Plato: “Allegory of the Cave”

(ca. 380 BCE)

Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” appears in Book VII of his most famous and influential philosophical dialogue, The Republic. Plato was a classical Greek philosopher and a citizen of the Greek city-state of Athens in the first half of the fourth century BCE—one of the most fervently intellectually creative periods in human history. The larger purpose of The Republic is to define justice and to argue that justice is more beneficial for both the individual and society than its opposite, injustice. The main speaker in the dialogue is Plato's mentor, Socrates. It is Socrates who uses the allegory of the cave to describe metaphorically the process of education, likening an uneducated person to a prisoner bound in a dim, firelit cave who, by making his way out of the cave, escapes his limited perception and learns to understand the truth about reality. The allegory also comments on the nature of human perception, cognition, the ultimate structure of reality, and even the ideal...

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Bust of Socrates (Yale University Art Gallery)

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