Cave Allegory Research Paper

Length: 5 pages Sources: 5 Subject: Black Studies - Philosophy Type: Research Paper Paper: #10771344 Related Topics: Philosophical, Utilitarianism, Political Aspects, Philosophers
Excerpt from Research Paper :

Socrates 469-399 B.C.E

Of the major philosophical works that describe Socrates and various aspects of his philosophy, one of the most intriguing is Plato's The Republic. Although this work was not actually authored by Socrates, he is the main character in it and, through the writings of his student Plato, a number of his philosophical concepts were advanced and gained credence with posterity. This work depicts Socrates going through numerous phases of life and offers plenty of philosophical musings that enlighten readers about his philosophy. However, other than some of his notions regarding the tenets of good and the Socratic method he regularly employed and which is still utilized within certain educational (and perhaps legal) settings today, the ideas that he disseminated that are perhaps the most characteristic of his philosophy are that of the philosopher kings/philosopher rulers and the Allegory of the Cave.

In some respects, it is virtually impossible to discuss these concepts in a manner that is wholly distinct from one another. The Allegory of the Cave largely serves as justification for the notion of philosopher rulers, a class of people which underscores the close similarity between Socrates' notion of philosophy and politics (Duncan and Steinberger 1317). In explicating these concepts, then, it is worthy to note that because of Socrates' idea of good and the utility he believed it yielded, he ultimately favored an aristocracy. The philosophy behind this belief is important. Socrates ascribed to the notion that there were different degrees of goodness, and that ultimately that which was unselfish and beneficial to others was the ultimate expression of goodness (and perhaps even of a religious deity). Thus, Socrates also proffered the notion that society should be governed by individuals in whom this intrinsic quality of good was more prevalent than in others, and that the former individuals had the right to use their gifts and talents for the benefit of others. Interestingly enough, this concept of an aristocracy was also propounded by Aristotle (who was a student of Plato) and who preferred this form of government. Steinberger (1989) observed that "According to Arendt, Plato's concept of ruling is very likely his most substantial…contribution to the political life of the West" (1207).

After establishing the fact that goodness was the predominant trait that justified the philosopher rulers and their right to govern society in Socrates' philosophy, it is important to realize that one of the most potent similarities between this idea and that of the Allegory of the Cave is the magnitude of the importance the philosopher ascribed to this concept. Socrates' notion of goodness exceeds conceptions of adhering to specific behavior and doing what one is told. Rather, it is an alignment between virtue and truth and honesty -- a knowledge of what is innately right and a charge to utilize that right for the benefit of society. Thus, Socrates ultimately likes this concept of goodness to the sun (Plato), and believes that it is that illuminating, that dominant, and that transformative in the effect that it produces in the lives of the philosopher rulers and the subjects they rule. Similarly, the metaphor of the sun as a source of goodness is also utilize within the Allegory of the Cave, and in fact is the power behind that allegory. In this part of the Republic the philosopher tells an allegorical tale in which most men -- governed by physical desire and immoral behavior -- are effectively blind to the sun, and have never seen or felt the true source of goodness that animates the universe. Instead, they are like people who dwell in a cave that obscures the light of the sun, night and day. The closest these people come to knowing the truth about their existence and themselves is when they see muted shadows: not the true source of light/goodness, but only its diluted effects. He goes on to argue that the only ones to truly live in the light, to know goodness...


The philosopher believed that most people were living their lives in a form of a moral darkness because they were not exposed to, or could not understand, the source of truth and goodness (Morris 415-416). However, he believed that the philosopher rulers were able to comprehend the source of knowledge, goodness, and truth, and to deal with it accordingly so that they could help others. The final point of explication that is required to understand the philosopher rulers is the fact that they were part of a hierarchy of society that Socrates advocated. The reason that he proffered the concept of what amounts to an aristocracy is that he essentially codified society into three different levels. At the top were the philosopher rulers, the so-called guardians of truth and good for mankind. Beneath them were the warrior class -- those who engaged in the physical protection of a particular society. This class is akin to the armed forces. Finally, beneath them were the common laborers, who were to work in whatever field of specialty for which they were best suited (Plato). As such, the preeminence of the philosopher rulers is readily apparent -- they were responsible for providing the moral and virtuous stewardship of the rest of society, because they had a degree of discernment and insight that was beyond those of the other members of society.

In assessing the contribution of Socrates to the philosophical tradition, it is first necessary to denote that such a tradition did not begin with Socrates, Greece, or even Western society in general. The unifying concept between Socrates' conception of the philosopher rulers and the Allegory of the Cave is that goodness is an integral aspect of human life and understanding, and that only certain people are able to fully comprehend it and use it accordingly. This notion of goodness as occupying a central place in philosophy was advocated, however, long before Socrates in certain branches of eastern philosophy. Confucius, for example, often refers to the idea of virtue and the civilizing and moralizing aspect it produces on society (Confucius). It is unclear whether or not Socrates ever directly interacted with the texts of Confucius or the philosophy espoused by the latter, but Socrates' preoccupation with goodness as evinced through his concepts of the philosopher rulers and the Allegory of the Cave is merely the continuation of lengthy trend in this field.

Still, the contribution that Socrates made to the philosophical tradition regarding goodness is pivotal in that it produced a profound impact on Western philosophy. The separate connotations that Socrates associated with goodness are indicative of this fact. On the one hand, he helped to form the notion in Western thought that there is a selfless quality to goodness, and that true goodness is produced when one is able to help others. This idea is certainly reflected in philosophy existent today. One simply has to consider the notion of utilitarianism to understand the relevance of this concept that was at the core of the Socrates's ideas of the philosopher ruler and the Allegory of the Cave. Utilitarianism, as most widely popularized by Jeremy Bentham and Jonathan Stuart Mill, considers a particular action good if it can produce a degree of utility. The sort of good produced is able to be categorized -- that which involves other people and the greatest amount of other people is often the course of action that is good. Additionally, Socrates is credited with advancing a degree of similarity between the notion of goodness and morality. That which is good or virtuous, is that which is morally acceptable. The goodness that animated the philosopher rulers and that is discussed in the Allegory of the Cave is a key part of morality. This idea is also reflected in Utilitarianism and the notion of morality that is associated with the utility of an action.

Finally, it is important to realize that through the concepts of philosopher rulers and the Allegory of the Cave, Socrates also espoused a political aspect of philosophy. This contribution is significant to philosophy, although in contemporary times it is not demonstrated as powerfully as it was during the times which first Socrates, and the Aristotle, advocated the deployment of aristocracies for government. Nonetheless, the true value in this aspect of Socrates' ideas is that concepts of goodness, honesty and truth are not merely theoretical. Part o the reason that he was advancing these ideas is so they could be used for the good of society as a whole. The most effectively way to do that was to implement them through politics. Although not applied in the same way that Socrates originally intended it to be so, this idea continue in modern times somewhat. People do hold politicians to certain moral standards. There is a loose relationship between…

Sources Used in Documents:

Works Cited

Plato. The Republic. 360 B.C.E. Web.

Confucius. The Analects. Project Gutenberg. Web.

Duncan, Christopher, Steinberger, Peter. "Plato's Paradox? Guardians and Philosopher-Kings." The American Political Science Review. 84(4), 1317-1322.

Morris, T.F. "Plato's Cave." South African Journal of Philosophy. 28(4), 415-432.

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