Worlds of Education

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Plato's Allegory of the Cave

Created by L. Cecil
Created/Updated on 24-Jul-10 04:13 AM

Learning Goal: To unpack and analyze the symbolic components of Plato's Allegory of the Cave. By lesson's end, students will be able to define what an allegory is, what makes it a powerful means of communicating advanced philosophical concepts, and how Plato's Alleg


Students will read and analyze Plato's “Allegory of the Cave”. Students will reenact Plato's “Allegory of the Cave” through the use of a simulation of Plato's Cave, hosted by St. Edward's University in Second Life: Students will write an essay describing the “meaning” of Plato's “Allegory”, and discuss an example of how they, too, were recently “enlightened” by being drawn out of their own, personal “cave”. After the papers have been submitted and discussed, clips from the 1999 movie “The Matrix” will be presented in class; students will analyze these clips, drawing comparisons with Plato's work.


Grade Level(s): Undergraduate       Discipline Area: English

World Setting: Second Life

Keywords: plato, allegory, philosophy, film

Establishing The Setting


We will be entering the virtual world of “Second Life” in order to undergo a simulation of Plato's famous “Allegory of the Cave.” During this exercise, work to inhabit the “limited life” of this particular Second Life persona. In this, your Second Life, you will be and will have always been a prisoner in a cave. Bound, immovable, you will have only ever seen that which is presented in front of you. And you will find that the “visions” you will have been exposed to... that even they are “limited” in their scope.

I will be your guide in the cave. Together, we will reenact Plato's narrative; we will break from the bonds that are - quite literally - limiting our vision, and we will step out of the cave and into the light; all the while examining the transformations – physical as well as mental – that we are undergoing as we emerge from our past existence and into a new reality. Afterward, you will be required to write a 2-page essay in which you will discuss how you, too, in your own life, have, in some way, lived in a “cave” of sorts; how your vision regarding some issue or circumstance was previously constrained, narrow, or confused and how you were transformed when you were able to go beyond your fixed view to a different, transformed view.


Explain to the students why Plato's “Allegory” is worthy of study.

  • Plato's “Allegory of the Cave” is essentially about “education” and its utility. It is a story that allows us to rethink what education is and what it can “do” for us as thinking beings. To question the utility of reading the “Allegory of the Cave” is to question why we should ever try to educate ourselves at all.

  • Alfred North Whitehead claimed that "The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato" (Process and Reality, p. 39, Free Press, 1979). This is, in many ways, true. Plato was one of the very first of the Western philosophers; however, he essentially set up the foundations for all future philosophical discussion. The “Allegory of the Cave” is arguably the most famous of Plato's stories; its basic message and even, you will find that, the bent of its story arch, are featured prominently in works throughout the ages.


Presenting Ideas and Materials


Assign students to read Plato's “Allegory of the Cave” (The Republic, Book 7, 514a-520a), at least superficially; the students will engage in a “deep reading” of the material in the world of “Second Life.”

Providing Experiences

 Have the students meet up in Second Life at the “Allegory of the Cave” simulation, hosted by St. Edward's University:

The simulation uses “poseballs” to “chain” the participants in a fixed position. Only seven poseballs are available to this end, so seating is limited; however, the “room” of the cave is suitable for a full class to “participate”, though they are not seated.

Now, read through the allegory with the students. The allegory is written so that it is directed at a second person “Imagine that you are...,” thus providing a clear structure for a stage-driven narrative. At each stage, have the students reenact the points of the text. Promote discussion and thought during each stage of the allegory: what is your avatar experiencing at this moment? What thoughts? What feelings?

At the end of the story, initiate a discussion regarding the “deeper meaning” of the allegory. What do the different features of the story: the cave, the fire, the shadows, the voices, the prisoners, the bonds, the sun, the world outside of the cave, etc., represent?

Assessing Learning

 To assess what the students learned during their reading and subsequent simulation of the reading in Second Life, students will write and submit a 2-page essay, discussing how they, too, have experienced and emerged from their own “personal cave” at one point or another (students can even choose a topic/instance related to the class); reassure them that it does not have to be an overly “significant cave”, though their example should be able to illustrate an example of a transformative change.



After the papers have been submitted, screen clips from the 1999 movie “The Matrix” (or watch the movie in its entirety) (The Truman Show is another possible alternative). Include scenes such as Neo's “awakening” from the Matrix into the “real world”; Cypher's dinner with Agent Smith in which he discusses the bliss in ignorance and his desire to return to the Matrix, Neo's meeting with the Oracle and the discussion of what “is real,” etc. Have the students analyze these clips in-class, drawing comparisons with “The Allegory of the Cave.” 

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