Socrates starts by explaining a scenario to Glaucon. He tells Glaucon to picture prisoners in a cave, chained in a manner that movement is impossible. These prisoners have been in this position since childhood. Not only their limbs are immobile, but their heads are also in a fixed position such that the only thing they can see is the wall in front of them. Behind these prisoners is a large fire.
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There is fire between the prisoners and the walkway. People pass by this walkway-carrying luggage and puppets of men and animals on their head. Using the shadows cast by the passersby, they take turns to guess the object that will pass.
They refer to the shadows using names of the real object. The passersby make some noise as they pass. The echo of the sounds made by the people walking along the walkway is what the prisoners hear. They do not know that the shadows are representations of real people. They also believe that the echo is sound coming from the shadows. This they believe to be so because it is what they have been seeing and hearing since their childhood.
Pluto then uses Socrates to introduce a new situation. Freedom is granted to a prisoner, and he is allowed to look at the things that cast the shadow shown to him. He does not recognize them; instead, he still believes that the casted shadow is more real than what he sees.
When the prisoner looks at the fire, he turns his head away from it towards the wall to escape its glare. He is then dragged out of the cave into the surface where there is sunlight. At first, it is too much, but then he gets used to it after spending some time at the surface. The prisoners who remained in the cave believed that the released prisoner’s mind was corrupted. According to them, he had lost grasp of the reality they have always known.
Pluto’s creativity and his vast understanding of human nature make him create a scenario that educates humanity by use of an imaginary world. He simply talks about human ignorance and the reluctance to embrace reason. People tend to believe only in things that they have known to be true.
They stick to tradition and culture passed to them from their ancestors. They are afraid to explore the alternative that they do not know. Once introduced to them, they first seek refuge in their initial belief. This is illustrated when the prisoner look at the fire then back to the wall.
Pluto’s analysis of human nature is indeed insightful. Up to date, people stick to culture and tradition not caring to explore the other side of the coin. An example is religion in the world. Humans tend to believe in the religion that they have known since childhood. It is not easy, for example, to convince a Christian to abandon his faith, become a Muslim, and vice versa.
Another example is a suicide bomber who has ever believed, since childhood, that dying for his cause will make him gain favour before the eyes of the Lord. He knows that taking more people with him amounts to greater rewards and will never listen to any reason against this.
Pluto also teaches that once humans discover the truth; they develop a need to stay in it. They develop deeper yearning for more of this truth, and that is when they realise that all along they have been ignorant. When they try to explain this to their colleagues who are still in darkness, they are the ones looked down upon, and regarded as being a danger to society.
Pluto uses the prisoner taken to the surface and brought back into the cave to illustrate this. It is unwise to remain true to perceptions instilled in one from childhood. People should listen to reason and consider all alternatives rather than remaining loyal to indigenous beliefs.