14 de mar. de 2023

What is the Myth of the Cave? What is its meaning today?

The Myth of the Cave, also known as the Allegory of the Cave, is a story that is part of Plato's "The Republic". It is a dialogue in which Socrates narrates a story to Glaucon demonstrating the greater relevance of rational knowledge compared to ordinary knowledge.

Foto de Bruno van der Kraan na Unsplash

Understand the Myth of the Cave

In the dialogue between Socrates and Glaucon, the first asks the other to imagine a type of underground cavern in which there are prisoners who have always lived there. They are kept chained by the arms, being able to see only what happens on the parallel wall.

There is a flame lit behind the prisoners. People pass through these flames gesticulating and making movements, in order to project shadows on the parallel wall. Furthermore, these people also scream and talk, giving rise to echoes that prisoners can hear.

Echoes and shadows are nothing more than distorted projections of real sounds and images. Prisoners have spent their entire lives trapped in the cave, so all they know is what they experienced through these distortions.

Socrates then tells Glaucus to imagine that one day one of the prisoners was released and left the cave. In this way, he made his first contact with sunlight, which obscured his vision and caused him great discomfort.

However, over time, he got used to the light and can observe nature. The prisoner understood that the world was much wider than he could have imagined while he was trapped in the cave.

What should the released prisoner do next? He could return to the cave and release the other prisoners. However, he could be judged as crazy by others and even end up being killed by them. The Myth of the Cave is a metaphor that Plato uses to talk about the hierarchy of knowledge and how it is associated with city politics.

The Myth of the Cave and how to interpret the allegory

The story of the Myth of the Cave is a metaphor, so the characters and plot were used by Plato to convey a message. Next, we highlight the main elements of the metaphor that Plato used in this allegory.

Image by mvivirito0 from Pixabay 

In this case, the prisoners are ordinary citizens.


According to Plato, the cave is our own body that can be a source of doubt and deception. We are deceived by the way we apprehend the appearances of things, believing that they are the things themselves.

Shadows and echoes

In this allegory, the shadows and echoes represent the opinions and prejudices that we bring from common sense and everyday life. According to Plato, they are wrong knowledge that we acquire through our senses and from day to day.

Exit the cave

The release of the prisoner with his subsequent escape is a metaphor about the quest for true knowledge.

Sun light

In this allegory, the sunlight outside the cave represents true knowledge, philosophy and reason. At first, the prisoner feels disturbed by the intense light, but over time he adapts.

Basically, it is a metaphor to talk about leaving the comfort zone represented by the shadows and echoes that lead to deception. In the beginning it can be painful and require sacrifice to leave ignorance in order to gain access to knowledge.

What is the meaning of the Myth of the Cave today?

The allegory proposed by Plato can be used today, allowing us to make a sociological interpretation in line with our reality. It is possible to observe resistance on the part of humanity, in general, to seek the truth. Television, internet and social networks offer access to a lot of information, however, most people still keep a shallow contact with such information.

Politics is a good subject to exemplify, a portion of the population these days shows little interest and, when it shows relatively interest, it does so superficially. There is no search for a deep understanding of the essence of the discussions, but only what is on the surface.

It is quite easy for some people to be deceived by false news that spreads on the internet. They don't even bother to investigate the veracity of what they are sharing.

Return to the Cave: What would happen to the currently freed prisoner?

At the end of the text of the Myth of the Cave, Socrates tells Glaucon that the freed prisoner could be attacked and killed by his companions if he returned to the cave to tell what he discovered. The other prisoners would consider him crazy for going against what they always took as the truth.

We can observe a very similar behavior today, as more and more scientists, philosophers and people with knowledge are losing relevance to individuals without scientific or philosophical background. Vulgar opinion has been surpassing science.

Shallow opinions, fanatical ideas and extremisms have been taking the place of rational knowledge of humanity. Society walks of its own accord into Plato's cave. The Myth of the Cave actually relates to society's attachment to ignorance.

March 14, 2023

Article by Matias Santana

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