Can someone give me a layman's explanation of the importance of the "cave sections" in Plato's Republic?

I'm also interested in the "myth of the metals" in the same book.


2 Answers 2


As almost every word written by Plato (and Aristotle) the Cave Allegory is interpreted today in various ways:

  • There is a specific interpretation that Plato was talking that people, in general, live without realizing the Forms as in his Theory of Forms.
  • There is a more general educational interpretation.
  • There is a interpretation more in the line of "Matrix" (the movie) that we trust in our senses so we cannot know what is real or not and a more formal psychological view of this interpretation.
  • There is a exploitation (class warfare) interpretation that the general public lives in a faked mounted world so a ruling class can exploit other classes.
  • Maybe many more...

As Plato is one of the most read writers of the Ocidental culture, almost every branch of knowledge along the history tried to interpret his allegories by its vision. But if you want a suggestion of a simple tutorial, I liked this one: http://faculty.washington.edu/smcohen/320/cave.htm

  • While I've heard the interpretation "There is a exploitation (class warfare) interpretation that the general public lives in a faked mounted world so a ruling class can exploit other classes," it seems very unlikely that Plato would have held this himself, given that he saw it necessary for society's elites to guide society. Oct 1, 2015 at 14:05
  • @JamesKingsbery blatant contradictions never stopped people from interpreting Plato (or anyone else) to suit their agendas :)
    – R. Barzell
    Oct 1, 2015 at 14:21

The "Allegory of the Cave" is a section in Plato's Republic featuring a group of prisoners in an underground cave who see shadows on a wall, and believe those shadows to be all of reality, as contrasted with an escaped prisoner who journeys upwards to the sunlit world above.

Plato's own explanation is that the cave is the ordinary world as we experience it, and what we typically think of as "reality" is the shadows on the wall. Escaping from the cave is entering the world of the mind, and the sunlit realm is the world of abstract concepts and ideals.


(The myth of the metals is entirely separate, and is a comparison of different types of people to different precious metals -gold for the rulers, bronze for the craftsmen, etc.. In a later section of the Republic, Plato makes the controversial suggestion that teaching people that their souls are composed of different kinds metals will make them more likely to accept a stratified social hierarchy.)

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.