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The Trees of Middletown

In: English and Literature

Submitted By lynnscott
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In Book VII of The Republic, Plato introduces his ‘Allegory of the Cave’ which presents itself in the form of a Socratic dialogue between Glaucon, the brother of Plato, and Plato’s teacher, Socrates. Plato’s initial focus in his ‘Allegory of the Cave’ is almost entirely transcendent; he is concerned not with knowledge, but rather with the nature of reality. Socrates, speaking to Glaucon, describes a group of prisoners chained to a wall in a cave who have been there since birth. Behind them is a fire, which lights the cave, and between this fire and the prisoners is a road where people carry all sorts of human, animal and other forms, which are then reflected onto the opposite wall of the cave. Unable to turn their heads, the prisoners are only able to see the shadows that these forms cast upon the wall and Socrates makes the point that such men hold that the truth is nothing other than the shadows of artificial things.

Plato makes an interesting point about human nature in this case, emphasizing the idea that human beings have a tendency to accept the reality that they are presented with. He goes on to say that, upon being introduced to the world outside of the cave, a man would be at a loss and believe that what was seen before is truer than what is now shown, a natural human reaction when facing the realization that one’s entire concept of reality has proven to be false. After his discovery of the world outside of the cave, the man would begin to adjust, first he’d most easily make out the shadows; and after that the phantoms of the human beings and the other things in water; and, later the things in water; and later, the things themselves…then finally I suppose he would be able to make out the sun.

Here, the process of adjusting to the light outside of the cave can be likened to the learning process in that it is a gradual process that builds upon itself and the world outside the cave is likened to the intelligible realm. Plato explains that, in the knowable the last thing to be seen, and that with considerable effort, is the idea of the good; but once seen, it must be concluded that this in fact that cause of all that is right and fair in everything. As in Plato’s Metaphor of the Sun, the sun acts as a metaphor for the source of enlightenment, which Plato believed was the form of the good from which all just things gained their utility. Thus, the intelligible realm is composed of the ideas of things, rather than the things themselves, which exist in the sensible realm and are constantly changing.

Plato further argues that once a man is able to see this idea of the good, it is his role to go down into the common dwelling of the others and get habituated along with them to seeing the dark things. He makes an interesting point about the role of the philosopher in society here, arguing that it is not the goal of the philosopher to remain in the intelligible realm, but rather to see the good and share it with his fellow man for the common good. It is with this that Plato suggests a city governed by philosophers would be the most just, both because philosophers are able to access the intelligible realm and because, as he says that city in which those who are going to rule are eager to rule is necessarily governed in the way that is best and freest from faction.

Plato’s concept of a city governed by philosophers was novel in its time, and the idea of governance by those whom least desire power remain a logical means of avoiding the violent struggles for power which have been seen throughout history. But perhaps the most critical assertion that Plato makes in his Allegory of the Cave, concerns human nature, and the inability of the common man to move beyond the sensible world into the intelligible world. Thus, what

Plato stresses is the importance of the philosopher in society and the philosopher’s role in aiding others to see the form of good.

Though Plato is clear that a society governed by philosophers would be most just, he presents this simply as an ideal circumstance in a hypothetical situation. The important point that Plato has to make about the human soul is its stubbornness, greed, and desire for power. Though he glorifies the philosopher who is able to see the good and move beyond the sensible realm into the realm of intelligible things, he has little to say about the common man whom, according to Plato, is in need of the guidance of the philosopher and is unfit to rule. He presents them as being comfortable in their world of illusions and both unwilling and unable to move outside of the cave to experience the intelligible world.

In comparison to real life, The Truman Show and Plato’s Allegory of the Cave writings were similar in theory. Even though these two writings were written thousands of years apart, there were many key concepts alike. In both writings there was an imprisonment of a man from childhood to adulthood. Both of these men had a series of events occur as they grew older, which allowed their eyes and mind to see and process the truth of the world and to forget their ignorance. As stated in Plato’s writing, Imagine a number of men living in an underground cavernous chamber, with an entrance open to the light, extending along the entire length of the cavern, in which they have been confined, from their childhood. This quote gives the setting of the men’s position and where the world begins. Truman was in a slightly different confinement, where he was adopted by a producer and put in a bubble world from birth. In both situations these men were hidden from reality and truth. These men were only shown what someone else thought should be shown. Their lack of education caused them to be ignorant to the truth that was all around them and to not ask questions.

In conclusion, Plato feels it is the philosopher’s role to govern society not because they have no desire to rule, but rather because he may exist in the intelligible world and is therefore superior to the common man who is limited by his inability to recognize the disorder and irrationality of the sensible world. Above all, the Allegory of the Cave emphasizes the fact that one should not simply accept the reality that they are presented with, but that they should question the nature of knowledge and reality and attempt to move beyond the sensible world.

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