Republic of Plato Essay - Ignorance, and Philosophical Conflict

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William Orletsky

May 1, 2014

Ms. McCluskey

Republic of Plato Essay

Ignorance, and Philosophical Conflict

        As a lover of learning, seeker of the constants in life, searcher of wisdom, the Platonic philosopher appears to have a very straightforward and uncomplicated life. However, his two images that build this harmonized figure also reveal the conflicting forces within the philosopher himself. In the city in speech, the philosopher rises from the ignorant masses, separated under the Noble Lie, ad is educated and made to serve to city as its king. In the metaphor of the cave, the philosopher is dragged out from blissful ignorance by benevolent superiors, which he in turn repeats for the others in the cave without discrimination, pitying all whom are ignorant. These different portrayals of ignorance between the images of the philosopher represent the emotional conflicts within the philosopher himself. This parallel appears in the philosopher’s self-image, his learning process, and his relation to society.

        Between the philosopher of the city and the philosopher of the cave, the nature of the ignorance of the masses is separated by the restrictions imposed upon the people in each image. In the city, the citizens are born under the Noble Lie, separated at as youths into their appropriate classes, and ensuring that the justice of the minding one’s business is maintained. In the cave, the individuals undergo no separation, but rather all are stuck in ignorance. The internal conflict of a philosopher’s self-image appears under these conflicting view of ignorance. This separation results from the differing natures of ignorance in these two settings. In the city in speech, the element of ignorance is inherent for the lower ranked citizens, separated through the Noble Lie. In case of philosophic children, “in all these labors, studies, and fears, the boy who shows himself always readiest must be chosen to join a select number” (537 a). The philosophic youths are separated into the dialectical philosophic path of education when their component metal is evident through their behavior, while the other classes are discerned similarly. For the rest of their lives, they will remain in that class whether workers, guardians or philosophers. Any ignorance that separates them from being chosen for philosophy and reaching the truth is inherent and unchangeable. Under the Noble Lie, the philosophers are fundamentally different from the majority of the population. The system of the city in speech treats ignorance as one of the many endpoints possible for the citizens. Meanwhile, the setting of the cave results in a much different mentality. Because the prisoners know nothing other than the shadows, "such men would hold that the truth is nothing other than the shadows of artificial things" (515 c). In the cave, there is no lie that separates and chooses from the masses. Rather, all of the prisoners are equally ignorant. In this image, the prisoner's ignorance, although similar to that of the citizens, has crucially different nature. While the ignorance in the city was an endpoint, the ignorance of the prisoners is a beginning common to all. For him that is enlightened with the truth, after seeing the change, "he would consider himself happy and pity the others" (516 c). The pity of the enlighten man extends to all that are still in the cave. This element of ignorance is not an end, but rather a starting point where all begin and all have the potential to reach the truth through outside help. From these two images, the philosopher can view himself two radically different ways depending on his attitude of ignorance. If he judges the degrees of ignorance and wisdom to be innate, he will count his blessings as being born into the lucky rank that can comprehend the constants of life. As a result of this belief, the philosopher will also feel a strong separation or division from the masses, not unlike the imaginary separation preached by the Noble Lie itself, as he sees himself to be fundamentally different than the others. However, if the philosopher associates with the image of the cave, he does not nearly as strongly feel this superiority. Given that he was simply chosen to be dragged from the cave, he knows he is fundamentally the same as the ignorant masses. The blessings that the philosopher of the cave counts is that he was lucky enough to have been the one dragged out, rather the one still left in the cave. This philosopher then feels a connection with the masses rather than a separation. Whether he feels to be superior or equal to the people depends on which view of ignorance he associates with the most.

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While these conflicting images influence the philosopher's self-image, they also reveal different aspects of learning philosophy. In the process of education of the philosopher, the  conflicting views of ignorance reflect the internal conflict of the philosopher's learning process. In the city, the youths are tested to reveal their natures and roles in the city to "show themselves to be lovers of the city, tested in pleasures and pains, and that they must show that they cast out this conviction in labors or fears or any other reverse" (503 a). In this process, the best are chosen out of all the ...

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