The nature and accuracy of knowledge that people get using their perceptive apparatus are among the most discussed questions in philosophy. In the Allegory of the Cave, Plato provides his perspective on the issue by using a dark cave and prisoners in chains as the symbols of limitations related to human perception (1). The things are presented in the following way: Socrates encourages Glaucon to imagine people in a “cavelike dwelling” who have never been outside and seen anything apart from the wall with shadows (Plato 1). Behind them is the fire, but the imprisoned people cannot move their heads and look at it. Other people and objects move near the fire, but the prisoners can only see their distorted shadows on the wall and hear some echoes.
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The allegory conveys multiple ideas related to the accuracy of perception, education, and the painful process of getting objective information instead of illusory knowledge. The prisoners are the symbol that represents common people who have to perceive the world using their imperfect sense organs but think that what they see is the reality. The allegory sheds light on Plato’s ideas concerning the sources of what we call knowledge. Following his model, before being delivered to people, information gets distorted many times, and this is why relying on perception and denying the need for critical reflection is a losing strategy.
As for Plato’s notion of the good, it is related to the presence of actual knowledge or having enough information about some ideas, not material objects. The existence of the good is the same for everyone and everywhere, but a limited number of people can approach real knowledge. The philosopher compares the process of getting objective information with staring at bright light after years spent in darkness, thus showing that getting to the essence of things is always painful and effortful.
Plato. The Allegory of the Cave. Translated by Thomas Sheehan. Web.