The Allegory of the Cave



An ASLCORE Original Production

The Allegory of the Cave is a story by Socrates, as told by his student Plato.

Video Transcript

What does philosophy offer us?

What’s the purpose?

Itʼs often a required course for college students, but why?

I have a story that may shed some light.

This story comes to us from antiquity, from the time of the ancient Greeks, and the teachings of Socrates on Philosophy.

Socrates would lecture students who sat spellbound before him.

He never produced a written record of his teachings and they would have been lost forever had it not been for a student who committed them to memory and recorded them in a collection of writings titled “The Republic.”

That student was Plato, and it is his version of the story that I tell you now.

If I may?

Imagine if you will, a deep, dark cave.

You enter, and start down a slippery, uneven path.

It’s cold.

The walls are slick.

Droplets of cold water torment you as you make your way downward.

And then in front of you thereʼs a row of people sitting on the floor of the cave.

Their hands are manacled, they’re chained and bound, one to another.

Their necks are collared; they’re unable to turn their heads.

They’re faced forward, staring at the wall of the cave year after year, after year.

Up on the wall of the cave are dancing flickers of red, orange, yellow, and white.

They transfix the watchers.

A shape appears:

Four moving lines, two pointed shapes, and a moving line behind.

Next, a dark shape that looks like a man, holding a long stick of some sort walks across the wall and out of sight.

Then, four shapes, holding poles with another shape sitting on top, wearing a crown, and swaying as he’s being carried.

And then another shape, a woman, carrying a curved something on her shoulder, and making her way across the wall.

These and many other shapes hypnotize the watchers, year, after year, after year.

Until one day, a captive is miraculously free of his chains!

He stretches, and adjusts himself to being unbound.

He looks around, shocked to discover flames behind him:

A roaring fire, throwing red, yellow, orange, and white onto the cave wall.

A wooden bridge lay in front of the fire and the man sees that the four moving lines with pointed shapes above and wagging tail, belong to a dog.

The man with a stick was in fact a man wielding a spear as he crossed the bridge.

The dark shapes holding poles with something swaying on top was four men carrying a palinquin, upon which sat a king wearing green laurels.

Then a woman, carrying a jug on her shoulder as she crossed.

One after another, the mysterious shapes he’d seen on the wall were made real as he understood that the fire behind the bridge, cast the shadows he’d been seeing all this time.

And then, beyond the fire, he spies a small point in the distance.

What could it be?

It was a different color than the rest of the cave!

Driven by his curiosity, out of darkness, he slowly makes his way up the uneven trail, wondering at what lay beyond.

Upwards he stumbles, along the slippery walls, through the cold, dripping water on his head and his neck.

The opening grows larger, and larger, until the man is blinded by light!

When his eyes adjust, he spies a round, yellow, glowing orb.

It’s warm! Pleasing!

So different than the unrelenting cold of the cave!

It illuminates his surroundings as he begins to take in all of his environment.

There’s a tall, straight, brown something with small green shapes affixed at the top, and as they sway, he feels something flow across his face.

The warmth is divine.

Something small flutters above, and lands in the waving green atop the brown column.

When it opens its mouth, the man hears a pleasing sound.

All around him, beneath his feet, is a green, bladed carpet, with colors within – purple, red, yellow, white – each delightfully different as they spread out in the green in front of him.

They sway in unison and share a fragrant aroma.

In another place, there lies a pool of water the man wants to explore.

As he approaches, he sees the world around him reflected on the surface below.

He dips his hand to experiment, and discovers the sensation of wetness, which, as he licks his fingers, alerts him to the fact that he had been thirsty.

The smells, the sensations, the sounds, the sights.

This amazing place stimulated his every sense, and it dawned on him that this must, indeed, be the real world, instead of the shadows of his life below.

He’s joyful, and realizes he must share this discovery with those he left behind in the cave.

Excited, he re-enters the cave, his pupils adjusting from the glaring brightness back to the impenetrable dark from which he’d emerged.

The wet cave walls, and the dripping ceiling, and uneven path accompanied him downward.

There’s the fire, and the wooden bridge in front of it.

And there were the enslaved, sitting in rapt attention, staring at the shadows in front of them.

He approaches the group and can barely contain himself as he explains what he has seen above.

“You must understand!

These shapes and shadows upon which you fix your eyes are not real!

The real world awaits us above!

I’ve just seen it!

It’s wonderful!

Break your chains! Free yourselves, come with me!”

But they shake their heads, and whisper among themselves,

“What a strange man!”

“Touched in the head, it would seem!”

“Surely something wrong with him!”

“Come! Come with me, release yourselves from your prison!”

...but they refuse.

“Don’t you understand?

We’re fine.

There’s nothing wrong.

We like things as they are.

Chains and collars?

They’re fine.

The man pleads until he realizes the futility of his efforts.

What’s the moral of this story?

Our man is the Philosopher,

who spends his life in study of life;

investigating love, nature, beauty, and the manifold mysteries of humans in the universe.

He’s compelled to share what he’s learned, to teach and improve us all.

Yet he’s often met with resistance by those who cling to the comfort of their own limitations;

from those whose fear of the unknown renders them unable to challenge what has always been.

And so his task is to seek out willing learners, companions on the quest to learn and expand the mind.

There do exist souls willing to engage in this pursuit of the mind, to grow, to explore, to fathom…

I ask you… to which group do you belong?

That is the purpose of Philosophy.

For further consideration, we offer the following excerpt from Platoʼs Republic:

Any one who has common sense will remember that the bewilderments of the eyes are of two kinds, and arise from two causes, either from coming out of the light or from going into the light, which is true of the mindʼs eye, quite as much as of the bodily eye; and he who remembers this when he sees any one whose vision is perplexed and weak, will not be too ready to laugh; he will first ask whether that soul of man has come out of the brigher life, and is unable to see because unaccustomed to the dark, or having turned from darkness to the day is dazzled by excess of light. And he will count the one happy in his condition and state of being, and he will pity the other; or, if he have a mind to laugh at the soul which comes from below into the light, there will be more reason in this than in the laugh which greets him who returns from above out of the light into the den.
— Platoʼs Republic

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