Question Ian Social Sciences

Plato's allegories: The Sun and The Cave

What are Plato’s allegories of the cave and the sun about?

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Answer Internal Staff

The allegory of the cave can be found in The Republic, and broadly summarises Plato’s beliefs regarding the makeup of the world and the philosopher’s relationship with it. In the allegory, some prisoners are chained up in a cave such that they can only see the shadows of puppets cast on the wall by a fire behind them. These prisoners represent uncritical laymen (as opposed to philosophers) and the shadows represent instances of objects – imperfect imitations of the real objects themselves. The puppets therefore represent the ‘forms’ of these objects; that is, the perfect ideal of the object from which all such objects are said to be derived. Plato believed that these ideal objects or ‘forms’ actually existed and were in some way more ‘real’ than the things which we see day-to-day.

As a prisoner is dragged from the cave, into the sunlight, they are said to become enlightened, understanding that the shadows were mere imitations of reality. The sun represents what is referred to as ‘the good’ in Plato’s philosophy, which is the source from which the ‘forms’ attain their perfection. It represents the ‘form of forms’, or the very concept of the ideal itself.