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The Allegory of the Cave

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In Plato's Republic, the great philosopher describes what is needed to achieve a perfect society. He addresses several subjects still debated in today's society, such as justice, gender roles, and the proper form of education. He discusses these issues through his main character, Socrates. Socrates, another well-known philosopher for his time, happens upon a group of men, and what begins as a modest question, leads into a series of debates, metaphors, and allegories. Perhaps the most discussed allegory in today's popular culture is the Allegory of the Cave. Over the past decade, several movies have mimicked the fantasy, the most profitable being the Matrix Trilogy. But what makes this story so fascinating? Through it, Plato attempts to map a man's journey through education. The map used is another metaphor: the Line. He explains the rewards for those who reach the top of the Line, and the significance of those who fall short. He also tries to answer the important question, how does a city's ruler view politics and education, once he has reached true understanding?

Plato's fantasy begins in Book VII, 514a, with a dismal view of humanity, told by Socrates. He describes a world in which people live in a cave from birth, never seeing any sign of daylight. They're heads are bound to the wall in such a way that they cannot look at either side of them, nor behind them. The people are ignorant of all their surroundings except for what is directly in front of them. Socrates goes on to describe a massive fire behind the people, and behind the fire, a partial wall. On top of the wall stand several statues of people, animals, and other various objects. Out of sight from the bounded prisoners are another group of people who manipulate the ...

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... of the Line: Imagination, Belief, Thought, and Understanding. When he completes the Line, he becomes a philosopher-king, ruler over the city. The guardian then returns to the cave to help the others turn around and become educated. They perform this charity because they strive for the benefit of the city, rather than themselves. In contrast, the prisoners who refuse to become educated must not participate in politics, because their motives are set on benefiting themselves instead of the people as a whole. Through these points, Plato explains the views of the philosopher-king. The ruler views politics as a privilege meant only to be experienced by the educated, and he views education as the ultimate goal in life; to achieve understanding of the world around him. Through these ideals, Plato believes that his ruler will be able to properly lead his perfect Republic.

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