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He then makes a significant transition from this hypothetical example by claiming that it applies to real life. Plato begins to make this transition on page 453 when he writes, “this entire allegory, I said, you may now append, dear Glaucon, to the previous argument.”

Plato is involving a little bit of trickery here by convincing the readers with the allegory and then leaping into his real agenda with how we should view the world and the state, using the allegory as the foundation for it. He is basically using an ancient version of the bait-and-switch scam. He baits us by using a plausible hypothetical allegory and switches by diving into his philosophical agenda without giving logical reasons for the transition.

This piece is not a hard-and-fast philosophical argument. It is an allegory, a hypothetical situation, an illustration at best. In order to assert that the allegory relates directly to real life, Plato should have given us some concrete evidence for that transition. A true philosophical argument is built upon a priori logic and reasoning, and potentially empirical fact.

A true argument is built by presenting specific reasons for believing X (his assertions about the state). Plato could have said, “I believe X on the basis of A and B.” Instead, he says, “Assume A. If A, then B. B equates to R, where R is real life. If B, then X.” The issue with the argumentation is that he does not give us reasons--empirical, a priori, or otherwise--to believe that B equates to R. In order to find this argument convincing, we should require Plato to provide additional reasons C and D to show that the move “B equates to R” is justified. So while “The Allegory of the Cave” might give evidence for what he is talking about, it is by no means a solid argument that an entire metaphysical and epistemological view of the world should be based off of.

There are additional ways in which the real-life application of the allegory breaks down. Plato does not take the time to tell us how some of the specific items in the allegory translate to real life. In the allegory, the prisoners were restrained in such a way that they could not deduce the truth of their circumstances.

Plato says that most people live in such a way, but he does not specify how exactly they are restrained. Apparently, they must be able to seek the light in some way because one man is able to do so.

Plato does not answer several obvious questions: Why are others not able to do the same thing? Who was the first person to reach true enlightenment? Is achieving enlightenment a one-time event: do you understand the true world of the forms and then have a true understanding of all knowledge?

Also, the allegory seems patently unrelated to issues of the state. “The Allegory of the Cave” discusses enlightenment and the search for knowledge, by Plato’s own admission. Yet he wants to take the allegory and make specific applications in regards to government and politics. While this makes sense as far as philosophers and enlightenment are concerned, it does not seem to bear directly on the issues that he wish it would.

“The Allegory of the Cave” is an important text that still has the potential to stimulate introspection about our nation, the world, and the nature of reality even in the year 2012. However, it is far from a conclusive argument for “the world of forms.” Plato has a very specific rhetorical purpose and target audience, and he uses a somewhat devious rhetorical strategy to attempt to sway them to his viewpoint. Despite a convincing analogy, the leap from the analogy to the practical life applications is largely unwarranted. If Plato was to make “The Allegory of the Cave” a truly effective argument, he should have given us some sort of concrete reasons to think that his transition was warranted.

Works Cited

Plato. “The Allegory of the Cave.” A World of Ideas: Essential Readings for College Writers. Ed. Lee A. Jacobus. Bedford/St. Martin’s: Boston, 2010. 449-457. Print.

1 response to "Plato's "The Allegory of the Cave": Philosopher Kings and Philosophy Gone Wrong, Part 2"

  1. Thank you for this insightful and convicting post. It has provided me with much to think about and to inform others.

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