Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Study Questions: Plato's Allegory of the Cave

Here are some study questions to help you prepare for tomorrow's essay. Feel free to comment with questions or ideas. (Online original here; thanks to Professor Michael Sudduth of San Francisco State.)

1. According to Socrates, what does the Allegory of the Cave represent?

2. What are the key elements in the imagery used in the allegory?

3. What are some things the allegory suggests about the process of enlightenment or education?

4. What do the imagery of "shackles" and the "cave" suggest about the perspective of the cave dwellers or prisoners?

5. In society today or in your own life, what sorts of things shackle the mind?

6. Compare the perspective of the freed prisoner with the cave prisoners?

7. According to the allegory, lack of clarity or intellectual confusion can occur in two distinct ways or contexts. What are they?

8. According to the allegory, how do cave prisoners get free? What does this suggest about intellectual freedom?

9. The allegory presupposes that there is a distinction between appearances and reality. Do you agree? Why or why not?

10. If Socrates is incorrect in his assumption that there is a distinction between reality and appearances, what are the two alternative metaphysical assumptions?


  1. This allegory is a struggle for me to understand due to it's length, symbolism, and perspective. So I was wondering: since there is some sort of conversation taking place, is Socrates talking with this man named, Glaucon? Is this a conversation discussing an allegory? Or is the whole text an allegory in itself?

    I'm a bit confused...

    Kayla McCallie
    Period 2

  2. Im confused with what the allegoy of the cave represents? Is it about how it's like the prisoners only world viewed and stay within the walls of the cave only seeing the shadows of reality?

    Edith Gonzalez

  3. I agree with Kayla, and am confused about the same things.

  4. I don't understand this whatsoever, I have read it twice and it seems to be going in circles.

  5. I did not really get a full understanding either, so I did research (haha) to find out more.. Of course I don't know how accurate this information is. Try these... I am NOT saying these are right answers, but it is worth a try since this is very difficult to understand.. If anyone has any other ideas please share.



  6. The thing that is making this text extremely difficult for me is the lack of quotes and only in two instances that I know of by scanning the article, that someone is directly being addressed. The syntax and diction is a dense brick anyways and needs time to translate or at least grow accustomed to that writing style by itself. By not having the quotes or directional text as to who is saying what, I can only scratch the surface of an obviously deep article.

  7. Here is an excerpt from the novel, Sophie's World. It is a generalization of the Myth of the Cave, and I hope it helps you understand it better.

    "Imagine some people living in an underground cave. They sit with their backs to the mouth of the cave with their hands and feet bound in such a way that they can only look at the back wall of the cave. Behind them is a high wall, and behind that wall pass human-like creatures, holding up various figures above the top of the wall. Because there is a fire behind these figures, they cast flickering shadows on the back wall of the cave. So the only thing the cave dwellers can see is this shadow play. They have been sitting in this position since they were born, so they think these shadows are all there are.

    Imagine now that one of the cave dwellers manages to free himself from his bonds. The first thing he asks himself is where all these shadows on the cave wall come from. What do you think happens when he turns around and sees the figures being held up above the wall? To begin with he is dazzled by the sharp sunlight He is also dazzled by the clarity of the figures because until now he has only seen their shadow. If he manages to climb over the wall and get past the fire into the world outside, he will be even more dazzled. But after rubbing his eyes he will be struck by the beauty of everything. For the first time he will see colors and clear shapes. He will see the real animals and flowers that the cave shadows were only poor reflections of. But even now he will ask himself where all the animals and flowers come from. then he will see the sun in the sky, and realize that this is what gives life to therse flowers and animals, just as the fire made the shadows visible.

    The joyful cave dweller could now have gone skupping away into the countryside, delightin in his new-found freedom. But instead he thinks of all the others who are still down in the cave. He goes back . Once there, he tries to convince the cave dwellers that the shadows on the cave wall are the flickering reflections of 'real' things. But they don't believe him. They point to the cave wall and say that what they see is all there is. Finally they kill him."

    Hope this helps people understand the basic story a little better.

