PLATO ON: The Allegory of the Cave

A lot of people find philosophy not only to be boring but to be a myth. However, Plato felt his philosophy principles were the ways of life. How most profound story was the “Allegory of the Cave”. This was about people who had been living in a cave as prisoners for as long as they can remember. There is not light in this cave only figures shown on the walls from the shadows of the sun. The believe the shadowy figures they see are real things. However, the moral of this video is to discuss how Plato ends up making up the entire end to the story.


Want to follow along with the video or take notes? Check out the transcription of this video below.

[00:07] The ancient Greeks were emphatic that philosophy was not just an elaborate abstract exercise, it was they felt a deeply useful skill that should be learned and practiced by all in order to help us to live and die well, no one believed this more than Plato who was passionate in his defensive philosophy as a kind of therapy for the soul. One of the most forceful stories he told on behalf of the utility of philosophy was what has become known as the allegory of the cave. It is perhaps the most famous allegory in philosophy. This was a story that was intended as he wrote to compare the effect of education and the lack of it on our nature. At the start of book seven of his masterpiece, the Republic Plato tells us about some people living in prison in a cave. They’ve always lived there and don’t know anything of the outside world.

[00:58] There is no natural light in this cave. The walls are damp and dark. All the inhabitants can see comes from the shadows of things thrown up on the wall by light of a fire. The cave dwellers get fascinated by these reflections of animals, plants, and people. Moreover, they assume that these shadows are real and that if you pay a lot of attention to them, you understand and succeed in life. They don’t, of course realize that they are looking at mayor phantoms. They chat about shadowy things enthusiastically and take great pride in their sophistication and wisdom. Then one day quite by chance, someone discovers away out of the cave, out into the open air, but first it’s simply overwhelming. He is dazzled by the brilliant sunshine in which everything is for the first time, properly illuminated. Gradually, his eyes adjust and he encounters the true forms of all those things which he had formally known only as shadows.

[01:52] He sees actual flowers, the colors of birds, the nuances in the bark of trees. He observes stars and grasps the vastness and sublime nature of the universe. As Plato puts it in solid terms. Previously he had been looking merely at phantoms. Now he is nearer to the true nature of being out of compassion. This newly enlightened man decides to leave the sunlit upper world and makes his way back into the cave, so try to help out his companions who are still mired in confusion, an error because he’s become used to the bright upper world. He can hardly see anything underground. He stumbles along the damp wet corridors and gets confused. He seems to the others totally unimpressive when he in turn is unimpressed by them and insist on explaining what the sun is or what a real tree is like. The cave dwellers get sarcastic, then very angry and eventually plot to kill him.

[02:49] The story of the cave is an allegory of the life of all enlightened people. The cave dwellers are humans before philosophy. The son is the light of reason. The of the returned philosopher is what old truth tellers can expect when they take that knowledge back to people who have not devoted themselves to thinking for Plato, we are all for much of our lives in shadow. Many of the things we get excited about like fame, the perfect partner, a high status job are infinitely less real than we suppose they are for the most part, phantoms projected by our culture onto the walls of our fragile and floored mines, but because everyone around us is insisting that they are genuine, we are taken in from a young age. It’s not our fault individually. No one chooses to be in the cave. That’s just where we happen to begin.

[03:39] We’re all starting from a very difficult place. If like the man in Plato’s story, you bluntly tell people they’re wrong. You get nowhere. You cause deeper fence and main danger your own life. Athens had, after all recently put Socrates, Plato’s friend to death. Plato knew from close experience just what the cave dwellers might do to those who claim to know the sun. The Solution Plato says, is a process of widespread carefully administered philosophical education by which he understood the method of inquiry pioneered by Socrates and known to us as the Socratic method. It’s a very gentle process. You don’t lecture or harangue or for someone to read a particular book, you just start with a general declaration of intellectual modesty. No one knows very much. It’s always good to insist and wisdom starts with owning up to ignorance. Confess that you don’t know exactly what the government should do, what war is meant to achieve, or how good relationships work.

[04:37] You then get the other person to say what they think and gradually together you investigate the answers. Most likely the other person will be confident or rather painfully overconfident. They may tell you, it’s all quite simple. Really, and everyone knows the answer already. You must be supremely patient with this kind of bravado. If they go off topic, you must cheerfully double back. You must take a lot of time and be ready to have chats over many days. This method of talking is founded on a lovely confidence that with the right encouragement, people can eventually work out things for themselves and detect errors in their own reasoning. If you carefully and quietly draw their attention to tricky points and don’t cast blame or ever get annoyed, you never teach anyone anything. By making them feel stupid, even if they are at first we have all started in that cave, but it is Plato’s deepest insight that we don’t have to stay there and the road out is called quite simply philosophy.

[05:35] This is the son who’s liked, we can follow and by WHO’s raised. The proper nature of things can become a clear. If you enjoy the films on this channel, you might want to hear about another smart, insightful channel we love called wisecrack. Click here to visit their channel page and discover a succession of videos on world literature, philosophy, cinema, history, and more. All delivered with a playful, beguiling sense of humor there in la. We’re here in London, but the school of life and a wisecrack have become firm friends based around shared values about making education compelling. We’d love you to befriend us both in turn.

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