The Allegory of the Cave (also titled Analogy of the Cave, Plato’s Cave or Parable of the Cave) is presented by the Greek philosopher Plato in his work The Republic to compare “…the effect of education and the lack of it on our nature”.
Plato has Socrates describe a gathering of people who have lived chained to the wall of a cave all of their lives, facing a blank wall. The people watch shadows projected on the wall by things passing in front of a fire behind them, and begin to designate names to these shadows. The shadows are as close as the prisoners get to viewing reality. He then explains how the philosopher is like a prisoner who is freed from the cave and comes to understand that the shadows on the wall do not make up reality at all, as he can perceive the true form of reality rather than the mere shadows seen by the prisoners.
Socrates then supposes that one prisoner is freed, being suddenly compelled to stand, turn, walk and look towards the fire. The light would hurt his eyes, and cause great difficulty for him to see the object’s shadows he had seen before. In his pain, Socrates continues, the freed one would turn away and run back to what he can make out; the shadows of the carried objects. He is then told that what he has formerly seen has no substance, and that what he now sees (the carried objects) constitutes a greater reality. When he sees the world outside the cave he begins to question his previous beliefs.
The freed one is then dragged in pain and irritation up and out of the cave. Upon exiting the cave, this discomfort only intensifies as the radiant light of the sun overwhelms his eyes. The sunlight is representative of the new reality and knowledge the freed one is experiencing.
Slowly, his eyes adjust to the light of the sun. He is first able to see only shadows of things. Next he can see the reflections of things in water and later is able to see things themselves. He is then able to look at the stars and moon by night and finally he is able to look upon the sun.
He is then able to behold the sun and deduces that it is the “…source of the seasons and the years, and is the steward of all things in the visible place, and is in a certain way the cause of all those things he and his companions had been seeing.”