Young Writers Society

Allegory of the Cave Extended

by SpiritedWolfe

A/N: The paragraphs with citations behind them in the beginning are direct quotes pulled from Plato's Republic and are not my own writing. The rest of the story is my creative extension to the Allegory of the Cave passage. (If you haven't heard of it, here's a quick summary of the Allegory of the Cave.) I tried to mimic the style that Plato used in writing the Republic. Let me know what you think!

Sitting alongside Thrasymachus and Polemarchus was another man, Nicodemus, who had stayed silent throughout the earlier discourse of the five men. He had chewed on the dissection of Thrasymachus’s idea of justice and later absorbed the arguments presented by Socrates, building the city in speech brick by brick until it may as well have already lived in his mind. Though he pursed his lips at the sudden turn of the discussion. As an educator in the city of Athens, he was uncertain of Socrates’s dismissal of his art.

“They presumably assert that they put into the soul knowledge that isn’t in it, as though they were putting sight into blind eyes.” (518b9 - 518c1) Socrates posited.

Glaucon nodded in agreement. “Yes, they do indeed assert that.”

“But the present argument, on the other hand indicates that this power is in the soul of each, and that the instrument with which each learns—just as an eye is not able to turn towards the light from the dark without the whole body—must be turned around from that which is coming into being together with the whole soul until is able to endure looking at that which is and the brightest part of that which is. And we affirm that this is the good, don’t we?” (518c2 - 518d1)

Nicodemus raised his voice and asserted, “I am not convinced that this is the case, dear Socrates. I believe a flaw in the argument has surfaced.”

Alerted by the contribution, Socrates addressed Nicodemus and said, “What of the previous logic does not bring you to the same conclusion as I, my comrade?”

“Allow me to present an addition to your analogy that may demonstrate the disagreement,” Nicodemus said, “and then we might seek out the error in speech.”

“Do go on,” Socrates said.

Nicodemus cleared his throat and began. “Consider a man who has lived, lives, and will live in the farthest depths of this cave, where not even the flickers of the firelight are able to touch the cave walls, so he is not blessed with enough light to make out or contemplate about shadows, correct? We may consider if this were a group of men, but it is sufficient for our purposes to stick to this individual, who has only known the darkness of the cave such that he may even be considered blind. But should he stumble across the group of prisoners, as they chatter of the shadows by their firelight, and be captivated by the moving darkness along the wall, what will he be able to think? For he has never seen these objects, has no language to express what his exceptionally adjusted eyes are able to precisely determine, and cannot understand the words uttered from the prisoners. Does this man have enough power within his own soul to comprehend what is before him, or would he need to rely on the kindness of the prisoners to teach and guide him in their language and custom, so he might approach reprieve from his ignorance?”

After a moment of thought, Glaucon added, “It seems it would be the latter.”

“So, it must be said that not all that knowledge is inherent within the soul, as Socrates would like to assert. Which leads us to the conclusion that there was either an error or an omission from the earlier stages of this argument. I shall pose the question: how should the prisoners react to the pitiful man from the caves? Do they cast their gazes down upon him, even as they themselves are chained and restrained, and refuse this willing man freedom from ignorance, if not true knowledge? Or do they offer their language and their understanding to him, as a mentor might to a novice, even if it may not correctly convey what is? For surely, we can agree that there is no harm for the prisoners to have intercourse with the man from the caves.”

“That we can agree.”

“Does this not resemble the role of the man who has seen the light of the sun? Only that he is one and the many are ignorant?”

Adeimantus heard this comparison and interjected, “But, Nicodemus, Socrates has established that the prisoners are blissful in their ignorance of the world above. They are not willing as you have portrayed the man of the caves, actively resisting attempts to be forced to go up for fear of ruining their eyes.” The other men agreed with this point.

Not to be dissuaded, Nicodemus agreed too. “This sentiment is true. The key is that they would not want to be forced. The man of the cave found the fire and prisoners by happenstance, but little by little he grew the courage to confront the flames and accept the knowledge he did not have. I believe the same can be said about the prisoners in time. Consider if once the enlightened man returned to the caves, he did not speak of his experience so not to frighten the skittish prisoners, instead treating them as one might cattle. In the beginning, he might appear to them a fool, but a kind and an unapprehensive fool, but once they are certain he is of little threat, he might be able to move slowly. Say he first unchains each head so the prisoners may stretch their muscles and relieve their rigidity. Then he releases their body, so that they may twist and turn their torso. Wouldn’t you say that upon this taste of freedom, the prisoners would begin to ask the enlightened man to free their arms, hands, legs, feet, so they might be able to walk view the firelight for themselves, even if it is slowly at first?”

