The “metaphysical” or “representational” view of language is largely indebted to the work of Plato. In Book VII of The Republic, Socrates has a conversation with Plato’s brother, Glaucon, which is often called the “Myth of the Cave” or “Allegory of the Cave.” Socrates tells Glaucon to imagine a group of human beings who have lived their entire lives in an underground den, with the mouth of the den behind them. The people’s legs and necks and chained and they can only look in front of them. Behind them, a great fire blazes and between the fire and the people is a raised wall, on which men walk carrying different objects, such as statues and figures. Socrates then says, “Like ourselves . . . they only see their own shadows, or the shadows of one another, which the fire throws on the opposite wall of the cave.” Socrates goes on to propose, “And if they were able to converse with one another, would they not suppose that they were naming what was actually before them?” For, “To them, I said, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images.”
Socrates goes on to propose that if the prisoners were released and “disabused of their error,” they would at first be pained by experiencing the true objects, particularly the sight of the light of the fire or the sun, until he became accustomed to “the upper world.” Socrates then explains the allegory, saying,
the prison-house is the world of sight, the light of the fire is the sun, and you will not misapprehend me if you interpret the journey upwards to be the ascent of the soul into the intellectual world according to my poor belief, which, at your desire, I have expressed— whether rightly or wrongly God knows.
Socrates argues that while it is difficult, one can, with effort, perceive the world of knowledge and those who can perceive this “beatific vision” of the upper world “are unwilling to descend to human affairs.”
Radoslav A. Tsanoff argues
Plato extended this line of thought to cover the whole range of knowledge. . . . He contemplated the real nature of the universe as a cosmos a system of universal forms, species and types of structure, norms, laws, principles, patterns, essential relations, meanings, ideals and values. Plato called all these Ideas. . . . Plato’s Ideas are the realities known by reason, not merely reasoned ideas or impressions of the mind. . . .
Such Ideas are universal principles, ideal meanings or criteria by which we may test the truth of specific judgments, “this action is just” or “that music is beautiful.” These Ideas are concepts of the mind, and are themselves essentially mental.
Plato’s Ideas are rational and eternal. Plato’s concept of the Ideas or the Forms extends to his understanding of language. So, Tsanoff says when we think or say the words “man” or “horse,” “our reason contemplates the universal Ideas of them, human or equine reality.”