What are the origins in literature of the theme of appearance versus reality?

In literature, the theme of appearance versus reality originates with the ancient Greeks. One important early example from the fourth century BCE is Plato’s Allegory of the Cave in the Republic. Plato offers the story of people imprisoned inside a cave who believe that the shadows on the wall are reality rather than representing their imaginative interpretations. Their delusional state parallels the fallibility of human reliance on the senses over rationality.

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In Western literature, the theme of appearance versus reality originates in ancient Greece. In the fourth century BCE, an important elaboration of this theme appears in the works of Plato. Within the Republic, the philosopher includes the Allegory of the Cave. He presents a group of prisoners who utterly...

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In Western literature, the theme of appearance versus reality originates in ancient Greece. In the fourth century BCE, an important elaboration of this theme appears in the works of Plato. Within the Republic, the philosopher includes the Allegory of the Cave. He presents a group of prisoners who utterly lack understanding of the outside world because they know only what exists inside the cave where they are confined. As each of them interprets shadows on the walls, they convince each other that those interpretations are reality. With this fictional example, Plato elaborates on the human error of mistaking perceptions for what actually exists.

The prisoners’ worldview must be readjusted after one of them escapes. Reaching the surface and beholding the scope of the world, he understands the flaws that had afflicted their conclusions. Yet those views are so firmly entrenched that they do not believe the story he brings back to them.

Plato uses this story as a basis for his argument that humans perceive mere shadows, not the true substance of the world. When we trust our senses, we err in reinforcing these mistaken perceptions. Only careful, rational consideration of neutral facts can lead to accurate understanding of the natural world.

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