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Plato’s Republic: Analysis of Allegories

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Plato’s Republic is written in a Socratic dialogue form, with Socrates and his companions as the speakers. In Book VII of Plato’s Republic, he discusses the nature of reality and perception. For a normal person, reality is dependent from the senses. To illustrate the relationship between man and the nature of reality and perception, Plato uses the allegory of the cave. The first part discusses man’s imprisonment in the cave, with the shackles representing ignorance. The shadows are perceived as reality by the prisoners, in their ignorance. The prisoners are content with a facet of the reality that they perceive. The second part discusses the departure from the cave and the initial discomfort of seeing the light from the fire. After the initial discomfort, the person will clearly see through the light the nature of reality. The light represents the truth and those that have seen it is an enlightened being. In the third part, the ex-prisoner returns to the cave and his subsequent bewilderment with the darkness. The ex-prisoner, having seen the outside world, will seek to change the prisoners’ perception of reality. The prisoners will initially be resistant to changing their view, as describing the reality beyond the cave will be incomprehensible to them. Plato then describes the ex-prisoner arduous task of educating his fellow prisoners to guide them out of the cave.

In Book X, Plato discusses the nature of truth and the rewards of justice. He uses the creation of a bed as a metaphor. The creator creates the ideal bed, the carpenter makes a bed, and the painter imitates a bed. The painting that the painter makes only depicts a facet of the true nature of the bed. Like a mirror that only reflects, the imitator’s work can only show only a part of the truth. The work of the imitator is harmful as it can corrupt other people. Plato proceeds to discuss the immortality of the human soul and uses the concept of the corrupting and destroying element of evil, and the saving and improving element of good to prove the immortal nature of the soul.

In the second part of Book X, Plato highlights the importance of living a just life through the rewards of justice. He posits that just and unjust actions do not remain unnoticed of the gods. The gods favor the just and, likewise, hate the unjust. To illustrate, he uses the tale of the descent into the afterlife and came back to life of Er, the son of Armenius. Upon Er’s death, he journeyed through the underworld and encounters the rewards given to the just and the punishments set upon the unjust. At the end of the journey, souls can choose their next life. The merits of the next life should be weighed as there each life has an opportunity for corruption.

Er is like a prisoner that ascended the cave, saw reality as it really is, and returns to the cave. He retells his journey through the underworld, serving as the guide that will lead his fellow prisoners out of the cave. The ethical theory discussed in Plato’s Republic is virtue ethics, which considers the goal of enlightening oneself as paramount. The allegory of the cave illustrates the journey one must undertake to seek the true nature of reality. In virtue ethics, doing good is a consequence of being knowledgeable. This constant drive for knowledge had been the driving force that propelled humanity to abandon ignorance and achieve consciousness. However, this does not accurately depict the nature of good and evil. Plato’s work will serve as a foundation for philosophers to continue to delve into the nature of morality. 

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