Allegory of the Cave

6 June 2016

The allegory of the cave is a story written by Plato a Greek philosopher.  It is more of an extended allegory whereby human beings are portrayed as being imprisoned by their own bodies and the thoughts they perceive from what they see.  In this article, Plato tries to explore what would happen if human beings encountered what he calls the ‘true’ reality.  That is, what would happen if people clearly understood and embraced the meaning and the impact of philosophy.

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Plato imagines what would happen if the chained men in the cave are suddenly released from bondage and let free.

The Allegory.

The Allegory of the Cave presents a metaphor which contrasts what man thinks and believes to what is the reality.  According to this allegory, what we think and perceive is imperfect and is just a shadow or reflection of what is true.  In this story, the fictional representation of the prisoners and the basic philosophical tenets are used to present the metaphor.  In this allegory, the cave is lit by the light of a blazing fire which is contrasted with that of the sun outside the cave.

Prisoners in the cave are chained in a way that they can not move and all they can see are the shadows of moving puppets which are illuminated by the fire and reflected on the wall in front of them.  The cave prisoners tend to think that the shadows are a reality since they have no knowledge of any other reality (Cohen, 2002).

  Plato argues that if one of the prisoners was allowed to see the world outside that cave, he would realize that the shadows are not real but for those inside the cave, any news about any reality apart from the shadows they are used to is likely to be met with rejection and hostility.   The prisoners view the world outside the cave as a source of dangerous wisdom and knowledge which is to be avoided rather than embraced.


The caves in this case represent the world of senses in which most people are trapped and imprisoned in their own thoughts.  The journey to the outside world signifies an ascent to embrace philosophy and change in the real world.  This allegory suggests that people all over the world are trapped by their own illusions of what they consider to be the reality and for this reason, their capacity to understand and embrace the reality is flawed.  By making an effort to think beyond what is obvious and superficial, people have the potential of fleeing themselves from what is false or untrue and getting to see the truth or the reality.

This allegory basically defines the process of enlightenment represented by four major stages which one has to pass through before being fully enlightened.  The shadows on the wall represent the notions which people have encrafted in their minds which though related to the reality, they are quite different from the what is true.

The puppets from which the shadows are cast represent what most people mistake to be real things in the world.  Once one is able to free himself from these notions and the things which are superficial, he or she steps into the real world which is full of real ideas and is able to see the sun which represents the goodness in reality.

Once at this stage, a person is now fully aware of the truth and in most cases, the truth is too much to bare that only few people are able to embrace it.  Most people tend to return to their caves and continue living in darkness as they were before.  This marks the end of the enlightenment process.

Relevance of Plato’s allegory to the contemporary organizational life.

Plato’s allegory brings out clearly the importance of an organizational culture and the ideology of similar normative thinking in any institution and this is what makes it very relevant to the contemporary organizational life.  An organizational culture refers to the personality of a given organization.  It comprises of certain values, beliefs, norms and assumptions which posses the power to influence the behavior of the members of that organization.

Most organizations are known to uphold a culture which promotes common thinking among its team members.  Plato tries to address the dangers which might result from group think.  When people refuse to engage in critical thinking, they become imprisoned by their own thoughts (Franz,  2007).

This allegory is particularly important to the culture of those corporations which tend to concentrate so much on individualism for the benefit of the organization.  Most organizations in the world today have people trapped in a culture which acts as a cave for imprisoning its members thus prevent their growth and prosperity.  Such organizations are afraid to accept any change due to excess insecurities and the fear of transformation.

Caves encountered in my career.

Many people who are working in organizations are often trapped by illusions which imprison them in dark caves full of false shadows.  One such cave is whereby i worked as a receptionist with very little college education.  The organization i worked for did not offer its employees any chance to further their education for the fear that if they did, they might demand higher pays or be poached by other better paying organizations.

In my mind i hard the notion that i could save the little money i earned to buy all the nice things i wanted in life and i was so scared of leaving the organization for fear of the unknown.  This was however just an illusion which was far from the reality.  It had created a cave for me where i couldn’t think beyond the few dollars i earned per day.  However, after much effort i managed to free myself from from the cave and i was able to see the reality of not having proper education.  I then decided to quit from that organization and further my education in order to get a better job.

Sources of conflicts.

When people see different organizational shadows and images which they think are the reality, conflicts arise.  By shadows and images here we mean the thoughts, notions, senses and beliefs perceived in the minds of different people in an organization.  Such conflicts arise when the different organizational values clash with personal values.  Sources of organizational conflicts include changes in the organizational structure, conflicting goals, limited resources and poor communication within the organization (Franz, 2007).

In a case where people in an organization have different notions concerning a certain issue, it becomes very hard to reach a consensus without critical group thinking.

The conflicts are even harder to resolve when each person involved in the conflict believes that the notion they have (shadow) is right one hence rejecting any efforts to reach an agreement.  Such thinking requires some people to compromise their views for the sake of the organizational life and culture.

Mechanisms used in a conflicting situation.

 In the event of a conflict in an organization, every one tries to convince himself that his view is the right one.  According to expert psychologists, the human cognitive processes have a way of dealing with thoughts which are contradicting.  This mechanism is known as the cognitive dissonance and it is responsible for dealing with contradiction and giving the perception that what we think is actually the right thing (Festinger and Carlsmith,  2002).

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