    Nicholas Lycan

  8. The story itself is a metaphor for what Plato describes as the relationship between the world of sense, and the world of ideas. Pretty much all things come from a cookie cutter kind of mold that exists the the world of ideas. What we see is just a reflection of the real thing. What we see is the world of senses, but according to Plato can't be trusted. In the allegory, the shadows the cave dwellers are watching is the world of senses. The puppets being reflected are the "ideas" in the world of ideas. Ideas are just what Plato used to describe the matrix of an object in the world of senses. The story itself is a representation of the philosophers journey and mirrors the life of Socrates, who had a major influence on Plato. You start out ignorant, then ask questions. You then discover the true meaning of things and beauty, and try to communicate this to your fellow man. But it usually falls on death ears. Such was what happened to Socrates when he was sentenced to death after preaching to much philosophy, and the same with the freed cave dweller.

    That's pretty much the main ideas of the Myth of the Cave. Hope this helped as well.

    Nicholas Lycan

  9. I think something worth mentioning in addition to Nick's marvelous comment inspired by one of the greatest books! is this philosophy and its relation to Art. We all know the IDEA of a circle; in the world of Ideas there is the perfect circle, we are connected to that world in some way and so artists imagine perfect circles and such and thus make art of circles. However, these circles are not the real perfect circle from the world of ideas, they are imitations, interpretations, shadows, reflections, etc, of the real perfect circle. Every artist has an idea, a vision, and their art is the shadow of that idea from within their head. (how many times have you heard an artist complain about how imperfect their art is and you don't understand what's wrong with it? Well, this is because you don't see the IDEA they saw and thus you don't see how inaccurate their art is to the real IDEA. An artist's goal is to make their art as close as possible to what's in their head.) This relates to Plato's philosophy that our entire world, the world of senses, is created and based from a world of ideas. All of the horses we see aren't perfect horses. Like the artist's art, the horses may be close to the real "cookie-cutter" Idea horse as Nick stated, but they are never the real idea horse. But we know they're horses nonetheless.

    Here, is also where Plato, if I remember correctly, states something of the effect that we have origins of creation as human beings in the world of ideas and thus gives reason to why we know what things in the world of senses should look like and what they're imitating. In other words, we know that All The Pretty Horses are representations (shadows) of horses in our world of senses because we have all seen at some point the real horse in the land of ideas. Our souls have all been their, and seen the horse. And so in physical form, here in senses land, we see a representation of a horse and say, "Ah! It's a Horse!" Otherwise, what the hell would it be? A dog with a mane? You wouldn't know what the shadow is making if you hadn't seen the real horse prior.

    Sorry for repeating so much.

    Correct me if I am wrong.

    -Trevor Hudgins

    Period 6

  10. As I was trying to understand the concepts of Plato's work, I ended up researching multiple links for a broad overlook of it. I found this link to be very helpful because it puts Plato's words in a colloquial way. Excuse the harsh or explicit words and this summary makes for a brief explanation.


    -Kelly Brickey, Period 3

  11. During our discussion yesterday, the substitute brought up an interesting point (shocker, I know). When Trenton brought up the idea of the two worlds; the material world, which is what we see and live in under the veil of ignorance, then there is the higher world, with is where free thinking and perfection dwell (great point). The sub, almost out of the blue asked the question of weather or not we thought that great thinkers, like Steve Jobs, Einstein, Steven Hawking, etc. were able to tap into the higher realm of understanding and pure intellect that most are unable to. I really liked this question because it got me thinking. I just thought I would bring it up here again because it would be so interesting to get into some more...

  12. Jake, this raises an important issue. Is there an "it" (quality/ability) that enables visionaries to be so, well, visionary? Or is "it" not an it at all, but a thinking process that begins in childhood and develops over a lifetime of practice? Or both? This has Big Question potential.

  13. I actually don’t agree with the difference between appearances and reality. The fact is, if you start thinking about what reality actually is, it seems like an illusion. We have pondered this question for years – “What is the purpose of life?” Many volunteer to answer the question, but none seem quite right. If we cannot even understand our purposes, then I can’t see how we’re in reality. Reality is an appearance, so it doesn’t make sense to have a distinction between them.

  14. I am using this to study in my class somewhere else and these are the questions to help us study I think I have them right but would you possibly have the answers.?

  15. 1) What is the cave supposed to symbolize or represent in our lives? 2) What does it say about us? 3) Do you agree or disagree with Socrates? Explain why-- give reasons for what you say.

    1. It represents our internalization of limitations. The prisoners can leave-- why don't they? Why do so many students say things like, "I'm bad at math" when they don't have any real idea apart from what they've been told by a math teacher?

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