“That is reasonable,” Adeimantus concluded.

“Then the prisoners would begin to see the holes in their world peeking through, as they might view the fire directly or catch glimpses from which the shadows originated. It is foolish to think that each of the prisoners would embrace this change, but it would be even more ignorant to assume that none would wonder about the mythical tales of the sun which the enlightened man would provide. Perhaps the enlightened man would even take some of the former prisoners to the surface, so they can also catch glimpses as what is true and good. Now, do the parallels to the man of the caves ring true? Could these prisoners have been freed and stepped ever closer to the light on their own, without the guidance of the enlightened man?”

“I suppose not. It is clearer now.”

“We now know where the issue lies, as if the enlightened man were to be gentler in his approach to the prisoners, much like a mentor, then a different outcome could be reached. Now, answer me this: was this action unjust of the enlightened man? According to Socrates, the just man is one who minds his own business, so was it unjust of the enlightened man to encourage others to seek justice? Or potentially turn an unjust man away from injustice?” Nicodemus posed.

“That does not seem like it should be true,” the other men concluded.

“I would postulate that it is not, then, unjust and is in fact just of the good and enlightened man, who has seen and contemplated the above world, to assist his fellow former prisoners, as others might assist their neighbors in the city in speech. Thus, if a man has corruption in his soul, that the desirous part is too greedy or the spirited part too fiery, then a calculating man may be able to aid him in smoothing over that corruption, so they both may walk a just path.”

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Wed Mar 31, 2021 5:33 am
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Liminality wrote a review...

Hi there, Wolfe! I've been wanting to review this for a while ever since I saw you talk about it on your wall <3 I wasn't sure whether to approach it from a literary or philosophical standpoint, though, because I know this was Philosophy homework but also you've categorised it under 'Short Story' here. So I'm going to attempt tackling both, and feel free to ignore either section if you were only aiming at writing for one genre.


I think you've generally managed to convey Plato's writing style here! I like that you used "his art" to describe Nicodemus' teaching, because that's basically how Plato would have described it, I think.

I also chuckled reading expressions like "the pitiful man" and "as one might cattle". These come across as condescending in a way Plato would have said it himself. I'm of the opinion that Plato's general tone towards those who only ever see the "shadows" has that level of condescension to it, despite his implication in the city part that auxiliaries (who he agrees are very important) are also shadow-watchers, but since your intent was to imitate his style, I think that's a win here!

Another difference I saw was that it seems that you included more action descriptions than I remember Plato did, such as "cleared his throat" and "pursed his lips". These definitely make the scene easier to picture than for Plato's original writing, I think, as the character of Nicodemus in general seems more dynamic and vivid.

Writing in the register of an earlier time is really tricky and it's great that you did that. My only nitpicks would probably be some modern-isms that snuck into the text. For instance, 'to chew on a thought' is probably a more modern English expression, which stuck out a bit to me when reading this. Otherwise, I really liked the language you used and felt it was definitely reminiscent of The Republic.


So, from what I recall, the allegory of the cave is meant to bring together several points, namely 1. how it is possible that there are Forms - i.e. 'true' things that we cannot grasp by empirical means or experience for instance (and that we can only grasp them through reason, via exiting the cave) 2. why it is not possible for everyone to exit the cave (and only the people Plato designates as 'rulers', who in ideal society would exit the cave and then rule according to what they saw themselves).

I think the strongest, most important part of your objection to that second point was:

was it unjust of the enlightened man to encourage others to seek justice?

That's an interesting and maybe somewhat paradoxical part of Plato's conception of justice. He doesn't seem to account for 'teaching' justice.

Nicodemus here seems to voice an argument for the positive thesis: it is possible for everyone to grasp some portion of the truth, not just 'rulers'. He does this by arguing that those who exit the cave, by using incremental methods, can persuade the people in the cave to accept their version of the truth.

