Most certainly one of the heavier books to read, The Republic, authored by the Greek Philosopher Plato around ca. 380 BC, covers and explores topics such as justice and morality. The Republic is undoubtedly Plato’s most famous work, and it has become the world’s most influential work of philosophy.
I will not be able to cover the whole book, but I will summarize and give my concluding thoughts on the Allegory of the Cave or better known as Plato’s Cave. I was an allegory I found interesting and I’m sure you will too. Plato created this allegory to compare “the effect of education and the lack of it on our nature.”
Plato describes a cave with a group of prisoners chained to a wall. They have been prisoners their whole life and have not experienced anything other than the cave. Facing a blank wall, these prisoners watch as shadows are projected on the wall, due to a flame behind them, and give names to these shadows. For the prisoners, these shadows are their reality and they believe that the sounds and echoes coming from others parts of the cave are produced by the shadows. (The image below demonstrates the scenario. Credit: Learning Mind)
Since these prisoners have not seen anything else, these shadows are the prisoners’ reality. They cannot understand that the shadows are produced by a flame, nor comprehend the real things outside of the cave. Plato argues how a philosopher is like one of those prisoners who becomes freed from the cave and understands that the shadows are in fact not reality at all. However, the inmates in the prison do not desire to leave, because they do not know a better life.
Just as the fire projects shadows on the wall, our human condition is only bound to our senses, such as sight and smell. We are not able to ‘break free’ from our senses, just as the prisoners cannot free themselves from their chains. Although, if we could escape our subjugation, we would find an incomprehensible world – just as the prisoners could not understand or imagine the concept of the sun outside the cave. In short, we would encounter another realm.
I think Plato’s Cave is a really interesting idea, and it could for sure be applied to our modern society. For example, the chains keeping these prisoners in place could be seen as ignorance in our society today – a person not regarding another person’s view or feelings or when people simply do not care to listen to other ideas.
Reading the Republic has been interesting and intellectually inspiring. Plato’s views and ideas are topics everyone should be aware of, and maybe a state ruled by philosopher kings would not be so bad after all.