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myth of the cave


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Not properly a myth, but the figure or allegory used by Plato in Bk. vii. 514–18 of the Republic, to demonstrate the degrees to which our natures may be enlightened, or unenlightened. At the first stage are prisoners, tied so that they can perceive only shadows on the back of the cave. The shadows are cast by artificial objects, and the light is thrown by a fire. Their only reality would be the shadow of these artificial objects. With enlightenment a prisoner might be turned to see first the artificial objects, then the fire, then the real world, and last of all the Sun. Each stage would be difficult and unfamiliar, and at the end the enlightened subject would be unable to communicate his knowledge to the prisoners remaining below. Plato says that the ascent stands for the upward journey of the soul into the region of the intelligible (the forms), identified with that which is alone truly real. The myth may be read purely as an invitation to think, rather than to rely on the way things appear to us, but it is often used as an open invitation to belief in esoteric and mystical states of knowing. See also eikasia; line, image of; Neoplatonism.

Subjects: Philosophy.


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