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Explain Plato’s Analogy of the Cave. (25 Marks)

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The analogy of the cave is written in Plato’s famous book known as Republic. Plato uses the analogy to help describe the philosophical difference between the physical world and the difference of the world of Forms. In short the analogy explains to others about the physical world as nothing but full of illusion. He describes the true reality is to be found in the eternal unchanging world of forms.

The analogy begins in the cave. The cave represents the visible world or the world of sense experience, where the shadows seem more real than truth itself. It indirectly represents the human body, which imprisons the soul preventing it from seeking the true knowledge. People are chained up in the cave in such a way that all prisoners are facing the wall. They are chained up in a way that they can only look ahead of them at the wall of the cave. The only light in the cave comes from the fire. There is a wall behind the prisoners and fire is located behind the wall. Behind the wall other people are walking up and down carrying statues on their heads. The prisoners observe the shadows that flicker before them. The prisoners believe the shadows are reality as that is all they are able to see. If they hear the people behind the wall they associate the sounds made by individuals with the shadows. They think of the shadows as the true reality. Plato represents our condition as human beings; he describes that our senses chain us and cause us to accept the world around us, symbolised as the cave.

In this analogy the prisoners symbolize ordinary people who have not yet discovered the philosophical truth. They are deceived into believing that the shadows they see are real objects and the sounds people make are made by the shadows. Plato argues that the shadows are equivalent to the senses of the human body that deceives each individual from the reality of the form. He believes that the objects we see in the physical world are reflections of the reality in the world of Forms.

One of the prisoners is set free. Firstly, when he is released he would have to overcome some difficulties. He will be confused and will not be able to understand what he sees. The released prisoner adapts to the firelight. He realise that the shadows he saw on the walls were not the real objects themselves.

The prisoner that has been released drags himself to the entrance of the cave. He would have to struggle up the steep long ramp at the back of the cave into the sunlight. The journey out of the cave into the outside world represents the philosopher’s discovery of true knowledge. It is the difficult journey of the philosopher into enlightenment. The philosopher struggles to take in his new world view. This is represented in the steepness of the cave.

Once outside the philosopher the prisoner is slowly able to see objects as they really are. He is able to understand the value of the Sun, supporting life and the season of the year. The outside world



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