The Republic of Plato
Background: It can be claimed without too much exaggeration that the “foundation” of the intellectual heritage of Western culture is Plato. This was captured in the twentieth century philosopher A. N. Whitehead’s aphorism that all of Western philosophy is a series of footnotes on Plato. Plato (c. 428-c. 347 BCE), who lived during a period of creative ferment in ancient Athens, was a student of Socrates (c. 470-399 BCE) and the teacher of Aristotle (c. 384-322 BCE). His achievement was not merely intellectually brilliant, but aesthetically as well in that he expressed his dialectical prowess by means of well-crafted and engagingly written “dialogues,” whose major protagonist usually was his revered teacher, Socrates.
The major feature of this selection is Plato’s famous “allegory of the cave.” To what does the “cave” refer? What are the “shadows”? What is the significance of seeing only shadows? Why do the characters in the allegory normally see only shadows? Why are they “prisoners”? (309)
Why is that, if one of the characters actually is allowed to see the light which is the source of the shadows, the individual will feel pain, be distressed, and prefer to turn back toward the shadows? (310)
What is the significance of having an individual “dragged up an ascent”? Why is it steep and rugged? Why does he have to be forced? What is necessary for the individual to be able to see objects outside the cave?
What is the purpose of considering the attitude of the individual toward those still remaining in the cave? (311) What is the point of the discussion about honors within the cave (including the passage from Homer)?
Why is that, if he returns to the cave, those who had never left would consider what this individual says to be ridiculous? Why would they even suggest putting to death someone who urged going up to the light as this individual did? (311)
What do you make of Plato’s claim about “professors of education” who try to put knowledge into the soul as opposed to awakening what is already there? (312)
What do these reflections of Plato have to do with the theme of this section? How would his reflections compare with points made by Bonaventure?