Plato: On Reality vs Illusion

“The world of ideas is reality and the world around us is a figment of our imagination”

The reason why I love to explore and discover, such things as philosophy, science  and basically anything to do with us humans and all that surrounds us, is to seek out and get closer to our truth, as early on in life I kinda figured most of what is forced down us is not the real deal and very much an illusion, although back then I couldn’t quite articulate that ,it was just a feeling, and nor was I given the space to question and explore;  therefore all it was to me was a colossal of confusion. However, now I’m able to seek out resources that go into depth about such matters and emotions that I’m feeling at any particular time, to make some sense out of the nonsense.

So in my quest to understand the difference between the real and the illusionary, I came across the works from Plato in Book 7: The Republic. In this book Plato explains that there must be a world of ideas which is reality at its truest; it contains the ideal forms of everything and its something innate, thus we are born with. (I’m guessing this relates to our intuition in some way.) In contrast,  illusion is the world of our senses i.e. sight, hearing, taste smell and touch. Plato states that the senses create the material world, which he believes to be the imperfect copies of the ideal forms(i.e. reality).


To demonstrate his theory he created the scenario of The Allegory of the Cave.

“imagine a number of men living in an underground chamber …in which they have been confined from childhood…they are obliged to sit still and look forwards…and imagine a bright fire burning some way off…like the screens which conjurors put up in front of their audience, and above of which they exhibit their wonders.” Plato

Therefore, they are seeing a shadow of the actual object itself projected on the cave wall, however they believe these shadows to be real when in actual fact they are phantoms, and any suggestion that they are anything but real is absurd to them.

To sum up Plato’s idea he believes everything in this world is a shadow of its ideal form in the world of ideas. And to break that down; the world of ideas is reality and the world around us is a figment of our imagination, therefore are copies of the real thing and everything around is modelled on that. For example , let’s say we have the innate idea of a perfect  chair we want and then design it specific to our taste, once this chair has been made and we can actually see it, touch it etc our natural inclination is that it is now a real thing, why would we think otherwise?  However, Plato states that because it is our senses that created it, therefore it is in actual fact a copy of the real thing as senses cannot perceive this place of innate ideas directly, it can only be perceptible to us through reason only.

Hmmm, this is interesting theory, maybe that’s why companies are constantly coming out with newer versions of old products all the time? as we are never satisfied and not only is it because we are evolving all the time, hence the growth in technology etc, but according to Plato we are not satisfied because deep down the materialistic  items we possess are not the real deal, we just want them to be each time?

Let me know your thoughts 🙂 x

-Sophia Alisa Ali©
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11 thoughts on “Plato: On Reality vs Illusion

  1. Very good. I think the prisoner returning to the cave and telling the others of the world outside he has seen is an important aspect of the allegory in that they (the others) don’t believe him. At that point both philosophy and speculation insofar as the reader/student kicks in. A whole river delta of thought unravels. Brilliant stuff.

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  2. A lifelong challenge area for me. We need to establish a base for this discussion. Mine is, “Every “thing” is real.” There is no conflict between the unseen, the world of ideas, and the seen, the world emanated from ideas. Conflict begins when choosing sides. I see reality as existing on separate planes. When we force the unseen into the seen, we disrupt nature, as much as when we drag the seen into the unseen. Think religion. Or modern social Darwinists who need to debate and destroy any idea to do with an unseen, or spirit realm. Ideas, existing freely in the realm of infinity, flow through into the material plane, making changes to it. The converter is the mind. But before anything from the material plane can flow back into the unseen, it must be converted back into ideas. So, the mind is the only “entity” that can freely go back and forth between the infinite (cosmic) mind world, and the finite material order of things. It’s never either or, and it has nothing to do with orders of preference or superiority. It’s a natural hierarchy that cannot be changed. The mind world, then, is infinite whereas the material order is finite, entropic, always tending towards death, ever in need of propping up.
    People who have lost track of their mental reality (consciousness); who have settled for finding their completion in the physical order, die. They know this and knowing it, they become irrational. This is where struggle for survival and all of its negative aspects comes in. Mind people have no need of struggle; of any of the evils that oppress and eventually crush a finite, predatory environment.

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    1. Wow, some very interesting points 👍, Thank you 🙂I guess when we’re more focused or stuck on materialistic values then we need to balance it out, as although materialism in Plato view is seen as a negative here, however it is part of what makes us human, as I do love to indulge in buying lovely things and it helps me feel good and I know I’m not the only one who feels this way😊 however I’m also aware that it’s not the be all and end all; there’s more to life, which slowly unravels itself all the time. Reality is a funny thing lol 💕😊

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    1. Yh, I know what you mean💕 I guess we have to have some real life experience behind us to get what Plato and other philosophers are saying, even now I read back over something I read just a week ago and I find new material in the same piece I read before. Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoy my others too 💕
      Sophia 🙂 x

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  3. When we look at a real object, we essentially create a mental representation of it. The mind then looks at the mental representation, and never really looks at the real object. In that sense, we always look at an illusion and never look at the real world. The real question is, how close is this illusion to the real world? And the best answer we have is achieved by pursuing scientific discovery.

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    1. Thank you Vaibhav, for your awesome response, it’s what I had on my mind and you explained it for me 👍It’s a great way to look at it, and yes the closest thing is science, having said that I’ve just been reading up on Aristotle, for my next blog post and he believes there is truth in everything around us, I will go in depth on that blogpost I’ll be posting on Thursday, but I think philosophy and science combine really well, as one explanation lends a hand to the other. 🤗
      Sophia 🙂💕

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