The Cave Dwellers – Plato, Leadership Part 5

 

Ande & Ghandhi

Dr Ande Elisha Posing with The Statue of Mahatma Gandhi – Parliament Square London

Introduction

Any one who has common sense will remember that the bewilderments of the eyes are of two kinds, and arise from two causes, either from coming out of the light or from going into the light, which is true of the mind’s eye, quite as much as of the bodily eye; and he who remembers this when he sees any one whose vision is perplexed and weak, will not be too ready to laugh; he will first ask whether that soul of man has come out of the brighter life, and is unable to see because unaccustomed to the dark, or having turned from darkness to the day is dazzled by excess of light.

But then, if I am right, certain professors of education must be wrong when they say that they can put a knowledge into the soul which was not there before, like sight into blind eyes.

Did you never observe the narrow intelligence flashing from the keen eye of a clever rogue—how eager he is, how clearly his paltry soul sees the way to his end; he is the reverse of blind, but his keen eye-sight is forced into the service of evil, and he is mischievous in proportion to his cleverness?

Excerpts From: Plato. “The Republic.” iBooks.

The story of the cave dwellers was narrated by Socrates. In his usual style, he uses a simple analogy to get very deep. In this story he attempts to tell us of the limitations of what we perceive to be reality. Our perception of reality usually affects our interpretation of justice, and indeed our whole existence. The pain in the eye when adjusting to light from darkness, can be likened to the pain or distress felt, when something we have always thought to be true turns out the opposite. It is never a pleasant feeling at the time. With the passage of time however, we appreciate our new discovery. The hardest part of all this, some may argue is that how do you know that this new discovery is the truth, and not merely a different shadow from a different perspective? As a matter of fact, this can be not only controversial but also dangerous, with the risk of the truly illuminated being termed deviants, and in some cases can lead to loss of life. Further in the Republic, Socrates stated that the contrasting views between those who have seen the light, and those still living in caves and knowing only the shadows of reality, can be so great that those living in caves will seek to restrain any of their fellow brethren who seeks to leave the cave towards the light in the future. They assume they are doing such fellow a favour, lest he becomes like the other who has seen the light and now adjudged to be blind. As thankless as the venture of true illumination is, Socrates encourages it, and what’s more, he advises those who have seen the light not to remain in the upper world, but must go back into the cave to help their brethren. They go back into the cave with the full knowledge that they are in better place, but need to involve in cave matters for the sake of humanity. This is the hallmark of true education, and indeed this should help solve the puzzle of ascertaining who has really seen the light. To expatiate, let me say Socrates did not just give the allegory to describe a phenomenon which we should know by common sense; he concluded it in the context of who should be a leader in the State – one whom you can see that from his education, experience, past records and other endeavours has a good understanding, a successful life and will not seek to gain purpose only from political office.

The Allegory

And now, I said, let me show in a figure how far our nature is enlightened or unenlightened:—Behold! human beings living in an underground den, which has a mouth open towards the light and reaching all along the den; here they have been from their childhood, and have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see before them, being prevented by the chains from turning round their heads. Above and behind them a fire is blazing at a distance, and between the fire and the prisoners there is a raised way; and you will see, if you look, a low wall built along the way, like the screen which marionette players have in front of them, over which they show the puppets. 

I see.

And do you see, I said, men passing along the wall carrying all sorts of vessels, and statues and figures of animals made of wood and stone and various materials, which appear over the wall? Some of them are talking, others silent.

You have shown me a strange image, and they are strange prisoners.

Like ourselves, I replied; and they see only their own shadows, or the shadows of one another, which the fire throws on the opposite wall of the cave?

True, he said; how could they see anything but the shadows if they were never allowed to move their heads?”

“And of the objects which are being carried in like manner they would only see the shadows? 

Yes, he said.

And if they were able to converse with one another, would they not suppose that they were naming what was actually before them?

Very true.

And suppose further that the prison had an echo which came from the other side, would they not be sure to fancy when one of the passers-by spoke that the voice which they heard came from the passing shadow?

No question, he replied.

To them, I said, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images.

That is certain.

