reason, when you present them with facts, they turn their ears away and continue to live in a state of ignorance. Point two. Even when presented with facts, most people are too lazy to do anything, so they do what they know best, which is ignore it and go back to how things were. Point three, instead of wanting the truth, most individuals simply choose to live in lies. Plato’s negative assessment of society holds true today, as told above, the story of Edward Snowden leaking classified information and the American people not carrying; the story demonstrates that people rather live in a state of ignorance then seek the truth.

Is there a role for the philosophe in running the state today? No; no there is no role for the philosopher to be running for state, and I think there should not be a role. It is not desirable for a philosopher to run the government and it should not be. A philosopher is characterized as an individual who is logical, rigorous, curious, skeptical, consistent, and doubtful. Philosophers are individuals “whom the truth is the spectacle of which they are enamored.” (The republic v.475e). philosophy a word taken from the Greek word “phylos” and “sophie”, phylos means to love, sophie means wisdom; together they make love of wisdom. Philosophers are seekers of wisdom, truth and knowledge, they do this through logic, metaphysics, epistemology, rationalism empiricism, etc. They seek these things constantly and with discipline because with philosophers there is never an end to their curiosity and wonder. Politicians are individuals who are involved in politics as holders of an office or as candidates for an elected office. Most politicians manipulate and deceit others in order to further their careers or in order to gain advancement quickly. This in a sense is expected because many individuals who run for and who are in charge of the government used and are still using these tactics to maintain their positions or further their careers. These are different type of individuals, one is obsessed with power, whereas the other is obsessed with education. The work of a politician is for someone who is satisfied with possessing average amount of knowledge. A philosopher sole purpose is to collect knowledge and disprove his fellow philosophers if they are wrong.

Works Cited

"Plato's Cave." Plato's Cave. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Apr. 2016.


Sheehan, Thomas. "The Allegory of the Cave." N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Apr. 2016.


Breslow, Jason M. "FRONTLINE." PBS. PBS, 13 May 2014. Web. 07 Apr. 2016.

< nsa-documents/>.

Kleinman, Alexis. "Americans Don't Care Enough About NSA Spying To Protect Themselves,

Survey Says." The Huffington Post., 16 Mar. 2015. Web. 15 Apr. 2016. <>.

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Plato's "Republic" and the metaphor of the cave. Illustrating human perception, ideologies, illusions, and sensory appearances
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Thierry Lubembela (Author), 2016, Plato's "Republic" and the metaphor of the cave. Illustrating human perception, ideologies, illusions, and sensory appearances, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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