Title: "Teaching the Allegory of the Cave", Teaching Philosophy, 15/4, 1992, 329-335.
Author: Jim Robinson
Date: August 2002
Reviewer: John Sellars
 The allegory of the cave is often included in introductory philosophy courses on its own, without either the divided line or the wider context of the Republic. The author outlines his own approach to the allegory. First he draws attention to the comparison between the sun and the Form of the Good. Then he emphasises the importance of the divided line for understanding the cave allegory.  It is best if students read out Plato's account of the divided line while the teacher draws it on the board.  It is worth emphasising that scholars do not agree on the interpretation of Plato here. This will hopefully relieve those students who are struggling, and perhaps offer a challenge to more able students.
Introduce the cave allegory separately and do not signal that there is any direct connection with the divided line to start with. As with the divided line, students should read out the text while the teacher draws the diagram on the board.  Once the cave has been discussed, split the group into pairs and ask them to see if they can relate the divided line to the cave diagram.
 A further question worth raising in class is what extent these diagrams are relevant to the Republic's principal concern with the nature of justice. Indeed, it is essential to move beyond a discussion of shadows of physical objects in order to consider the existence of concepts such as virtue, justice, and goodness. [...]
The author begins by commenting that Plato's allegory of the cave is often taught out of its original context in introductory philosophy courses. It is against this practice that his comments are directed. His claims that the divided line and allegory of the cave must be considered together, and that they must be approached within the context of the dialogue in which they appear, seem fairly obvious. But he clearly thinks that these claims are worth stating and he is far from being the only author to write an entire article devoted to the teaching of this relatively brief passage from one Platonic dialogue.
It is interesting to note that throughout this article the author recounts the teaching of the cave allegory as if it is being taught within the context of a course (or a substantial part of a course) devoted to the Republic. This is certainly how he thinks this episode should be taught and no doubt how he teaches it. Given this, along with his opening remarks, it is perhaps surprising that he does not engage in a more sustained argument against the use of the cave allegory out of its original context. No doubt a pedagogical case could be made for the claim that presenting this allegory out of context will tend to confuse students about its purpose and give a poor first impression of Plato.
But what is probably most surprising here is simply the report that teaching the cave allegory out of its original context is a widespread practice, at least in the US. What is most interesting about this piece (and others like it), then, is not what advice it offers about teaching the cave allegory but rather what it reports about the pre-eminent role that the cave allegory appears to have taken in the teaching of philosophy in the US.
This site was created by Dr John Sellars for the PRS-LTSN, 2002.