In Plato?s "The Allegory of the Cave," he suggests that there are two different forms of vision, a "mind?s eye" and a "bodily eye." The "bodily eye" is a metaphor for the senses. While inside the cave, the prisoners function only with this eye. The "mind?s eye" is a higher level of thinking, and is mobilized only when the prisoner is released into the outside world. This eye does not exist within the cave; it only exists in the real, perfect world.
The "bodily eye" relies on sensory perceptions about the world in order to determine what is reality. Metaphorically speaking, the cave is a physical world filled with imperfect images. This world is filled with distorted images about reality.
Inside the cave, the prisoners believe that the shadows they see on the wall are actual reality. Their "bodily eye" tells them that this world is real because their senses perceive so. Plato suggests that the senses do not perceive actual truth.
The "mind?s eye" is not active inside the cave because the prisoners are imprisoned in this distorted world, which they believe is reality. When one prisoner is pulled out of the cave and into the light, it is this sudden freedom that starts the gradual process of enlightenment. This sudden freedom opens the "mind?s eye". The prisoner "will be able to see the sun, and not mere reflections of him in the water, but he will see him in his own proper place, and not in another; and he will contemplate him as he is" (279). He then begins to understand that there is a reality higher than that which was previously believed.
There is a concrete difference between the two eyes discussed by Plato. The "bodily eye" lives in the distorted world of sense perceptions; the imperfect world which people experience with their physical senses. In the cave, there were "men passing along the wall carrying all sorts of vessels, and statues and figures of animals made of wood and stone and various materials" (278). The shadows of these objects were considered reality to the prisoners, but in actual fact they were just distorted images. The "mind?s eye" sees in the perfect world, a spiritual realm. It sees beyond the world of sensory perception. Perfect reality is described when the prisoner comes into the light and sees the "light of the moon and the stars and the spangled heaven." These moons and stars make up the real world that only the "mind?s eye" is able to see.
By using the same word, "eye," to refer to both, Plato is suggesting that there is a connection between the two. Both eyes are used to perceive what is supposed to be reality, but the two see completely different worlds. For instance, inside the cave the prisoner uses his "bodily eye" to see the world of shadow "puppets". He truly believes that these shadows are complete reality because his "bodily eye" tells him so. When he is released from the cave, he uses his "mind?s eye" to see the sun, moon, stars, and water. It is then that he realizes that these objects are true reality. The "bodily eye" sees the imperfect world, and the "mind?s eye" sees the real, perfect world.
The two eyes are at odds with one another because of the two differing perceptions. While in the cave, the "bodily eye" sees what appears to be reality; what appears to be life. While out in the light, the "mind?s eye" sees the complete truth; it sees actual reality, and actual life. They are different from each other because what appears to be inside the cave is opposed to what is in the light.
An allegory is "a story in which the characters and situations actually represent people and situations in another context" (276). Plato chose this device because it simplifies a difficult to grasp subject. "Bodily eye" and "mind?s eye" represents figurative language used in describing the two worlds; the world of sense perception and the world of ideal entities. A transition from the world of sense perception into the world of ideal entities happens when one is enlightened somehow. In the allegory, this enlightenment is portrayed as a prisoner being released from the dark cave.
The cave in this allegory symbolizes the dark imperfect world filled with shadows and distorted images that only the "bodily eye" is able to see. This is the world of sensory perceptions that all the prisoners believe is reality. As one prisoner emerges from the cave, he gradually realizes that there is a much higher reality than that which is physically experienced. After getting used to the light of the outside, his "mind?s eye" opens and he understands that the cave was simply an imperfect reality.