Simple Republic Book 7a

Unenlightened Humans

Let me show in a figure how far our nature is enlightened or unenlightened:—Behold!

  • Human beings living in a underground den, which has a mouth open towards the light and reaching all along the den.
  • Here they have been from their childhood.
  • They have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move.
  • They can only see before them, being prevented by the chains from moving their heads.
  • Above and behind them a fire is blazing at a distance.
  • Between the fire and the prisoners there is a raised way.
  • You will see a low wall built along the way, like the screen which marionette players have in front of them, over which they show the puppets.
  • Men pass along the wall carrying all sorts of vessels, 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.
  • They see only their own shadows and those of the objects being carried..

Glaucon: How could they see anything but the shadows if they were never allowed to move their heads?

If they could converse with one another, they would suppose that they were naming what was actually before them.

  • Suppose further that the prison had an echo coming from the other side.
  • They would imagine that when one of the passers-by spoke, the voice which they heard came from the passing shadow.
  • To them, the truth would be literally be the shadows of the images.
  • What will happen if the prisoners are released?
    • At first, he will suffer sharp pains from being able to stand up and turn his neck and walk towards the light.
    • The glare will distress him.
    • He will see that his previous realities were shadows.
    • Someone will say to him that what he saw before was an illusion.
    • His instructor is pointing to the objects as they pass and requiring him to name them.
    • He will be perplexed.
    • He will imagine that the shadows which he formerly saw are truer than the objects now shown to him.
    • He will have a pain in his eyes from looking at the light.
    • He will turn away to take refuge in the objects of vision which he can see.
    • He will conceive those objects to be clearer than the things now being shown to him.
    • He will be pained and irritated if he is reluctantly dragged up an ascent and held fast into the presence of the sun.
    • When he approaches the light, his eyes will be dazzled.
    • He will not be able to see anything at all of what are now called realities.
    • He will need to be accustomed to the sight of the upper world.
      • First, he will see the shadows best.
      • Next, he will see 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.
      • He will see the sky and the stars by night better than the sun or the light of the sun by day.
      • 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.
      • He will then proceed to argue that this is he who gives the season and the years, and is the guardian of all that is in the visible world, and in a certain way the cause of all things which he and his fellows have been accustomed to behold?

Clearly, he would first see the sun and then reason about him.

When he remembered his old habitation, and the wisdom of the den and his fellow-prisoners, he would be happy at the change, and pity them?

  • 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.
  • 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?
  • He would say with Homer:
    • 'Better to be the poor servant of a poor master,'
    • To endure anything, rather than think as they do and live after their manner?

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

Imagine once more, I said, such an one coming suddenly out of the sun to be replaced in his old situation.

