Preparation A3 – Allegory of the Cave

My working thesis

Reality perception a question of power 

I looked at Plato and The Republic alongside the Simile of the Sun and the Divided Line in a previous post

Here I will take the essence from the Allegory of the Cave, as part of my brainstorming and initial essay outline I read it once. I figured out that through visualization I learn better, can better make links and find coherent images of the content. Therefore here subsequent illustrations of my thought process.

A) Sketch of the Allegory of the Cave

as described in Plato’s Republic, book VII (514a – 521b, Plato, 2007, pp.240 – 248)

Stefan513593 - Prep Assignment3 - Plato - Simile of the Cave

Fig. 1: Stefan513593 – Prep Assignment3 – Plato – Simile of the Cave


B) Sketch of the mental image of the Allegory

The relationship between the Simile of the Cave and the Simile of the Sun. Plato added with the image of the fire an intermediate step in the transition between the cave, the darkness and the outside, the light. The fire in the cave corresponds to the sun outside. This is controversial to Plato’s Simile of the Sun where he compares the world of sight, where objects are visible and the power of the sun is enabling seeing. Basically, Plato combined the two sides of his Simile of the Sun into one image (ibid, p.244)

“The realm revealed by sight corresponds to the prison, and the light of the fire in the prison to the power of the sun. And you won’t go wrong if you connect the ascent onto the upper world and the sight of the objects there with the upward progress of the mind into the intelligible region.” – Plato

This Allegory as image (Fig. 1) could be mistaken or ‘mis-interpreted’ assuming that outside of the cave is also a visible tangible world. Plato’s ultimate motivation of the Allegory is the one need to see the ‘form of the good’ as source of truth, right justice and intelligence. To read it differently, as explored in some previous posts in my blog (on misrepresentation and index sign), would not mean to be wrong, but to apply a different perspective as Plato.

In the Simile of the Cave shadows are seen but not objects, therefore shadows are only the lower part of the Divided Line, the area of Illusion. The next area of Belief can be only achieved by turning away from the shadows. Thus the power of the fire (replacement for the sun) is given impressions, but only the power of the sun allows to see objects.

Stefan513593 - Prep Assignment3 - Plato - Simile of the Cave and Divided Line

Fig.2: Stefan513593 – Prep Assignment3 – Plato – Simile of the Cave and Divided Line

The process of reasoning goes along the path of shadows -> reflections -> objects -> sky -> sun. At that point where the power of the sun is acknowledged, the mind obtains the capacity of knowing through the power of the ‘form of the good’. Thus the Allegory is an ascent along the visible world to come back with knowledge (episteme).

C) Sketch of the episteme

The Simile of the Cave can be read from different perspectives and the background of Plato and the political situation on Athens alongside the execution of his teacher Socrates need to be considered to understand Plato’s motivation.

The freed prisoner is a metaphor for the ordinary and uneducated people (ibid, p.240):

“The ordinary man knows the difference between substance and shadow in the physical world, … [but there] moral and intellectual opinions often bear as little relations to the truth as the average film or television programme does to real life”

The ascent from darkness to light through steps of seeing and the process of reasoning, the prisoner get educated and knowledgable. Although the transition from darkness to light is a blurred and foggy transition of confusion. where one is ‘dazzled to see properly’ and ‘dazzled by the glare’ (ibid, p.242). A mental confusion at times of uncertainty and loosing the ground.

