Nov 8, 2010

Plato's Allegory of the Cave in Plain Language

Retold from The Republic of Plato



image credit: "Plato and the Pure Forms"
       Once upon a time everyone on earth lived in total darkness. In a cave.
       The only light people had was from a huge fire. The fire never stopped burning. The fire shone light from behind the people. But people were unable to turn around and see the source of the light because they were all chained to a wall. In between the fire and the people were cut-outs, of animals, trees, dogs, cars, etc., all the objects of the sensible world.
        The light from the flame cast the outline of the paper cut-outs onto the wall of the cave. The people chained to the wall were only able to perceive shadows of objects and not real objects. People only saw images. People were content. No one attempted to escape.
        But, one day a man became unchained. He at first did not know what to do with his new found freedom. But, he decided to turn around. He was surprised to see, when he turned around, that what he thought was real, was only shadows cast onto a wall from paper cut-outs.
         "That's lame," he said.
         He walked around the fire and the paper cut-outs and found an exit out of the cave. He climbed out. He stood on solid ground. He looked up and saw the brightness of the sun and shielded his eyes. The light was intense. After living in a cave all his life he had never experience the light of the sun. The intensity of the light was way too much for his unaccustomed eyes. But after a few hours above ground he began to adjust to the light and was able to see more clearer. He could discern leaves on trees and was able to distinguish goats from dogs. Everything was way more clear than down in the darkness of the cave.
        He became so overjoyed at what he was seeing, that he decided to tell all his friends in the cave so they could know the truth. He went back underground. Into the darkness.
        "Hey, guys. It's me. Look. You're all chained to a wall and what you see on the wall is not really real. Those are just shadows. You cannot see it, but behind you is a fire that casts shadows of paper objects onto the wall. None of that is real. I have been above ground and seen the sun and have seen real trees and real dogs. Not shadows. Allow me to release you from your chains and you can see for yourself."
        The people would not have any of this. They said amongst themselves, "He is crazy. Let us kill him." So they did. All at once they pounced on him and killed him because they could not accept the truth of his words.
         After they killed him they forgot about him. To this day no one speaks of the unchained man.

The End

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