  • Would he not be certain to have his eyes full of darkness?
  • If there were a contest, and he had to compete in measuring the shadows with the prisoners who had never moved out of the den, while his sight was still weak, and before his eyes had become steady (and the time which would be needed to acquire this new habit of sight might be very considerable), would he not be ridiculous?
  • Men would say of him:
    • that up he went and down he came without his eyes, and
    • that it was better not even to think of ascending.
  • If anyone tried to loose another and lead him up to the light, they would only catch the offender and kill him.
  • You can now add this allegory to the previous argument.
    • The prison-house is the world of sight.
    • The light of the fire is the sun.
    • You will not misapprehend me if you interpret the journey upwards to be the ascent of the soul into the intellectual world according to my poor belief, which could be wrong or right.
    • I think that in the world of knowledge, the idea of good appears last of all, and is seen only with effort.
    • When seen, it is also inferred to be the universal author of all things beautiful and right, parent of light and of the lord of light in this visible world, and the immediate source of reason and truth in the intellectual.
    • This is the power upon which he who would act rationally either in public or private life must have his eye fixed.
  • Moreover, you must not wonder that those who attain to this beatific vision are unwilling to descend to human affairs.
    • For their souls are ever hastening into the upper world where they desire to dwell.
  • There is nothing surprising in one who passes from divine contemplations to the evil state of man, misbehaving himself in a ridiculous way, if, while his eyes are blinking and before he has become used to the darkness, he is compelled to fight in courts of law around the shadows of images of justice, and is trying to meet the conceptions of those who have never yet seen absolute justice.
  • The bewilderments of the eyes are of two kinds from two causes:
    • 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.
  • 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.
    • He will count the one happy in his condition and state of being.
    • He will pity the other.
    • Or, if he has a mind to laugh at the soul which comes from below into the light, there will be more reason in this than in the laugh which greets him who returns from above out of the light into the den.
  • But then, 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.
  • Whereas, our argument shows:
    • that the power and capacity of learning exists in the soul already, and
    • that just as the eye was unable to turn from darkness to light without the whole body, so too the instrument of knowledge can only be turned from the world of becoming into that of being, through the movement of the whole soul.
    • It can then learn gradually to endure the sight of being, and of the brightest and best of being, or in other words, of the good.
  • There is some art that will effect conversion in the easiest and quickest manner.
    • It will not implant the faculty of sight, for that exists already.
    • The sight has merely been turned in the wrong direction, and is looking away from the truth.
    • Whereas the other so-called virtues of the soul seem to be akin to bodily qualities.
      • For even when they are not originally innate they can be implanted later by habit and exercise.
      • The virtue of wisdom contains a divine element which always remains.
      • By this conversion, wisdom is rendered useful and profitable or, on the other hand, hurtful and useless.
  • A clever rogue has the narrow intelligence flashing from his keen eye.
    • He is so eager.
    • 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.
    • He is mischievous in proportion to his cleverness.
  • But what if there had been a circumcision of such natures in the days of their youth.
    • They had been severed from those sensual pleasures, such as eating and drinking, which, like leaden weights, were attached to them at their birth.
    • These drag them down and turn their souls to look below.
    • If they had been released from these impediments and turned in the opposite direction, their vision would have seen the truth as keenly.
  • This will cause both the uneducated and the educated to be incapable ministers of State.
    • The uneducated have no single aim of duty to rule their actions, private as well as public.
    • The educated will only act upon compulsion, fancying that they are already dwelling apart in the islands of the blest.
  • Then, the founders of the State must compel the best minds to attain that greatest of knowledge.
    • They must continue to ascend until they arrive at the good.
    • But when they have ascended and seen enough we must not allow them to do as they do now.
  • I mean that they remain in the upper world.
    • But this must not be allowed.
    • They must be made to descend again among the prisoners in the den, and partake of their labours and honours, whether they are worth having or not.

But this is unjust.

  • Should we give them a worse life, when they might have a better?

You have again forgotten the intention of the legislator, who did not aim at making any one class in the State happy above the rest.

  • The happiness was to be in the whole State.
  • He held the citizens together by persuasion and necessity, making them benefactors of the State, and therefore benefactors of one another.
  • To this end he created them, not to please themselves, but to be his instruments in binding up the State.
  • 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.
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • Will our pupils, when they hear this, refuse to take their turn at the toils of State, when they are allowed to spend the greater part of their time with one another in the heavenly light?

Impossible, for they are just men, and the commands which we impose upon them are just.

  • There can be no doubt that every one of them will take office as a stern necessity, and not after the fashion of our present rulers of State.

Yes, and there lies the point.

  • You must contrive for your future rulers another and a better life than that of a ruler, and then you may have a well-ordered State.
  • For only in the State which offers this, will they rule who are truly rich, not in silver and gold, but in virtue and wisdom, which are the true blessings of life.
  • Whereas if they go to the administration of public affairs, poor and hungering after their own private advantage, thinking that hence they are to snatch the chief good, order there can never be.
  • For they will be fighting about office, and the civil and domestic broils which thus arise will be the ruin of the rulers themselves and of the whole State.
  • The only life which looks down upon the life of political ambition is that of true philosophy.
  • Those who govern ought not to be lovers of the task?
  • For, if they are, there will be rival lovers, and they will fight.
  • 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.