Plato’s Allegory of the Cave: “The Myth of the Cave”

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Page count 9
Word count 2511
Read time 10 min
Subject Philosophy
Type Essay
Language 🇺🇸 US


The Myth of the Cave explains Plato’s idealistic concept about the structure and meaning of human life. This myth is described in Plato’s The Republic as a dialogue between Socrates and Glaucon, Plato’s brother (Plato, 1964). Initially, in the text itself, Plato views philosophers as those able to see the real world and act for the benefit of all (Plato, 1964). In this allegory, Plato describes the reality sensually manifested to ordinary people as the movement of shadows along the cave wall, as a flat projection. This is a reflection of the true world, which unfolds in front of the cave entrance and is inaccessible to the perception of observers sitting with their backs to it. In his myth, Plato opposes the world of ideas and its flat projection perceived by people as a sensory reality (Huard, 2007). The cave represents the world, an area of ​​life that is revealed to people only through sight. The ascent from the cave is the journey of the soul into the realm of the comprehensible.

As an alternative position, there is a version that the philosopher’s allegory is incorrect since people cannot climb up out of the human condition. However, given the deep meaning of Plato’s idea, one may note that being in a cave is associated with the challenge of achieving and maintaining a just and intellectual spirit. Epiphany is the path to higher ideals achieved through the ascent. Thus, the statement about the wrong nature of the philosopher’s idea may be argued due to the breadth of meaning embedded in the context of this allegory.

The Myth’s Meanings in the Context of the Human Condition

While taking into account a number of meanings that Plato puts into the concept of the cave and its role in human life, specific concepts of his allegory can explain the relevance of ascent. According to Duarte (2012), the philosopher’s diversity of opinions may help broaden the understanding of Plato’s approach to the interpretation of being. Regarding human existence in a cave, such aspects can be affected as ontology, the stages of cognition, the quality of life, and the political element of being. Each of these aspects can allow describing the Myth of the cave as a profound parable with a wide range of opinions and motivating meanings.

The ontological gradation of being makes it possible to cognize the sensible and the supersensible to understand the difference between these two phenomena. Peterson (2017) offers to pay attention to this method of interpretation with a focus on ethical implications. In the context of the cave, the shadows on the walls are the mere appearance of things that surround people on a regular basis. The statues are things that one can perceive sensually due to innate tendencies for analysis and reflection. The stone wall is a line separating two types of being: a real, inside the cave, and visible but almost inaccessible outside of it. Objects and people outside the cave are true beings that lead to ideas, enlightenment, and discovery. Finally, the sun, as a symbol of life and eternal growth, is associated with the idea of ​​goodness and virtue. This ontological interpretation makes it possible to prove that the ascent from the cave is real, and Plato’s concept is correct as a stimulus for movement and cognition.

The stages of cognition are markers that make it possible to highlight the characteristic features of analysis inherent in people in the cave. For instance, the contemplation of shadows is associated with imagination as an integral aspect of thinking. The vision of statues is a set of beliefs that allow the human to move to understanding as such, for instance, to the image of the sun, first indirectly, and then directly. Finally, understanding is the phase based on the analysis of perceived images and their interpretation from the perspective of the current living conditions. As Grube (1980) notes, being in constant doubt about the correctness of life, humans comprehend existence inside and outside the cave by drawing conclusions about the correspondence of visual images to the real picture. Such a dialectical framework emphasizes a wide range of instruments of consciousness that allow describing the ascent from an obsolete human condition to subtle and higher matters.

Plato’s allegory of the cave can be interpreted in terms of the quality of life in several ways. As the most obvious concepts, one can cite ascetic, mystical, and theological interpretations that reflect different factors and cause-and-effect relationships (Crombie, 1963). At the same time, each of these explanations emphasizes the subordination of the human to the current conditions of life and the absence of an obvious movement towards a cleaner and better world. A person who is guided only by feelings lives only in the cave. Living by following the call of the spirit is to be guided by the pure light of the truth. The movement from the sensible world to the ideal world through philosophy is liberation from the shackles and implies transformation in its basic meaning. Finally, the blessing of the sun is the highest level of knowledge and highlights the contemplation of the divine. Each of these explanations proves the inferiority of existence inside the cave and motivates to ascend.