And now look again, and see what will naturally follow if the prisoners are released and disabused of their error. At first, when any of them is liberated and compelled suddenly to stand up and turn his neck round and walk and look towards the light, he will suffer sharp pains; the glare will distress him, and he will be unable to see the realities of which in his former state he had seen the shadows; and then conceive some one saying to him, that what he saw before was an illusion, but that now, when he is approaching nearer to being and his eye is turned towards more real existence, he has a clearer vision,—what will be his reply? And you may further imagine that his instructor is pointing to the objects as they pass and requiring him to name them,—will he not be perplexed? Will he not fancy that the shadows which he formerly saw are truer than the objects which are now shown to him?

Far truer.

And if he is compelled to look straight at the light, will he not have a pain in his eyes which will make him turn away to take refuge in the objects of vision which he can see, and which he will conceive to be in reality clearer than the things which are now being shown to him?

True, he said.

And suppose once more, that he is reluctantly dragged up a steep and rugged ascent, and held fast until he is forced into the presence of the sun himself, is he not likely to be pained and irritated? When he approaches the light his eyes will be dazzled, and he will not be able to see anything at all of what are now called realities.

Not all in a moment, he said.

He will require to grow accustomed to the sight of the upper world. And first he will see the shadows best, next the reflections of men and other objects in the water, and then the objects themselves; then he will gaze upon the light of the moon and the stars and the spangled heaven; and he will see the sky and the stars by night better than the sun or the light of the sun by day?

Certainly.

Last of all he will be able to see the sun, and not mere reflections of him in the water, but he will see him in his own proper place, and not in another; and he will contemplate him as he is.

Certainly.”

Excerpt From: Plato. “The Republic.” iBooks.

plato-allegory-of-the-cave

Allegory of the Cave Dwellers – Google Images

The Realization

And when he remembered his old habitation, and the wisdom of the den and his fellow-prisoners, do you not suppose that he would felicitate himself on the change, and pity them?

Certainly, he would.

And if they were in the habit of conferring honours among themselves on those who were quickest to observe the passing shadows and to remark which of them went before, and which followed after, and which were together; and who were therefore best able to draw conclusions as to the future, do you think that he would care for such honours and glories, or envy the possessors of them? Would he not say with Homer,

‘Better to be the poor servant of a poor master,’

and to endure anything, rather than think as they do and live after their manner?

Yes, he said, I think that he would rather suffer anything than entertain these false notions and live in this miserable manner.

Excerpt From: Plato. “The Republic.” iBooks.

Conclusion of the matter

Observe, Glaucon, that there will be no injustice in compelling our philosophers to have a care and providence of others; we shall explain to them that in other States, men of their class are not obliged to share in the toils of politics: and this is reasonable, for they grow up at their own sweet will, and the government would rather not have them. Being self-taught, they cannot be expected to show any gratitude for a culture which they have never received. But we have brought you into the world to be rulers of the hive, kings of yourselves and of the other citizens, and have educated you far better and more perfectly than they have been educated, and you are better able to share in the double duty. Wherefore each of you, when his turn comes, must go down to the general underground abode, and get the habit of seeing in the dark. When you have acquired the habit, you will see ten thousand times better than the inhabitants of the den, and you will know what the several images are, and what they represent, because you have seen the beautiful and just and good in their truth. And thus our State, which is also yours, will be a reality, and not a dream only, and will be administered in a spirit unlike that of other States, in which men fight with one another about shadows only and are distracted in the struggle for power, which in their eyes is a great good. Whereas the truth is that the State in which the rulers are most reluctant to govern is always the best and most quietly governed, and the State in which they are most eager, the worst.

Quite true, he replied.

Excerpt From: Plato. “The Republic.” iBooks.

And the only life which looks down upon the life of political ambition is that of true philosophy. Do you know of any other?

Indeed, I do not, he said.

Excerpt From: Plato. “The Republic.” iBooks.

Who then are those whom we shall compel to be guardians? Surely they will be the men who are wisest about affairs of State, and by whom the State is best administered, and who at the same time have other honours and another and a better life than that of politics?

They are the men, and I will choose them, he replied.

Excerpt From: Plato. “The Republic.” iBooks.

In today’s world, the question to us is, how do we choose our leaders; and how many of those who have moved up to the upper world, and seen the light are going back into the cave with all the risks associated to help the inmates?

Illustration of Roman Court

Illustration of Ancient Roman Courts – Google Images

Dr Andebutop Elisha

The Amateur Philosopher

 

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