Plato’s Cave

Plato's CaveA Greek philosopher, Plato lived in the years around 400 BC. He is noted for many ideas, some of which usually emerge in a discussion of education.

In one of his works, The Republic, he defines his just society. In it he presents what has come to be called the Allegory of the Cave.

According to Plato the cave is occupied by slaves who are chained so that they face the inner wall and cannot see outside the cave. There is a fire behind them that causes the life outside to be reflected on the wall. As a result the slaves can only see the shapes or outlines of all real life as they are reflected on the wall. If a slave one day escapes and goes outside he will see the real world of plants and animals and all other things. If he decides to re-enter the cave and enlighten his fellow slaves he may risk his life since his message may threaten the slaves’ hardened view of reality.

In Plato’s just society there are three groups of citizens.

The producers

  • are in all professions other than warrior and ruler,
  • have no share in ruling, but merely obey what the rulers decree.

The auxiliaries are

  • the warriors,
  • responsible for defending the city from invaders, and for keeping the peace at home,
  • must enforce the convictions of the guardians, and ensure that the producers obey.

By age thirty-five, after an appropriate education, which includes mathematics, gymnastics, and the techniques of philosophical discovery, the auxiliaries are ready to educate the producer class and “lead them from the cave”. By age fifty they are ready to join the guardian class.

The guardians are

  • responsible for ruling the city,
  • are known as philosopher-kings.

In Plato’s model, society is permanently stratified and power is in the hands of the philosopher-kings.

Some have suggested that today’s ubiquitous digital screens may be causing viewers to see only the shapes of the world’s reality.