From the perspective of the political aspect, the sun, as a symbol of virtue, presupposes, first of all, liberation. Those people who have been outside the cave can no longer exist inside it. Therefore, the only possible form to return back is the desire to free others and to bring to the light of truth those who have spent many years in the slavery of consciousness. As a result, while taking into account all the aforementioned interpretations of the human condition in the cave and outside it, one can assume that the impossibility to climb up from human conditions is false. The main reasons are an opportunity to know a better world and a chance to drag others along, thereby opening their eyes to the long years of submission and blindness in which they lived.

Arguments in Favor of the Senselessness of the Ascent

Purely functional, for Plato, to create the allegory described in his dialogue with Glaucon, the cave is not a prerequisite. Moreover, as ed Vlastos (1972) argue, Plato first takes a ready-made image of the cave, and only then begins to bring into it a bulky structure with a road, a fence, and a light source. In addition, as the dialogue progresses, this light source is fire, and then the sun, which makes the discussion ambiguous. Kraut (1992) remarks that Plato, like many of his other fellow citizens, brought a special essence to the meaning of the cave. The sacredness of this space is represented in many myths of Ancient Greece and is often viewed from a chthonic perspective. However, the main idea is not in the cave itself but in the people who are in it.

Plato characterizes chained people by one clear quality that he criticizes and considers one of the main gaps in human existence. They do not experience the slightest suffering about their chainedness and examine the shadows that pass before their eyes with interest. From a primitive position, one can assume that they are busy with the knowledge of the world, although they do not have an opportunity to do this since the real world in the cave cannot be cognized. They cannot leave the cave, but this does not mean that there is no way out of it at all. In the course of the dialogue, one chained person is nevertheless released and taken out, and there, outside, the world of truly existing is revealed (Plato, 1964). As a result, Plato’s cave can be seen as a place where the truth is sought, but there is no such inside.

This paradox forms the idea that outside the confined space, there is more truth and freedom. At the same time, there is no guarantee that the world behind the backs of the people in the cave can give them more knowledge and discoveries. Born with the abilities to analyze and reflect, people looking at the shadows shape individual and collective perceptions, thereby creating a semblance of society (Rapp, 2014). Therefore, although the cave is a closed space, the essence of a person in it does not change, and climbing up out of the human condition is meaningless.

Moreover, as an alternative version of Plato’s profound truth about the ways and virtues of knowledge, one can also mention some gaps. The philosopher’s specific ideas may be interpreted as erroneous when taking into account the initial epistemological premises (Peterson, 2017). Plato sought to describe the world as a changeable phenomenon through ideas that, in turn, are static and unchanging. As evidence, the words of Aristotle deserve attention, who argued that Platonism, in particular, the allegory of the cave, led to an increase in the level of ideas to infinity (Georg, 1986). As a result, the process of cognition becomes unlikely in the face of such a variety of potential interpretations. Christian dogmas that have developed over the centuries adopted certain aspects of Plato’s teachings expressed in the separation of the real world from the ideal and the focus on abstract and unattainable ideals (Pickstock, 1997). Therefore, giving arguments against Plato’s allegory, one can note that his idea of ​​ascent has no possibility of realization. Moving away from the human condition does not imply accomplishing real objectives and is based on abstract reasoning about being and the good.

Real Prerequisites and Incentives of the Myth of the Cave

Plato’s allegory of the cave shows how a primitive subconscious keeps people in the darkness of superstition, as well as ignorance. By asking questions to those who assume they have knowledge, the philosopher discovers an awkward fact that: people usually live by vague half-truths (Plato, 1964). Thus, he proves the falsity of the sophistry society utilizes to mask ignorance. Despite the abstract nature of the cave and its association with the ideal world that is hard to achieve, Plato believes that personal devotion to the ideal is crucial for the soul to become immortal (Plato, 1964). Therefore, the thesis about the meaningless of climbing up out of the human condition may be argued due to common Christian values. When a person lives true to oneself, when he or she devotes one’s life to work, faith, or ideal, the human is unlikely to do it to please the ego.

In this case, the search for excellence goes beyond the individual and requires determination and dedication. According to Hackforth (1952), it is only when the mind is in a state of supernatural concentration that eternity becomes apparent. This state is experienced outside of each individual limitation, emotion, and intellect. Today, many people are overly concerned with success, money, and rewards but not realism. However, in this form of passion, there are not many virtues. Any sense of a true achievement tends to be greater than any vanity of success. Therefore, what the mind understands transcends the reality of this world.

