I recently read Plato’s Republic where he describes his ideal society by speaking through Socrates and in a way personal criticism of his beliefs. Based on his metaphorical and fictional society, all learning begins in a cave. This cave prevents people are not allowed to see the outside world, instead they see shadows of figures designed by teachers. These cave dwellers receive basic education such as physical training, music, and arts. In the cave, there are some that do not pass this base level of training and are forced to stay in the cave. If the individuals successfully complete the training, then they are allowed to leave the cave. At minimum, these people are now known as ‘auxiliaries’. The people who left the cave are now given mathematical training and obtain a basic understanding of hypothetical reasoning which leads to them gaining an understanding of true reality. After years of seeing shadows and reflections, these people are now able to recognize what is real. Later, the people are taught how to use dialect and are now able to engage in communication. Furthermore, this teaches them to be skilled enough to interact with cities and become rulers. Those who are able to grasp reality and use dialect are worthy of becoming teachers. These people now return to the cave for political training from the previous class or rulers. Furthermore, they become the teachers who educate the cave dwellers on physical training, music, and objects through shadow puppets. After their return to the cave, these teachers become rulers. They engage in philosophical thought and lead the people. These philosophical rulers return to the cave one last time to educate the next generation of teachers on how to become great political rulers. Finally, this class of philosophical rulers is free to live on the rest of their day as they seem fit at the age of 50.
I was fascinated by Plato’s description of the cave because it is what influenced so many political philosophical thinkers, government leaders, and literary texts. It forms the basis of the hierarchical concept in Aristotelian thought. Hitler’s totalitarianism gained some of its basis from Plato’s idea of the guardians and philosophical elites having absolute control. Similarly, he believed the Germans were the superior race, and should have absolute control. Furthermore, one can argue the logic of 1984 and Brave New World were also derived from political thought gained founded in Platonism.
Later in the Republic, Plato destroys his argument throughout the text claiming that the Cave ideology is impossible. This is because eventually greedy, incompetent people will come to power and ruin the whole system. Nepotism will take effect and the wrong people will be given the opportunity to become rulers, which will instill rebellion from the citizens and an overthrow of the system. Some may ask, why Plato spent the majority of the book discussing the logic of cave, if he was just going to conclude with how unrealistic the idea is? Plato wrote this text to show that there is no such thing as a perfect government even if every aspect of their life is controlled. Plato believes that every nation or group of people will naturally go through a cycle from Kallipolis (philosophy reason rulers), Timocracy, Oligarchy, Democracy, and Tyranny. In any system of government, some will be oppressed, and some will believe they are not being given a chance to maximize their potential. I believe Plato’s work is truly underappreciated as it is not being taught in the modern day curriculum. I asked many of my classmates and the only knowledge known to them was that he was a philosopher. Plato is the base of all political philosophy and is the father of his field. In this sense, I truly believe Plato is undervalued and wish people were encouraged to study someone so vital to political thought throughout time.