“The Allegory of the Cave” and “Existentialism”


Plato’s, “The Allegory of the Cave” and Sartre’s, “Existentialism” both have a similarity of anguish but have different views of goodness, subjectivism and limitations of life, and human existence. In the “Allegory of the Cave,” the people in the cave are chained to see just the shadows on the wall to which they perceive to be real. As one of these prisoners escapes, they walk into the light to find that what he once saw in the cave was actually just an illusion of what the truth is. In “Existentialism,” there is no God so every man is free to make their own choices and give their own meaning of life; however, the choices men make are what they consider all men to do, causing men to be responsible of their actions.
Anguish is a similarity in both essays because both the escaped prisoner in the “Allegory of the Cave” and all men in “Existentialism” have a moral responsibility to their fellow man. The escaped prisoner is responsible for going back and informing the rest of the captives of what he saw. He has to explain to them that the ultimate reality is not the shadows on the wall but what is seen once you’re in the light. He then experiences anguish because the captives will not believe him. The essay states that: “Men would say of him that up he went and down he came without his eyes; and that it was better not even to think of ascending; and if any one tried to loose another and lead him up to the light, let them only catch the offender, and they would put him to death” (p. 1185). The cave is their world and what they see is their truth. The escaped prisoner is now an outsider and suffers because the other captives could not comprehend that what they are really seeing is just a bad distortion of reality. In “Existentialism,” man experiences anguish because he would not be able to get away from his responsibility of his actions and his choices because the decisions he makes not only affects him but those around him too. The narrator states that: “Every man ought to say to himself, ‘Am I really the kind of man who has the right to act in such a way that humanity might guide itself by my actions?’ And if he does not say that to himself, he is masking his anguish” (p. 1292). Every man experiences anguish because they have the freedom of choice but the responsibility of all men. Therefore every choice that man makes must be a good one.
Both Plato and Sartre have many different views in their essays and one opposing view is about the good and the bad. In Sartre’s essay, good decisions or choices are made because it is what is good for every man and that , “to choose to be this or that is to affirm at the same time the value of what we choose, because we can never choose evil. We always choose the good, and nothing can be good for us without being good for all” (p. 1291). Every man then does not choose the evil because what is evil for him will be evil for all; therefore, when man has to make a decision, he values each choice on how much good will come out of them. Although in “The Allegory of the Cave,” good is not considered first but last and to get there is a long and tortuous journey. Once the good is seen, they will see everything of a higher realm which is the true reality and be aware that goodness is the origin of everything that exists. The narrator states, “...whether true or false, my opinion is that in the world of knowledge the idea of good appears last of all, and is seen only with an effort; and, when seen, is also inferred to be the universal author of all things beautiful and right...” (p. 1185). Instead of carefully making every decision of what is good, the very thought of goodness comes last. In Plato’s essay, to reach the goodness you have to find the enlightened path.
Another difference between the two essays is