Hey! We are back to The Republic. Today we are going to be Analyzing Book 7. Enjoy, and make sure to leave any thoughts in the comments section.
Socrates begins Book 7 by making an analogy in reference to how education shapes the human soul. He tells Glaucon to imagine a cave which houses human beings. These human beings are chained to a wall, and there heads are fixed forwards, so that they may only ever look at the wall in front of them. Behind them, a fire is always going, and so they can never see the fire but they will always see the light from it hitting the wall. And so, if people appear or move behind them, the shadows of the people would be cast on the wall. The prisoners would begin to think that these shadows were the real people, as they had never seen a 3-d person before. The sounds they heard from real people speaking they would think was coming from the shadows. As Socrates puts it, “What people in this situation took for truth would be nothing more than the shadows of manufactured objects.”
Now Socrates asks Glaucon to imagine that they unchain one of the prisoners. They show him around, showing him how everything he thought was real was actually a reflection of the real world. Effectively, his life was a lie. He would not believe, them, and would continue to think the shadows were real people and objects. They would try to teach him to see things as they are. First, they would have him look at natural reflections from things like glass and water, but over time they would teach him to fully observe the physical world.
Now back in the cave, the prisoners would have contests to see who was best at identifying passing people or shapes on the wall, and who could remember the names they had given them. But after his enlightenment, the one who had left the cave would not want to be the hero of the contests, as he would know they are just delusional. When he came back and told them this, they would laugh at him and say he had gone insane. In fact, they might even murder him out of malice if they were freed. But I think it would not be malice. It would be jealousy. Just as, in my view, they murdered Socrates out of jealousy.
But when I talked to my parents, they said Socrates did not think he was the one who had been led out of the cave. That makes sense, as he did not think he was wise. But my view is that he did not think he was wise, but he did know how to achieve wisdom. He was the person who let the man out of the cave. Now you may ask, If Socrates did not know anything, how was he a philosopher? Did he not explicitly say that the ruling class had the trait of wisdom, and philosophers should be the rulers? Well maybe he wasn’t one… but he has certainly showed a lot of wisdom in The Republic.
Socrates makes another analogy. He says that just as an eye exposed to darkness after a long time has trouble seeing the light, an eye that has seen the light for a long time cannot see in the dark. The same goes for knowledge. If someone has been shown levels of intellectual complexity for a long time and then is shown something bluntly simple, sometimes they can’t even understand it. This is interesting. I is as if your brain begins to try to analyze everything and so as soon as you do something simple your brain doesn’t know what to do.
But keep in mind that first thing. If you have only ever seen darkness, you cannot understand light. So if you cannot actually gain knowledge, how do you acquire it? Socrates states that there is only one possible solution. We already know it, it is just not on our conscious. And Education is the way of showing ourselves it. But I disagree. We do not know it, but we have principles, which if directed in the right way can show us. But you have to have thought about the thing in question at some point in your life, or at least take it for granted, to truly know something.
Later Socrates and Glaucon agree that one who cannot give an explanation of something does not understand it. This is completely wrong. Can you explain happiness? I don’t think so. But do you truly feel it? Yes. Then he goes even further by saying this relates to good in general, and any instance of it. Morality is the essence of good, but can you explain it? If you can, I would like a definition of what it is and how it came to be in the comments. But it is easy to feel and understand. In fact, it is one of our most basic senses! The urge not to kill or steal is something even early humans felt. In fact, there are rules about morality in almost every religion in the world!
Anyways, they keep talking about education. What should be taught, and who should be taught. On the second question, he answers that as the youth are better at learning, obviously they should. I agree. Though the old are wise, they often have solidified their views, and are not prone to learning new things. The young, on the other hand, crave knowledge and have yet to develop a worldview. They will be educated from a young age in Arithmetic, Geometry, and Physical Education. They shall slowly be turned to philosophy and contemplating and gaining knowledge. Thus, like the man from the cave, they will be turned to the light.
6 thoughts on “An Analysis of Plato’s Republic: Book 7”
Good summary, and well written. I especially like the ending!
So there’s this guy, David Graeber, who just died a couple days ago. Really wonderful person. But in mourning him I started re-reading some of his work, and there’s one piece in particular that really jumped out in my mind when i read this post, and I think it might speak to the challenge you posed in the last few paragraphs, about defining the good or the moral. It’s short, just a handful of paragraphs, and — best part — it should also give you a really great new TV show to watch, if you haven’t seen Buffy the Vampire Slayer yet…
Thank you! I will read the article.
Interesting, but how would I explain that? I’m on the side of Socrates as far As education. You, on the other hand couldn’t know the difference. At 12, you are already more educated than literally most people in the world. How could you know ignorance? But what I really want to know is how you chose the word Bluntly. Thanks!