Why is Plato’s Allegory of the Cave Still Relevant?

Why is Plato’s Allegory of the Cave still relevant today? What lessons can we take away from this moral story that would apply to our day to day lives? Let’s discuss it’s relevance.

Summary of the Allegory of the Cave

“Deep inside a cave a group of prisoners are chained to a wall since their childhood. Not only are their limbs immobilized by the chains but their heads are also chained so that their eyes are fixed on a wall and can only see the shadows that are projected in front of them. These shadows are what they believe is the truth. Then one of the prisoners escapes the darkness of the cave into the light of a new world and realizes that the truth lies beyond his chains. However, when he returns to the cave to free his peers with his new found truth, the other prisoners refuse to believe him.” – Fahmi F. Farahat

Why is Plato’s Allegory of the Cave relevant today?

  • We are limited in our perceptions of the world around us. We acknowledge and label what we understand using words to allow communication of a common idea between multiple people. But just because everyone believes it to be true and have labeled it as such, does not mean that is the truth behind it.
  • If we were in the same situation as the prisoners in the cave, we would be limited to what we are shown, never questioning what is.
  • But if the chains were removed and we were able to leave the cave and expand our perceptions of the world, we would never be able to go back to being a prisoner in the cave. We would have found a higher form of enlightenment.
  • Consider what would happen if only you were freed from the chains and were able to see the truth for yourself. You come back to the cave with stories of a world with sun and colour. The other prisoners cannot fathom what you are saying to them. The concepts beyond their limited comprehension. 
  • The path to enlightenment is often hard to see, and harder to follow. The light hurts your eyes at first until you are used to it. For some, the pain is excruciating and they give up and run back into the cave.
  • The same is true of enlightenment. Once you see clearly in the light, it is hard to go back into the darkness of the cave (ignorance)

Apply this to a real life situation:

An 18 year old girl (Alice) from a small farming town decides to go to university in the big city. She has to take a plane ride, sell everything she owns, and set up in a city she’s never been to before. Her family are farmers and she is a first generation graduate. Her parents worked hard to save some money to help make her dreams come true. Their lives revolve around the things at the farm that need doing- milking, planting, weeding, etc. Neither of her parents ever thought about a life outside the farm.

Path to Enlightenment

Alice makes the trip and sets up her new apartment in the big city. She is going to university and is studying law and finance. She is smart but not well liked. The city is much different from home and she finds herself getting lost in the mix. After many months of working at her school work and learning more about her university, she joins a club for people interested in working in politics in the future and feels more at home in her new environment.

Coming Back to the Cave

During break, upon returning home Alice wants to share stories with her parents about her college adventures. To her surprise, they don’t really want to talk about it. Alice is confused. These are the same parents who rooted for her at every home game and cried when she made her graduation speech. Taken back by her parents’ reaction (or lack thereof) of what is now her life, Alice pulls away from her parents in favour of her friends who share in this common experience.

Symbolism

Alice’s parents represent those still locked in the cave. When all you know is very limited, someone else’s truth can hurt your reality. It’s why change is hard and why many give up. The pain experienced during the path to enlightenment is too much for many, causing them to retreat into the truth they’ve always understood.

Why do we care?

Plato’s the Allegory of the Cave is still relevant because it is a wonderful metaphor to describe some of what you are seeing in the media and in our day to day lives. From anti-vaxxers, to hate supporters, to those small minded thinkers who believe they know it all because they read it on the internet. This explains a little more about why they think and feel the way they do. My hope is this creates a better understanding of those around us and thus helps us to become more empathetic as humans.

What did you take from this article? Does it change how you view others? Tell us in the comments down below!