Echoes and Shadows: A Phenomenological Reconsideration of Plato's Cave Allegory


  • Edvin Ostergaard Norwegian University of Life Sciences



attentive listening, cave allegory, phenomenon-based science education


In the cave allegory, Plato illustrates his theory of ideas by showing that the world man senses and tries to understand, actually only is a dim representation of the real world. We know the allegory for its light and shadow; however, there is also sound and echo in the cave. In this article, I discuss whether the narrative of the prisoners in the cave is in tune with an audial experience and whether an allegory led by sound corresponds to the one led by sight. I start with a phenomenological analysis of the cave as a place of sound. After that, I elaborate on the training of attentive listening skills and its ramifications for pedagogical practice. I conclude that there are profound differences between seeing and listening and that sound reveals different aspects of “the real” compared to sight. The significance of Plato’s cave allegory should be evaluated in relation to modern, scientific thought characterised by a visual-spatial language. With support of this allegory, the light-shadow polarity has become the Urbild of represented reality. At the same time, a visually oriented culture of ideas repeatedly confirms Plato’s cave allegory as its central metaphor. Finally, an elaboration on the sounds in the cave proves to be fruitful in an educational sense: The comparison of sound and sight sharpens the differences and complementarities of audial and visual experiences.