I want to share some thoughts about Plato’s cave. Being a very influential idea, it is worth some consideration.

I probably should skip the obvious points: that it argues for the existence of other “upper world” realities and the prisoner who experiences the upper world then fails to persuade the cave-dwellers of his experiences is Plato himself. He also claims that one who has experienced the upper world would not be happy with life in the cave. Many of these general ideas were imported into Christianity as the distinction between the material and spiritual world, with again heaven traditionally being thought of as “upward”.

Some Speculations

In Plato’s allegory, there seems to be very little interaction between the two worlds, beyond the casting of shadows into the cave. Can either world, of the cave or the upper one, exist without the other? If the upper world did not exist, there would be no shadows in the cave and nothing for the cave dwellers to discuss. That seems to be all a cave dweller can do and apparently necessary to their existence. However, if the cave did not exist, there would be little impact, except for the lack of released cave prisoners. It is likely to be a rare event, given Plato’s criteria of what constitutes philosophic knowledge. Presumably, the upper world can exist without that and if the cave exists, the upper world must necessarily exist too. The cave seems to be a contingent world.

Applying these allegorical speculations to us, Plato must maintain that objects cannot exist without its corresponding ideal object. However ideal objects presumably exist regardless of all the imperfect versions of it were destroyed. For example, we could burn all imperfect tables, but the ideal table will still exist. The ideal world is necessary. The apparent world is contingent. Also, the cave is a small part of the world “entire”, by which I mean in the allegory both worlds physically exist and are mutually accessible in some circumstances. The upper world probably is “bigger” than the cave, although this is not exactly specified – but quite likely since Plato prefers the upper world to the cave.

The main problem, according to Plato, is the lack of awareness of upper worlds and the acceptance that apparent reality is real.

I am now going to try to tabulate peoples beliefs in existences of “upper” and “lower” worlds. A zero denotes what someone thinks of as reality. Positive numbers indicate layers of contingent realities or contingent worlds. A blank space denotes lack of awareness of a world.

Upper World The Cave
Cave Dwellers 0
People on Walkway 0 1?
Prisoner before release 0
after release 0 1

I plan to do a follow up post about the counter view. I’ll give you a clue on what I plan. If someone standing at a precipice asked Plato:

If I jumped, would I survive?

… the answer according to Plato is yes (at least in some form). I base that on the words he put into Socrates’s mouth as his last words.

Anti Citizen One