Returning back with new beliefs is going through a similar transition, ‘blinded by the darkness’ (ibid, p.243). Both transitions are for Plato the zone of the ‘unsighted eye’ (ibid, p. 244)

Stefan513593 - Prep Assignment3 - Plato - Sketch of Epistime

Fig. 3: Stefan513593 – Prep Assignment3 – Plato – Sketch of Episteme


Plato stated that (ibid, p.245)

“The capacity for knowledge is innate in each man’s mind” – Plato

I think it is important to understand what knowledge, or better epistêmê means for Plato, rather ‘understanding-knowing’ (gnôsis) versus technê, crafts, skill-knowing. Another perspective often applied as comparison of theory and practice. Epistêmê is knowing the real and claiming to the form, the form of the good, or the beauty and just. Whereas technê is the knowing of function and explanation. For Plato there is not a straight line between epistêmê and technê, as the mathematical logic applied at the level of reason to conclude to a first principle/dialectic (part of the upper area of epistêmê/ Knowledge – The Divided Line) is itself a technê. The example of the carpenter and the user are giving a good example of Plato’s notion of epistêmê.

However, and what I find fascinating and most relevant is to understand the key motivation for Plato, it is the return to the cave and life between the released prisoners that matters. Those who became knowledgeable after the ascent, the educated ones, who have seen the power of the sun and understand the power of the good, need to return, to ‘get used to seeing in the dark’ (ibid. p.247). What Plato is opposing here is a divided line between ordinary people and the intellectuals. The latter as the leaders need to share common space in the darkness with the shadows and not to stay in their own realm so that they can explain the others what shadows are representing. Through the epistêmê one would apply this as technê, a professional skill (ibid. p.247)

Comment: The provided link in the course material to the text of the Allegory ( is a short extract of the text that finishes 517c). My reference text in The Republic goes till 521b (Plato, 2007). What is omitted in the first one is the motivation for Plato and the social context.

D) Sketch of modern life in a cave

The wall with the shadows, the space of illusion, a reality that is not reality. One can consider this either, as is mentioned by Plato himself as a puppet theater, or nowadays, the space of television. Perhaps it goes even further, cinema screens, smartphone screens, billboards, and all other kind of screens or walls that show mere reflections. For Plato even the mirror is a medium to create artificial objects, reflections.

Stefan513593 - Prep Assignment3 - Plato - Sketch of modern cave

Fig. 4: Stefan513593 – Prep Assignment3 – Plato – Sketch of modern cave

Plato suggested strongly that knowledgable and educated leaders should rule the city. As true ‘lovers of wisdom’ they would not abuse power and guide the public reasonable. As seekers of wisdom they do not possess it. This sounds quite an utopian model, a believe in logic as the only guiding principle for rulers and an elitarian view. Although Plato acknowledged the existence of the human body,  the psyche as entity of sensational experience and the unbalancing human conditions of indignation, anger, and appetite, he considers those as inferior.

Basically, he rejected more or less the human condition of weakness, vulnerability, of suffering and unhappiness and at the same time considering his notion of the innate capacity of knowledge in each person. Those who are driven by unjust judgements with a lack in harmony of the psyche. He stated that ordinary people ‘have no single aim in life to which their actions, public or private, are to be directed’ (ibid, p.246) and that

“the type of man commonly called bad but clever… have small minds, but their sight is sharp and piercing enough in matters that concern them; it’s not that their sight is weak, but that they are forces to serve the evil.” – Plato

What makes someone ‘forced to serve the evil’? A question that Plato couldn’t answer.

Plato was very optimistic that his model of the intelligible rulers over uneducated public would work. I would say Plato dramatically underestimated the desire for power through knowledge and information (see the transhumanist notion of extended human intelligence driven by information – click here). However, he would argue that those who abused knowledge as a mean for power did not see the ‘form of the good’, that they were not at the point of Intelligence (highest level on the Divided Line) but stuck in the lower levels of Reason and perhaps more in Beliefs.

The screens of with reflection of military operations (real?) in a tech center (Fig.5) would question who has power and who is ruling, who is in possession of knowledge, and how are the prisoners.

Fig. 5: In Raytheon’s Immersive Design Center, Tim Glaeser (left), William Tice, and Sarah Clark wear 3-D glasses as they look at a Patriot missile launcher displayed on an array of 72 ultrahigh-definition television sets.

Would there be hope for the better? Or is Plato’s model of the Simile and the Divided Line missing the point and forgot other important aspects of human behavior? A question I cannot answer at this point.

