“Why does Plato compare ordinary human existence to that of chained prisoners in a cave?”
The Allegory of the Cave is an allegory to evaluate a journey from darkness to light as the mind moves toward the Forms. The “cave” is considered the world of the five senses meaning we acquire our opinions through the influence of others. Once free from the cave, individuals are on a constant upward path by the means of intellect rather than by the persuasion of the senses.
These chained prisoners reside in a cave only able to be guided by their sense. Their eyes are fixed on the wall and they are unable to move their bodies or head. Behind these prisoners is a large fire and in between the fire and prisoners is a walkway, which various puppets and marionettes move. These figures cast shadows amongst the wall which is what the chained prisoners lock their eyes on. Behind this cave there is a used road and upon this road people are walking and talking and making noises. The prisoners believe that these noises come directly from the shadows projected on the cave wall.
The prisoners come to this conclusion because this is all that they see and know using their senses. The truth to the prisoners is nothing but the shadows on the wall. When one is compelled to get up and look towards the light he is struck with pain for he is experiencing the unknown, something he cannot explain: the light. He then realizes that everything his eyes were fixated on in the cave was just a false sense of reality and by looking at the sun he questions his existence. He begins to pity the prisoners in the cave for being naive and not knowing what he just learned. If he were to return to the cave and share his new findings he would seem ridiculous for he would have to re-adjust to the cave’s setting and none of the prisoners could possibly grasp these new and complex ideologies.
There is always journey upwards to the path of intellectual growth that is in ones hands to choose to travel on it or not. It is based on an individual’s desires. To see and understand true good comes with effort, and in order for one to be revealed to the source of reason and truth they must embark on this path of intellect.