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The Allegory of The Cave: Plato's Concept of Creating an Ideal State

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“A state arises, as I conceive, out of the needs of mankind; no one is self-sufficing, but all of us have many wants,” quoted from philosopher Plato. The creation of a perfect society has been discussed since the beginning of time. There has been plenty of philosophers, rulers, and government officials that have felt that they had ideas that would create a perfect environment for all. When creating a perfect society, the greater good of all citizens must be considered. The Athenian philosopher Plato, created a blueprint for a society he felt would be beneficial for all. In 375 B.C.E, Plato’s Socratic dialogue titled “The Republic” was introduced as a concept of what an ideal society consists of. Plato’s Republic is separated into different books discussing his different concepts and used many allegories, metaphors, and examples to make sure they are understood.

Plato’s concept of creating an ideal state included having three separate social classes, the three parts of the soul, and harmony. The three social classes Plato writes about in his Republic are the guardians, auxiliaries, and producers. He believes a harmonious society will occur, once these three classes do what they have to do, and mind their own affairs. Guardians are responsible for ruling the city and are also known as philosopher-kings. Since they have the most loyalty, intelligence, strength, and courage, Plato feels ruling and decision-making should be their responsibility. He strongly believes that without philosophers ruling as kings, there will never be a perfect society. This class will only reproduce within their group to keep their strong genes within Guardians. They will be educated in specific ways, and be given more opportunities than other classes. The auxiliaries would be the military, consisting of warriors who are supposed to defend the city from attacks and invasions. They would also be responsible for making sure the rest of the city follows the rules that the guardians make. The producers are the lowest social class, yet the largest. The people in this class have a variety of professions, with the exception of warriors and rulers. They have no say in law or political matters. Their main focus is producing things society needs. According to Plato, the three parts of a soul of a person coincides with the three social classes of society. The three parts of the soul include the rational, spirited, and appetitive. The rational is the truth-seeking and philosophical part of the soul. Plato associates this part of the soul with justice. A just individual would be heavily influenced by their rationale. The Guardians are supposed to possess the rationale, and Plato feels that makes them the most qualified to rule. The spirited is the part of the soul is the part that has the desire for honor. Plato feels that the auxiliaries fit that role the best, which is why they need to enforce laws and protect their people. The last part of the soul is appetitive, which is a combination of lust and desires that humans have. These lusts include romance but focus mostly on finances. This part of the soul is believed to belong to the producers. When everyone accepts their role in society, the ideal state would be formed.

The Allegory of the Cave is a story told in The Republic. Socrates is talking to Plato’s brother about the relationship between people, reality, and philosophers. He uses a metaphor to convey his message. The story involves three people held prisoner in a cave. The only thing they can see are shadows of people outside on a dark cave wall, due to the fire that is behind them. The prisoners begin seeing this as their true reality. When certain prisoners could guess what shadow would appear, they were seen as the smartest of the group. When a prisoner escapes and leaves the cave, he realizes everything he knew inside the cave was a lie. He discovers true reality. He wants to share this reality with the others, so he returns to the cave and lets them know what he discovered. The other prisoners did not believe him and threatened to harm him if he tried to set them free. They accepted that cave as their reality, and the prisoner who escaped was not able to change their way of thinking. In that story, the prisoner who escaped was a representation of philosophers in the world. The cave represents the reality people are accustomed to, and the shadows represent what they think they know. The outside world is seen by philosophers and is considered true reality. Plato believed philosophers challenge the ideas that people are comfortable with accepting. When people are challenged or not familiar with an idea, they tend to reject it and ridicule it.

People questioning reality and the point of existence is a recurring thing. The film, The Matrix, similar themes can be found in the main character Neo’s life and the freed prisoner in the Allegory of the Cave. In The Matrix, there are machines who took over the world and created a false reality for people. Neo is forced to accept the truth of reality and challenge what he knew as his existence. Neo is very similar to the freed prisoner in that sense, the prisoner had to accept the reality he saw when finally being freed from the cave. Their senses help them realize that they need to just experience, be open-minded, and gain new knowledge to learn about true reality. Forgetting what you once knew, and accepting a new reality can be difficult, but it was done by Neo in the Matrix and the freed prisoner in The Allegory of The Cave. Neo and the prisoner were able to escape false reality and realized the world was a lot different than they thought. The only difference with the stories would be Neo getting help from Morpheus, while the prisoner figured things out for himself. There is also nothing getting in the way of the prisoner living a free life after he discovers the reality, but Neo faces many obstacles and is hunted down by the agents who help control The Matrix. All of Plato’s allegories are used to teach a lesson and have been seen in various ways throughout the centuries.

The allegory of Ship of State is another metaphorical story written by Plato to discuss the issues of political parties and democracy. In this Allegory, there is a man who owns the ship and he is the strongest there. Although he is the strongest, he is partially deaf and cannot see well, and does not possess enough knowledge to sail. On the boat, aside from the shipowner, there is the true navigator, the crew, and the leader of the crew. The crew is arguing amongst each other and trying to persuade the shipowner and others on why they should navigate the ship. The leader of the crew uses manipulation and other vindictive means to overpower the shipowner. He wins over the crew because they think he has good leadership skills and possesses the capabilities necessary to navigate the ship. In reality, the leader of the crew lacks experience and knowledge. The true navigator is the person who has all of the qualifications to navigate the ship but the others overlook him because he does not argue or focus on winning the people over. He stays to himself and does things that interest him. The shipowner could be compared to a ruler of a country, he has the power, but there is someone more capable and people who want to take his power. The crew can be seen as people who want positions of power in government, and need to convince people to get that power. The leader of the crew represents the most popular candidate for a major role in government. This person can be seen as good, but their true intentions could not be known until it is too late. The true navigator is the person in politics who should be given a position of power that people always tend to overlook or ignore. The point of this Allegory was to show people how democracy and political parties are actually corrupted. There will always be people who are not qualified in positions of power, while the people who have the most qualifications are ignored.

Plato always stressed the importance of discovering true reality and knowledge. Philosophers are known as being deep thinkers and having a great deal of knowledge. Knowledge is an essential part in discovering the true reality. To Plato truth cannot be discovered, the knowledge behind the truth is always available. Believing in something and knowing something is completely different. The truth can be known and backed up by knowledge while, a belief is something personal, and not always correct. Truth is objective to different people, but to have true knowledge Plato believed one needed an idea that was believable, true and has evidence to support it. Knowledge would be considered to be closer to true reality and greater truth than a belief. True reality cannot be discovered through our senses. Our senses are sensitive and could guide us to a false reality, Plato views senses of a weak form of reality.   

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