Plato: “Allegory of the Cave”

(ca. 380 BCE)

Explanation and Analysis of the Document

The allegory is reported in Plato's Republic as a conversation between Plato's teacher, Socrates, and Plato's elder brother, Glaucon. The conversation, however, is fictionalized. Plato's dialogues are generally more like philosophical theme plays than courtroom transcripts of actual conversations. Yet the conversations are realistic in that they are by and large faithful to what a given character would have said in a given situation. Although scholars debate the extent to which the Socrates of Plato's dialogues corresponds to the historical Socrates, in the allegory at least Socrates uses what was likely his typical real-life style of argumentation, known as the elenchus. Socrates' elenchus is a method of argumentation that progresses through questions, somewhat akin to a modern-day lawyer's cross-examination of a witness. As Socrates speaks in the allegory, it is rare that he does not conclude his remarks in the form of a question.

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Bust of Socrates (Yale University Art Gallery)

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