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Plato's "Parable of the Cave" from The Republic

Vocabulary: allegory, parable, platonic, platonic forms, philosophy, Socratic Dialogue


Lecture or Handouts: What famous teacher/philosopher did Plato follow? How did that teacher die? What famous philosopher was a student of Plato's?

Identify the following folks:

Plato, Glaucon, Socrates, the Sophists

Reading Questions:

  • Describe how the people in the cave are situated in Plato's parable. Why can't they move their legs or necks to take a look around? What is the only thing they are capable of seeing? What is their only source of light?
  • What do these prisoners trapped in the cavern believe is real?
  • How do the prisoners react when they first see sunlight?
  • Why will the prisoner need time to adjust to the world outside the cave?
  • According to Plato, how would the people in the cave react to an escapee who tried to explain the truth to them, or who came down and broke their chains to set them free?
  • What is the name of the main speaker in this tale according to the introductory notes? Is it Plato?
  • What is the name of the person Plato addresses? (Read page 59 closely)
  • Why, in the concluding paragraph, does Plato say it is impossible for professors of education to put knowledge in the soul which was not there before?

Explain how Plato creates the parable of the cave in a way that makes it connect with Socrates, Plato's former teacher.

Explain the idea of a Platonic Form. Provide examples.

Passages for Identification and Discussion: Be able to identify from what work these passages come, the author, who (if any one) is speaking, and briefly explain in two to three sentences the significance, context, or importance of the passage in the larger work.

A."And now, I said, let me show in a figure how far our nature is enlightened or unenlightened:--Behold! human beings living in an underground den, which has a mouth open toward the light and reaching all along the den; here they have been from their childhood, and have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see before them, being prevented by the chains from turning round their heads."

B. " . . . And if any one tried to loose another and lead him up to the light, let them [the prisoners] only catch the offender, and they would put him to death."

C. "And is there anything surprising in one who passes from divine contemplation to the evil state of man, misbehaving himself in a ridiculous manner; if, while his eyes and blinking and before he has become accustomed to the surrounding darkness, he is compelled to fight in courts of law, or in other places, about the images or the shadows of the images of justice?"


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