Casting shadows on the wall

Writing about Plato’s Allegory of the Cave yesterday, I mangled it badly. Professor Alexander Di Pippo has gently admonished me:

I’ve been studying philosophy for over 20 years and teach it at college. I just wanted to correct you on something you said about Plato’s cave allegory. When corrected, the idea of inversion [that I was arguing] doesn’t work.

It’s not that the Forms outside the cave cast the shadow on the wall inside the cave. Those shadows are produced by one group of individuals in the cave who hold up artifacts in front of the light of a fire in the cave. The other group of individuals, the prisoners, are facing the wall upon which the shadows are projected, and their heads are shackled so they cannot turn around. The artifacts are meant to be contrasted with the what is real (the forms), and the fire, which the shadows and the artifacts depend on to be seen, is to be contrasted with the sun, which provides the condition for seeing the forms. The philosopher is neither the prisoner who only knows the shadows nor the individual projecting these shadows.

I am grateful for the correction and wanted to share it with readers. The Allegory of the Cave is one of the high points of The Republic. To adapt the words of the old Statler Brothers song, casting shadows on the wall — that does bother me after all. I didn’t mean to be casting shadows myself and I regret the error. Below is, I hope, an accurate pictorial representation of the Allegory of the Cave.


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