It's hard to believe the Ancient Greeks have anything in common with today's Hollywood, but the root of what we do here in film, television, web series, and shorts all harkens back to platonic times and the allegory of the cave. 

But what is the "platonic" definition? and what does Plato's allegory of the cave have to do with modern cinema across the world?

Today, we're going to define platonic and look at why Plato's allegory of the cave matters to entertainers in every medium.

That's a big task—so strap in. We're going on an adventure, deep into the past, all the way back to the present. It turns out, we're all people living who want to leave the cave.  

It's time to get into it all together and return to the cave.

The Platonic Definition & Plato's Allegory of the CaveThe Platonic Definition & Plato's Allegory of the CaveCredit: Wikipedia Commons

What Is the Platonic Definition and Meaning in Plato's Allegory of the Cave?

The allegory of the cave, or Plato's Cave, was a story presented by philosopher Plato in his work RepublicIt is written as a conversation between Plato's brother Glaucon and his mentor Socrates. It was meant to confront human nature. 

Before we dig deep into the cave of shadows, let's talk more about this time period which we define by the philosopher at its center and the definition "platonic."

People being made by codePlato's Cave inspired 'The Matrix'Credit: Warner Brothers

Platonic Definition

Plato's influence on the culture of the West was so expansive that several different concepts are called platonic or platonist. 

Different Plantonic Meanings

  • Platonic love: A relationship that is defined by friendship and not sexual desire.
  • Platonic forms: Plato's model of existence that says the physical world is not as real or true as absolute, unchangeable ideas.
  • Platonic idealism:  The philosophical position that abstract objects exist objectively and outside of human minds. 
  • Platonic solid: The geometry term for a convex, regular polyhedron in three-dimensional Euclidean space.
  • Platonic crystal: A periodic structure designed to guide wave energy through thin plates. 
  • Platonism: The philosophy of Plato which he espoused in the Classical Period.  
  • Middle Platonism: Philosophy derived from Plato (1st century BC to 3rd century AD).
  • Neoplatonism: A philosophic school deriving from Plato (starting in the 3rd century AD).
  • Platonism in the Renaissance: An affirmation of the existence of abstract objects in a third realm distinct from both the sensible, external world and from the internal world of consciousness, seen as the opposite of nominalism.

The Platonic Definition & Plato's Allegory of the Cave'LOST' drew inspiration from the platonic work of the cave allegory.Credit: ABC

"Platonic" Defined 

Basically, "platonic" means everything associated with the Greek philosopher Plato or his ideas.

Who Was Plato? 

Plato was a famous Greek philosopher. He was born in Athens during the Classical period in Ancient Greece. He was a student of Socrates, and eventually, he taught classes to Aristotle. He had platonic relationships and a close friendship with both.

He also founded the Platonist school of thought. That school of thought was taught at the Academy, the first institution of higher learning on the European continent. And many of the things Plato taught formed the basis for Western and Middle Eastern philosophies.

The thing Plato is most famous for is his allegory of the cave.  

What is the allegory of the cave?

The Platonic Definition & Plato's Allegory of the CavePlato's CaveCredit: GETTY IMAGES

Plato's Allegory of the Cave Summary

The allegory of the cave, also known as Plato's Cave, is a story in which there are prisoners in a cave.

They have been there since they were babies, and know no world outside of being chained inside the cave. They cannot turn their heads. They can only stare at a wall where shadows dance.

A fire burns behind them, providing light for the shadows. Between the fire and the prisoners chained, there is a parapet, along which puppeteers can walk. The puppeteers are carrying objects and use puppets that cast shadows on the wall of the cave.

No prisoner can see a puppet or puppeteer, only the shadows. And they can only hear the echoes cast by objects that they do not see.

Therefore, the prisoners, with no other knowledge, think the shadows they see are real. But it's not reality, only the appearance of reality. 

So if a prisoner talks about a bird or a dog, they are really talking about the shadow and not the actual thing.

There's an interesting theory about reality here and how it is based on our perception and not actually the facts of the real world. 

It is not until the prisoners are released that they realize the fallacy of their thoughts and the actuality of the world. 

The Platonic Definition & Plato's Allegory of the Cave'The Village'Credit: Warner Brothers

Quotes from the Allegory of the Cave

You've read the summary, now check out some of the best platonic quotes from the allegory of the cave. All of these come directly from Plato's writing in Republic, which we will get to later.

