Beyond the Popular Consensus

Plato's 'Allegory of the Cave'

Plato's 'Allegory of the Cave' is a dialogue written by a Greek philosopher. Socrates taught the author philosophical ideas, and he also served as Aristotle's tutor. Socrates and Aristotle were both great thinkers who were highly regarded in their fields. Plato wrote a number of philosophical works, many of which focused on various topics such as justice, epistemology, equality, and aesthetics.

The Prisoners in the Cave

Plato compares human beings to prisoners imprisoned in a cave who have little choice but to move about and have little access to the outside world in his "Allegory of the Cave." The prisoners in the cave are tied facing one side of the cave and behind them is a stage where puppeteers perform their art. The light behind the stage casts shadows of the puppets onto the wall of the cave where the prisoners are able to see. The cave is an analogy used by Plato to represent human beings who do not have an insight into the Theory of Forms (Kreis). When a human being does not understand the Theory of Forms, they are like prisoners who are tightly tied such that they cannot turn their heads to look at the surrounding. The prisoners can see shadows on the wall but cannot understand where the shadows are originating. Since they cannot turn their heads to understand the source of the shadows, they confuse the shadows with the real objects. Due to their condition, they use names of real objects to refer to the shadows of the objects. To the prisoners, the shadow is the real thing and carries the name of the real object (Kreis). All of them are in the same condition hence there is no individual with a different point of view concerning the shadows, real objects, or the source. When a human being is not aware of the forces of nature and aspects that define human existence, they are limited in understanding and they confuse shadows of the real objects with the actual objects. Being able to think freely is similar to a prisoner who is tightly tied and cannot turn his/her head but only faces one direction. Turning of the head represents a different form of understanding of the same concept by human beings in an effort to find the real cause or source of the concept (Kreis). It is possible that what human beings understand might be the shadow of the real concepts.


In 'Euthyphro', Plato explores the limitations of human understanding and the possible one-dimensional understanding of a single concept. Through Plato's dialogue with Euthyphro, it is clear that understanding of a concept goes beyond the common meaning. A clear definition of a concept or object can provide the required information for proper understanding by human beings. However, assuming the common meaning of a concept can be erroneous and misleading. Plato exposes the partial understanding of the concept of holiness by Euthyphro when he engages him in a dialogue accompanied by a series of perceptive questions (Dillon). Euthyphro does not seem to have a clear definition of what is holiness and when he tries to define it, he comes back to the starting point. Euthyphro can be likened to the prisoners described in the 'Allegory of the Cave' since he cannot clearly define holiness and does not have a clear understanding of what constitutes holiness. The case for Euthyphro relates to that of prisoners in the 'Allegory of the Cave' who cannot understand where the shadows are coming from and confuse the shadows for the real objects.

The Definition of Holiness

Euthyphro claims that a holy thing is what is agreed upon by the gods. He further adds that human beings sacrifice to appease the gods and in return, their prayers are granted. However, Plato suggests that if what is holy is the object approved by the gods, then it means that the object was holy before it was approved by the gods. Euthyphro states that holiness is a form of justice which is related to looking after gods (Dillon). Plato disapproves this school of thought since the gods are omnipresent and omnipotent hence they do not need human beings to look at them. The dialogue between Plato and Euthyphro ends inconclusively but Euthyphro is disappointed. Plato seeks to expose what Euthyphro understands about holiness since he (Euthyphro) is an expert in the field of ethics. Surprisingly, the person who seems to be the expert in the field cannot define holiness and any attempt to provide an explanation results in confusion. The same way Euthyphro does not clearly understand holiness, so are human beings in understanding forces of nature. It is possible to think they understand a concept, but it turns out that they do not. Euthyphro thought he understood holiness to the point that he could use the understanding of the concept to persecute his own father. However, when Plato carefully guides him through the concept of holiness through a series of questions, it occurs that Euthyphro's understanding of holiness is insufficient (Dillon). Plato suggests that human beings should be free in their thinking so that they can understand all the facets of a concept. Limitations in thinking lead to an insufficient understanding of a concept or object by human beings.

The Question Concerning Technology

In 'The Question Concerning Technology', Martin Heidegger claims that human beings have transformed into resources and hence have been enslaved into processes that hide the true nature of aspects. Heidegger suggests a closer look at the forgotten roots of know-how in the field of arts to obtain the solution to the question of technology (Shaw). He claims that the whimsical basis of technology has been obstructed by mechanization. Heidegger claims that modern technology is different from the technology that existed before industrialization. To understand the actual difference between modern and ancient technologies, there is a need to revisit the roots of technology. Heidegger suggests that there is a need to think differently and revisit the initial concepts to understand the change in technology (Shaw). The diverse thinking encouraged by Heidegger is similar to the one advocated by Plato in the 'Allegory of the Cave' where the prisoners have to be free, turn their heads, and look around them to understand the source of the shadows. It is difficult to obtain the solution to the question of technology without assuming a different thinking perspective altogether. The analogy used by Heidegger compares to the case of the prisoners in the cave who, without thinking differently, will neither understand the source of the shadows nor associate real names with real objects.


Both 'Euthyphro' and 'The Question Concerning Technology' relate to 'Allegory of the Cave' in that they all advocate for a deeper understanding of concepts. All three works suggest that the understanding of an idea cannot depend on a single point of view for an explanation. The best way of understanding a concept is to have free and insightful thinking about the aspect and eliminate all obstructions that may hinder free thinking. The difference between ancient and modern technology can be obtained by searching the poetic roots of know-how. Freedom of the mind is a powerful tool in human existence and helps in understanding the deep meaning of concepts.

Works Cited

Dillon, James J. "Teaching Motivation and Emotion Psychology with Euthyphro." Teaching Psychology and the Socratic Method. Palgrave Macmillan US, 2016. 169-179.

Kreis, Steven. "Plato:'The Allegory of the Cave'." The History Guide: Lectures on Modern European Intellectual History 13 (2012).

Shaw, Robert. "The implications for science education of Heidegger's philosophy of science." Educational Philosophy and Theory 45.5 (2013): 546-570.

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