A Rhetorical Analysis on the Allegory of the Cave

Imagine only knowing life inside of a dark cave, your body chained, and only being able to see shadows in front of you. What you interpret of these shadows is the only reality you ever get to experience. Can you imagine living like this? Maybe, not physically to this extreme, but during our childhood we live in the darkness.

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We are kept away from the reality of most of life’s challenges, from our parents. It is not until we start to become of age, that we are exposed to reality. In The Allegory of the Cave, Plato demonstrate his philosophical views on the world and perception. Plato’s argument is, If we rely on our perceptions to know the truth about the world, then we will know very little about it. In order to live ethically, it is essential to know what is true and, therefore, what is important beyond the world of sensory perception (pg 866). In my opinion, Plato’s strong use of logos, pathos, and ethos has effectively persuade me to identify with his mindset.

In a short summary, the allegory is about a cave with human beings living in it since they were infants. The humans are chained from their necks and legs. They are only able to see what is in front of them. They have fire blazing in the back. In between the fire and human there is a low wall. There are other humans passing by with vessels, statues, and figures of animals. This causes the humans that are chained to see shadows. The humans that are chained name what they think the shadows are. Eventually, one man is freed and goes up into the upper world and is able to see reality through his own eyes. He goes back down into the cave and tells the others. The others think he has lost his mind and threatened to kill him. In the allegory, the prisoner that leaves the case is like the philosopher who can perceive reality in a different way than others can. It describes the limitations that human beings bring on to themselves. Human beings will be prisoned in their perception of what they feel reality is. This allegory is centuries old, but is one of Plato’s most famous work.

Plato was an educated man who was strongly influenced by his mentor Socrates. Socrates was a well known philosopher who was killed unjustly. He was sentenced to death because he was accused of corrupting the youth of Athens (pg 865). During the time that this took place, it was difficult for politics in Athens. After the unjustly death of Socrates, Plato withdrew himself from the public and focused on his writing and an academy he founded. Plato’s most famous work is written in dialogue form. He usually uses Socrates as a character who is speaking to a student or friend about abstract issues, asking questions that require simple answers (pg 867).

One of the primary strengths in the allegory is the use of logic. In the allegory, Plato presents this story in which he covers all angles and possible objections. For example:

Behold! human beings living in an underground den, which has a mouth open towards the light and reaching all along the den; here they have been from childhood, and have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see before them, being prevented by the chains from turning round their heads above and behind them a fire is blazing at a distance, and between the fire and the prisoners there is a raised way; and you will see, if you look, a low wall built along the way, like the screen which marionette player have in front of them , over which they show the puppets Glaucon replies, I see(pg 867).
This entire passage is a dialogue between Socrates and Glaucon (who is Plato’s brother). The conversation method is effective because Socrates presents the allegory as an instructor teaching a lesson to a student. The use of the dialogue keeps the audience intrigued to find what the purpose of the lesson is, which is not revealed right away.

Plato primarily uses pathos to make his topic sympathetic. He uses this to his advantage to make it seem like we are the ones resisting the true information. In the allegory, one man is free to go into the upper world. Plato uses the tool of imaginary to push us to feel sympathetic to the prisoner that is freed. He states:

At first, when any of them is liberated and compelled suddenly to stand up and turn his neck round and walk and look towards the light, he will suffer sharp pains; the glare will distress him, and he will be unable to see the realities of which in the former state he had seen the shadows (pg 868).

Plato continues using pathos by having us imagine, the pain the prisoner will have to go through to get out of the cave. He describes every little detail of what would happen to the man. From the man having to get up, to the man struggling to look at the light, from the man taking time to adjust to the sun. By constantly, having us imagine what the man would go through he leaves no room to question. I find that this is an effective way to maintain pathos throughout the passage.

Plato uses ethos in the allegory by explaining what will happen when the prisoner goes back into the cave. He is amazed by the reality he just learned of the upper world. He rushes down to tell the others. Having trouble adjusting to the changes that he must go through to be able to see down in the darkness. As stated int he allegory:

And if there was a contest, and he had to compete in measuring the shows with the prisoners who had never moved out of the den, while his sight was still weak, and before his eyes had become steady ( and the time which would be needed to acquire this new habit of sight might be very considerable), would he not be ridiculous? Men would say of him that up he went and down he came without his eyes; and that it was better not even to think of ascending; and if any one tried to loose another and lead him up to the light, let them only catch the offender and they would put him to death (pg 870).

In this passage, Plato demonstrates that humans are held captive in their own perception by choice. He proves the argument that was made. Human beings will not perceive the reality that philosophers perceive.

Plato throughout the allegory, also uses characters and situations to symbolize people and situations in another context. He states, that the prison sight is the house of the world of sight, the light of the first is the sun (pg 871). The sun being one of the greatest symbols that is used. It is the universal symbol of truth and knowledge. The allegory clearly states:

Last of all he will be able to see the sun, and not mere reflections of him in the water, but he will see him in his own proper place, and not in another; and he will contemplate him as he is He will then proceed to argue that this is he who gives the season and the years, and is the guardian of all that is in the visible world (pg 869).

Plato symbolizes the prisoner to be human beings that are captive in their own perceptions. The cave represents the sensory world that individuals keep themselves in. While the upper world represents a hight level of understanding. Plato using the method of symbolizing is an effective way to persuade our mindset.

Throughout the allegory Plato uses logos, pathos, and ethos. He sets up a theory that uses logic and leaves no room for question. His primary use of pathos is having us sympathize. His use of ethos through the argument that human beings choose to stay captive in their own perception. He also effectively symbolizes throughout the allegory. He leaves no room to question in my opinion.

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