  1. “It is the task of the enlightened not only to ascend to learning and to see the good but to be willing to descend again to those prisoners and to share their troubles and their honors, whether they are worth having or not. And this they must do, even with the prospect of death.”
  2. “Anyone who has common sense will remember that the bewilderments of the eyes are of two kinds, and arise from two causes, either from coming out of the light or from going into the light.”
  3. “Whereas the truth is that the State in which the rulers are most reluctant to govern is always the best and most quietly governed, and the State in which they are most eager, the worst.”
  4. “It is the duty of us, the founders, then, said I, to compel the best natures to attain the knowledge which we pronounced the greatest, and to win to the vision of good, to scale the ascent, and when they have reached the heights and taken an adequate view, we must not allow what is now permitted. What is that? That they should linger there, I said, and refuse to go down again among those bondsmen and share their labors and honors, whether they are of less or of greater worth.”
  5. “How could they see anything but the shadows if they were never allowed to move their heads?”

The Platonic Definition & Plato's Allegory of the Cave'Shutter Island' and Plato's CaveCredit: Warner Brothers

Plato's Cave Explained 

As I mentioned, it has to do with the platonic idea of perception versus reality. The prisoners only know the world we present them, and nothing else.

The things we show them—books, dogs, cats, ships, or anything—aren't defined by their names, but by how they think they work.

Plato claimed that knowledge gained through the senses is no more than opinion and that, in order to have real knowledge, we must gain it through philosophical reasoning. 

According to Plato, the path to enlightenment is not easy, and it has four stages: 

  1. Confinement in the cave (our imaginary world)
  2. Release from the bindings (our real, senses-only world)
  3. The ascent outside of the cave (a new world of ideas)
  4. The journey back into the cave to free our friends

Analysis of the Allegory of the Cave

How can we explain the philosophy of Plato's Cave further? Well, the allegory gets at the center of what is truth, and how our different experiences and backgrounds allow us to perceive our shadows in our own way.

That being said, the shadows are changing all the time, so there is no consistency for those who see them, only a false reality given to us by our perspective.

The allegory of the cave, or Plato's Cave, was presented in his book The Republic. to compare "the effect of education and the lack of it on our nature."

The Platonic Definition & Plato's Allegory of the Cave'Pleasantville'Credit: Paramount Pictures

The Republic by Plato Summary

Another one of Plato's famous writings was Republic, which was a self-authored book containing conversations with Socrates about justice, order, and character.

It challenged a person's place within society and within themselves, offering up ideas on how they should behave to benefit the whole.

All this dialogue happens during the Peloponnesian War, which makes it very poignant. At its center is the question of whether or not a just or unjust man can be happy, given the choices they have to make in life. 

Republic is probably Plato's best-known work outside of the allegory of the cave, and it is one of the world's most influential philosophy and political theory books ever written. 

The Platonic Definition & Plato's Allegory of the Cave'Pan's Labyrinth'Credit: Estudios Picasso

What Do the Platonic Definition and Plato's Cave Allegory have to do with Hollywood? 

The idea of Plato's Cave has been used extensively in storytelling, from movies like The Matrix, The Truman Show, The Village, Shutter Island, and The Island, to TV shows like LOST, Legion, and even parts of Mad Men. They all take inspiration from the allegorical concept. 

Sometimes, philosophy and filmmaking collide. Much of storytelling is approached from a platonic point of view.

When you get an audience in the seats of a theater or on their couch, or even reading your screenplay, they are prisoners in your cave.

Your writing, direction, and storytelling casts the shadows and allow you to change their reality. You can tell a story about a man who can fly or a woman who is half fish and uses a fork as a comb.

Give them the shadows. If they accept your reality, they'll enjoy your work. But if you reject it, you're in a lot of trouble. 

The Platonic Definition & Plato's Allegory of the CaveMad Men Peggy's Character Arc from Pilot to Series Finale - out of the cave,m then back in to help her friends.Credit: AMC

Summing Up "The Platonic Definition and Plato's Allegory of the Cave"

Whether you have a platonic friendship with Plato's work or a close relationship with his philosophy, I think this stuff can help your work in film and television to no end.

Not only does it bring up important questions and ideas, but it also challenges you to be the shadows on the wall, entertaining people and bringing new perspectives and ideas to them.

If you have thoughts or comments about the platonic definition or Plato's cave, let me hear about it in the comments.

I can't wait to see what it inspires within you.