I find a few aspects quite insightful and relevant for a today’s reception of the Allegory, perhaps less often quoted:

  • Imprisoned since childhood, not able ‘to turn their heads’ (ibid, p.242). A strong notion of dependance, power relationships, and educational bias. Plato stated that since childhood they were ‘fastened .. by sensual indulgences like gluttony, which twist their mind’s vision to lower things’ (ibid, p.246). The metaphor of ‘turning the heads’ is taken by Plato for ‘turning around of the mind’ (ibid. p.247)  that would become a technê, a skill-knowledge.
  • The zone of confusion (see above), they were ‘dazzled to see properly’, ‘dazzled by the glare’, ‘blinded by the darkness’ (ibid, p.242-3). A mental confusion at times of uncertainty and loosing the ground.
  • Physical / power: ‘he were forcibly dragged up the steep and rugged ascent’, ‘the process would be a painful one’ (ibid, p.242). A physical and embodied expression as well as a notion of power and powerless, unwillingness versus reluctance.
  • Return and home: ‘to sit in his old seat in the cave’ (ibid, p.243). The comfort of home, of the familiar as a basic human need.
  • The metaphor of the puppet show itself, that reminds me strongly of the Japanese Bunraku puppet theater I looked at in Artificial Intelligence. Those puppets, in size smaller than humans, do have very naturalistic faces representing certain human traits. There is strong affinity between the audience and those puppets. An affinity, or empathy, that might be an illusion as an image. Nevertheless, the experience of the audience is real. But this metaphor also raises the question of the role of the operator as manipulator, or perhaps they are ‘prisoners’  as well, instructed to follow.

And what about the valuable things in the cave? The aspects that satisfy desire as the prizes and the ‘power of honour’? (ibid, p.243) Are those in place to repress ordinary people like advertisement, as delusion of artifice to hinder them to obtain knowledge? Or are those immanent human conditions of appetite less socially constructed?

That made it so challenging for Plato, as the comfort of satisfaction and desire for pleasure are unbalancing the psyche. An uncritical and ‘careless acceptance of appearances’ (ibid, p.401), and ‘too ignorant and weak to establish harmonious order governing their indignation and their appetites.’  (ibid, p.xxvi).

Revisiting my earlier notes

CHECK – Keywords search after first reading:

Stefan513593 - Assignment 3 - Allegory of the Cave - 1st read

Fig.6: Stefan513593 – Assignment 3 – Allegory of the Cave – 1st read


Here my thoughts after second read:

  1. Dualism of the visible and reason
  2. Representation through images (verbal and mental images), shadows and reflections
  3. Knowledge a process of moving from the world of sight to the world of knowledge
  4. Knowledge as understanding, crossing a line of theory and practice
  5. Language as arbitrary signs relating to external meaning
  6. Inaccessibility of truth and reality
  7. Reality mediated through our representational frameworks (history, culture, society, memory fragments)
  8. Cave as simulacrum or as just one divergent viewpoint?
  9. Living in the cave and shadows as normal life for ordinary people (Plato)
  10. Power relationship, leaders as knowledgable and educated versus ordinary, uneducated
  11. Knowledge a question of education
  12. Transition between darkness and light a zone of confusion
  13. Human conditions of satisfaction and desire for pleasure keeps people ignorant and relying on appearances, they are happy with that.
  14. Human experience and knowledge is an embodied experience that cannot be channel to an intelligible mind of reasoning only.



  • Fig. 1 – Fig. 4 : my own sketches in notebook © SJSchaffeld, 2017
  • Fig. 5: channelreview (2009) The Simpsons’ Final Episode,  [still image], Available from: [accessed 03 Aug 2017].
  • Fig. 6: my own mindmap


  • Plato (2007) The Republic, Penguin Classics, 2nd rev., reissued with new introduction ed. Translated by Lee, D. London; New York: Penguin Books.

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