Assessment The Allegory of the Cave
Written in 380 BC, The Republic became one of Plato’s most well known works which includes his Socratic dialogue The Allegory of the Cave in which he heavily critiques education and democracy. This assessment will first unravel the historical context of the Republic and the Allegory of the Cave. After providing analysis of the passage, the assessment will continue to explain the document’s long term influence on Western Civilization with evidence from various texts. Conclusively, this assessment will provide context, analyze and explain the influence of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.
Plato was a well established Greek philosopher who was born in Athens, Greece around 427 BC. He was the student of Socrates, another renowned Greek philosopher, and passed down his knowledge to his well-known pupil Aristotle. Socrates established a foundation for Plato’s thought in both his self-taught and Sophist views that virtually gave the study of philosophy practical use and meaning. However, Socrates left behind no writing of his own and most of what historians have discovered about him come from the works of Plato and Aristotle. He was known for the Socratic method which placed emphasis on thoughtful and detailed questioning rather than simple contemplation about observations. It is clear to historians and philosophers that Socrates passed down specific viewpoints to his pupils, especially about the questioning of justice and why it was the basis for political institutions. He established the philosophical attitude that nothing should be assumed with the goal to seek true understanding. After establishing great new premises and methods for philosophy, Plato’s devout adherence to Socrates allowed these unprecedented ideas to live on (Backman 149-151).
Plato’s success most likely began with the support of his rich family of aristocrats which he had a great appreciation for. Well educated in a multitude of subjects, he taught at his school called the Academy because he was too irritated with ignorant people in democracy to get involved in politics. Plato developed a strong interest in the Ideal Forms as he believed the physical world was a lifeless embodiment of what our complex souls perceived to be meaningful. He saw people as eternal souls temporarily housed in physical bodies concluding that our souls inherently have a deep-seated understanding of the Ideal Forms. Perhaps this is why Plato could offer such a unique metaphor in the Allegory of the Cave; his viewpoint on philosophy was less concrete than Socrates’, and thus he was able to provide a more romantic and mystical perspective (Backman 151-154).
The Allegory of the Cave is essentially a dialogue between Plato and his brother, Glaucon, in which he ponders a bizarre scenario metaphorically chastising the ignorance of anyone who wasn’t a philosopher. He creates an image of prisoners who are chained up in a cave in such a way where they can soley view a shadow-puppet show for their entire lives. Concluding that they would perceive the puppet show to be reality, he asks what would happen if a prisoner were to be set free and see the real world. He goes on to say that if one of these prisoners were set free, they would be traumatized and too afraid to confront what typical humans know to be reality. He further fantasizes that if they were forced to confront reality that he [the prisoner] would find it painful to be so haled along, and would chafe at it, and when he came out into the light, that his eyes would be filled with its beams so that he would not be able to see even one of the things that we call real (Shorey 748). Plato explains that initially this person would be unable to perceive the real world as reality, because they would be wired to perceive the puppet show as reality instead. Then there would be need of habituation, he explains, … to enable him to see the things higher up. And at first he would most easily discern the shadows And so, finally, I suppose, he would be able to look upon the sun itself and see its true nature (Shorey 748). Here, a metaphor forms in which the prisoner ” an uneducated person ” would need to drastically acclimate to such higher understandings of reality ” philosophical perspective ” in order to truly understand what they are seeing.
In Plato’s eyes, democracy was flawed because it allowed ignorant civilians to have power. He believed the ideal government should be ruled by those with sound reason to make decisions for the group ” a philosopher. He sought a specific social hierarchy in which workers of society were at the bottom, defenders of society made the middle class, and philosophers possessed all of the power at the top. Ideally, philosophers would agree on society’s important decisions with the leadership of a philosopher king. The concept of family would be eradicated and ultimate loyalty would instead rely within the state, essentially in the hands of philosophers. The Allegory of the Cave illustrates his praise of philosophy as he makes the understanding of philosophy an analogy for understanding reality. Plato equated being a philosopher to being freed from a life chained up in a cave because he saw the understanding of philosophy as the only true understanding of reality. He claimed that those who didn’t have a clear understanding of philosophy allowed the emotions of their fragile soul to make their decisions, not reason and rationality.
Plato’s famous socratic dialogue proves influential in the works of Saint Augustine of Hippo, a later Christian philosopher. In the Account of His Own Conversion, Augustine reveals his confession of being infatuated with the concept of love and allowing his emotions to overwhelm him. He admits it to being an unstable period of life, though he began to study books of eloquence, philosophical texts which would persuade him that emotions were inferior to reason, just as Plato stated (Halsall, Augustine: Account, ch. 4). After reading a particular Greek philosophical text (no doubt influenced by Plato), he stated that In Greek the love of wisdom is called ?philosophy’, and it was with this love that the book inflamed me (Halsall, Augustine: Account, ch. 4). Plato’s initial beliefs influenced Greek philosophy and even spread to philosopher’s of the Western world such as Augustine, who were influenced by Plato’s view of reason over sentiment several hundreds of years later. In another account by Augustine, On the Two CIties, this influence is also prevalent. He defines the two cities as a divide between those men who live according to man, and those men who live according to God (Halsall, Augustine: on the, ch. 1). Augustine praised the men who live according to God and thought little of the men who live according to man because he saw holiness and selflessness vital to a productive society while those who followed their own desires created a corrupt society. This is very similar to Plato’s perspective on those who think with reason (philosophers) and those who are driven by their desires (ignorant people). Just as Plato believed the most productive society consisted of those who showed loyalty to the State, Augustine believed the best society consisted of those who showed loyalty to God. Plato created a schism between those who act with reason and selflessness and those who act with desire and ignorance.
Plato was one of the most influential philosophers of all time as he took Socrates’ initial views of philosophy and built off of them in such a way that they would provide insight to other philosophers hundreds of years later. His value on rationality over emotional desire specifically had a lasting influence in the development of philosophy throughout history as it is apparent in the works of many philosophers including Saint Augustine of Hippo. The Allegory of the Cave reinforced this notion and illustrated Plato’s compelling theories in a dramatic manner that made his passion for philosophy and the acquisition of wisdom very apparent. This passion was passed down unto many philosophers and provided a basis for the importance of rationality when considering philosophical ideas. Historically, Socrates, Plato, the Republic and the Allegory of the Cave prove to have had immense influence on philosophical thought and theory.
- Backman, Clifford R. Chapter 5: Classical Greek and the Hellenistic World. The Cultures of the West: A History, by Clifford R. Backman, 2nd ed., vol. 1, Oxford University Press, 2016, pp. 149“154.
- Halsall, Paul. Augustine: Account of His Own Conversion. Medieval Sourcebook, Fordham University, 1994, sourcebooks.fordham.edu/source/aug-conv.asp.
- Halsall, Paul. Augustine: on the Two Cities. Medieval Sourcebook, Fordham University, 1996, sourcebooks.fordham.edu/source/aug-city1.asp.
- Shorey, P, translator. Plato: The Allegory of the Cave. Republic, edited by Hamilton and Cairns. by Plato, Random House, 1963, pp. 747“752.
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