The cave metaphor suggests that understanding ideal reality can be challenging since people tend to think that visible reality is only what one can see. From a theological perspective, even though humans are all born with an understanding of ideal reality, the problem is that most individuals forget about their inner knowledge (Allen and Springsted, 1985). The appearance of things that surround everyone may confuse, and eventually, a person adapts to a specific environment. Nonetheless, even if humans can forget the ideal reality, nothing prevents one from remembering it again. Plato’s story shows how difficult it is to understand the ideal reality. The shadows reflected on the cave wall represent what is real. The image of something or its reflection is not the real thing itself. However, due to human nature, people believe in what they see more likely than in what they have a chance to see by making an effort. The shadows in the cave are not things that cast a shadow, even if they can help understand what those things are. Therefore, to enhance one’s cognition power, the only way is to look beyond the usual perception.

Based on the Myth of the Cave, the truth about what is real can only be grasped after the person leaves this place and remains outside, despite the challenges they may face. Beyond that, people and the reality of what the universe is are perfectly reflected by the chained (White, 1976). Humans are constrained by the controlling forces that are the result of what is learned in general, what is taught, and what is implemented in the educational system. These are, however, the shadows of imagination perceived as reality, and people spend their lives in individual caves chained to see unreal things. At this stage, the person needs to become aware of what is true and what includes imagination. The shadows on the wall become a reality when people leave this cave. Therefore, as Cupitt (1985) states, in the literal sense, the human condition can hardly be overcome since people have innate features and characteristics of the perception of reality. Nevertheless, considering the outside world as a perspective of knowledge, the ascent is associated with spiritual growth and enlightenment, which are the essential concepts of human existence and development.

Thus, one can assume that the human lives between two lives, and in each of them, there are individual peculiarities. One of the scenarios of existence is the shadow of reality, which is driven by the imagination and is formed from birth. This reality can be called limited because it is shaped only by social experience and those who express their position. Another version of reality is the perception acquired by moving away from the traditional forms of assessing reality through the transition to a new stage of cognition. This scenario can be associated with enlightenment and ascent when a person gains new knowledge through individual discoveries. In the context of Plato’s cave, ascent involves spiritual growth by transforming outlooks on life influenced by the analysis of common truths from new perspectives (Plato, 1964). As a result, the more actively people study the methods of self-development and the principles of expanding consciousness, the higher is the likelihood that they can climb up out of the human condition.


Plato’s allegory that assumes the division of the worldview into limited and free can be discussed in the context of the statement that people cannot climb up out of the human condition. However, when analyzing the specifics of the Myth of the Cave, one can note that ascent implies liberation and should not be taken literally. Freedom is offered as an opportunity to look at the world in a new way and discover new forms of knowledge through the acquired experience of studying reality. The experience of others shapes limited views and is an explanation of the concepts of images and shadows in the cave. Looking outside of ordinary perception means transforming consciousness and, therefore, acquiring a deeper knowledge of human nature.

Reference List

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EduRaven. (2022, June 14). Plato’s Allegory of the Cave: “The Myth of the Cave”. Retrieved from


EduRaven. (2022, June 14). Plato’s Allegory of the Cave: “The Myth of the Cave”.

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"Plato’s Allegory of the Cave: “The Myth of the Cave”." EduRaven, 14 June 2022,


EduRaven. (2022) 'Plato’s Allegory of the Cave: “The Myth of the Cave”'. 14 June.


EduRaven. 2022. "Plato’s Allegory of the Cave: “The Myth of the Cave”." June 14, 2022.

1. EduRaven. "Plato’s Allegory of the Cave: “The Myth of the Cave”." June 14, 2022.


EduRaven. "Plato’s Allegory of the Cave: “The Myth of the Cave”." June 14, 2022.


EduRaven. 2022. "Plato’s Allegory of the Cave: “The Myth of the Cave”." June 14, 2022.

1. EduRaven. "Plato’s Allegory of the Cave: “The Myth of the Cave”." June 14, 2022.


EduRaven. "Plato’s Allegory of the Cave: “The Myth of the Cave”." June 14, 2022.