I'm not entirely sure about this, but Nicodemus seems to attempt first doing this by analogy . The first extension to the allegory, where a person X, is unable to even see the shadows but could grasp some idea of them after being taught by the others in the cave, I think is meant to suggest that it's the teaching method of Plato's version that was the problem.

I think there's one way that Plato or maybe Socrates might try to respond to that objection, namely with the idea that 'learning a falsehood or incomplete truth is more harmful than knowing nothing at all'. I believe Plato makes this argument in the Apology, Socrates' defense trial speech. For example, let's consider two scenarios of the person X: 1. person X does not know what a tree is whatsoever and 2. person X believes that a tree is a large, brocolli-shaped silhouette on the wall of the cave. (Let's just say that second interpretation is a falsehood, for argument's sake.) If X in scenario 1. were to see the Form of a tree, they would only have to absorb that Form and accept it. If X in scenario 2 were shown the form, Plato might argue they would first need to unlearn their false conception of the tree before being able to accept the true one. This way, it may not be necessary that a person who learns the shadows is better off than the person who knows nothing at all - at least, if you follow Plato's conception that only the absolute truth is good in this sense.

However, I think this argument could actually work without the part that is by analogy. If you started with the premise you imply here:

“Then the prisoners would begin to see the holes in their world peeking through . . .

Here you make a presupposition that people have the capacity to seek truth or maybe a desire to seek it if given the chance. I think this is one that Plato makes also, only that he believes that seeking truth is so difficult that not everyone NEEDS to or SHOULD do it. If not Plato, then at least Socrates was of the belief that everyone is capable of philosophising to find out what is 'really the case'.

From this, Nicodemus could then argue that since people are more willing to accept a small correction than a larger one (that's another premise) and since correcting one's false worldview is cumulative over many corrections (another premise), then it is possible for everyone to grasp the truth through teaching. The argument by analogy doesn't seem particularly necessary in order to make this point, since it also serves to imply the presupposition that basically amounts to 'people can learn', or at least, from what I gather to be the case.

I suppose justifying each premise would also be a good idea to solidify the argument even further, but this is all I have for now.

That's all

Sorry for the word dump! Hopefully you found all this helpful or entertaining at least, Wolfe, and keep writing!


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Thu Mar 04, 2021 7:22 pm
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veeren says...

but consider:

the prisoners are happy in their ignorance and it would be unjust to take that happiness away from them for the sake of sharing knowledge and truth.

we must not forget to wonder whether is better to live a happy, unquestioning life in a box, or to live with the fear and anxiety of knowing there is so much you don't know.

but fr i loved it you did amazing wolfy <3

Ahh but is it really taking it away if they walk willingly towards the firelight? :PP

veeren says...

in the same way a mouse walks willingly towards the cheese mounted on the mousetrap

we may never knowwwww

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Thu Mar 04, 2021 6:46 pm
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MailicedeNamedy wrote a review...

Hi SpiritedWolfe,

Mailice here with a short review! :D

If you can call it a review, because it's not easy, I think.... Let's start with the fact that you've chosen a subject matter that is extremely exciting and that I (and probably some others) haven't seen in this direct way before. I like how you try to turn the discussions from ancient Greece into a narrative text. It gives the school material a greater vividness in a way. And that's what the Allegory of the Cave is trying to portray in a way; the involuntary learning process of man and the recognition of the good that comes with it. (as far as I understood it.) Precisely because I'm also very interested in history and philosophy and it's a super exciting subject, I think it's fantastic to read a text here about philosophy in particular.

You have tried with your narrative to explain and describe the parable in your own words, works very well (and find it interesting; that you have titled it fanfiction.) Your narrative has the same basic idea as the parable. At the same time, the characters are trying to move this parable into an understanding, which leads to more conversation. The discussion is interesting and in a way reminded me of Friedrich Dürrenmatt's (a Swiss author) dramas, which discuss something with dialogue that goes on for ages, trying to find the "right" answer or contradicting each other with inanities.

I also like that you give a short explanation at the beginning about what exactly you are writing about and even include a link so that people can briefly look into it before (or after) reading. It's hard to write anything here as I could probably get lost in it even deeper, so I'll keep it short. I would find it exciting to read more allegories from this sort of point of view.


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Thu Mar 04, 2021 8:38 am
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Carina says...

I didn't think I'd ever read a fanfic about Greek philosophers, but weirder things have happened. You deserved that high grade. 8)

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