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Christopher Otero
Maya Alapin
English 120
7 October 2014

Platos Cave Parable: Political Commentary
Plato's cave parable is one of the many social criticisms from Plato that particularly
focuses on education and ignorance. Plato tells readers a story about three prisoners chained
from birth that only see the shadows in cave, but one day one is released and he tries to tell his
friends about the outside world, but they ignore every word. It is easy to take this parable just as
a parable of ignorance, but Plato was not that kind of a philosopher. This parable is more of a
political commentary and every piece in his story is symbolic of something in the real world.
The first piece that must be analyzed in Platos cave parable is a charter that only appears
briefly, the jailer. Plato is very famous for doing political commentary; due to this we can
assume the jailer is the government. From here we begin to draw parallels between the two
charters. The jailer is given all the power and he begins his rule by keeping 3 people completely
uneducated. This symbolizes the government not allowing the poor to be able to educated,
because the jailer actually chains them to see only what he want them to see. Peter Losin pointed
the projections only being figmentations of reality, but the prisoners accept it because they know
nothing else (Losin 51). This statement helped build up the evidence that the government was
forcing the people to live in a deprived state of ignorance.
The interesting piece of the story is when one of the prisoners is freed, or when one of the
people is educated. The freed prisoners mind is open to a whole new world with color and tries
to explain this to his prisoner friends yet they reject it. Plato is demonstrating the nature of man
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to accept things that are only within their reach. The other prisoners only see projections of the
real world and accept them as true, because they cannot comprehend anything else. Similarly in
Platos time the idea of any social mobility or enlightenment was a very foreign concept. There
were still people as slaves doing wretched tasks, how could anyone comprehend ideas that had
vivid colors and ideals when the world was black and white? This message still transcends
through time. It is not uncommon for a scientist or free thinker to be considered crazy when they
publish any work. It is normal for a scientist to receive notoriety they deserved for their genus
long after their death. The only people that gain the credit they deserve in their lifetime are
people that can show the common man how something revolutionary works. In Platos extreme
discussion, the freed prisoner needed to explain colors, people, and nature to people that have
only seen shadows their whole life. In Platos political commentary he emphasizes that the
general public needed an education just to understand color. He is saying that general education
is necessary in order to propel society forward.
The last tidbit Plato threw into this commentary was that once the prisoner/uneducated
learns, they will try to teach others. The problem now beings to loop in Platos story due to one
factor which is the chains. The chains that were placed by the jailer not only inhibit movement
but the ability to learn. Its not until the prisoners are freed that they can know the world that lies
outside the cave walls. In Platos time it is understandable that his argument would be
counterproductive, because the government did want to keep a tiered class system. In this
particular story he does not provide any benefit to the world for these people being educated.
These people would just have the ability to be able know what colors are and try to spread this
idea to other people. Kaja Silverman was very intrigued by this topic and wrote an article about
seeing for that sake of seeing calling it a human right, but unfortunately the world is a place more
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concerned about results than it is about philosophy (Silverman 22-37). This is why this particular
parable is written for philosopher. It still contains the social commentary about education but
explains the life of a free thinker trying to share his knowledge with his people. This is more or
less looking at the glass half empty, but it is hard to see a positive side to this story because it has
no significant good inside of it. Today people teaching other people is seen as a good thing
to do, but at the time Plato wrote this, it was better to have men working than it was to have men
thinking.
The Republic Book 7 is a conceit that describes the chains that the government puts on
man in order deny the world around them. The prisoners are the common man that are set free
and show that once they are enlightened about the world around them they will only continue to
pass on what they have learned. This political commentary was Platos interpretation of the
problem and theory of what would happen if the public was educated. It is very interesting to
observe this metaphor and how develops, but relishes in the idea of being a concept and does not
try to fight for any ground in any argument.


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Works Cited
Losin, Peter. "Education and Plato's Parable of the Cave." N.p., 2001. Web.
Silverman, Kaja. World Spectators. Stanford: Stanford UP, 2000. Print.