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Plato’s The Allegory of the Cave is from book seven of his most famous work, The Republic.The question is, enlightenment to what? Each person who reads it has a slightly different interpretation than the next. None of them are right or wrong. Take from it what you will.

The Allegory is most often interpreted in a religious context. Those who live their lives without God are the inhabitants of the shadowy cave. One of them leaves the cave where they see the light of the sun (God) for the first time. This revelation has granted them a profound insight that they want to share with others. Like a modern day preacher, they dedicate their time to helping others see the light of God. They return to the shadowy cave to lead the others to the light. They hope to enlighten and thus liberate their former fellow prisoners.

The migration or immigration of a people is another possible interpretation. In Plato’s time much of the world was still undiscovered. Unimaginable and fantastic new places were found as people explored the world. A person may visit a new place and find what, to them, is a different world. This can be likened to the prisoner leaving the shadowy cave. For them the new place may signify new opportunities, a new start, or a better life. The person may decide to stay rather than return to what is now for them, the cave. They then go back to their loved ones who are still in the cave and tell them about the new place. In this way they are like the enlightened prisoner.

Often, like Plato’s unenlightened prisoners, we are blind to the fact that anything exists beyond the cave. Each of us at some point has our own personal cave and there are always those who seek to enlighten. The religious convert, the immigrant, the activist are all modern day examples of the enlightened prisoner.

There are an infinite number of scenarios to which The Allegory of the Cave can be applied. For me The Allegory symbolizes not spiritual but academic enlightenment. Regardless of your interpretation, there is a lot to be learned from The Allegory. The prisoners, the shadows, the sun, the chains are all symbols that take a different form to each person who reads The Allegory. It is ingenious the way Plato crafted this story into a piece so timeless that it spans centuries.


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