Plato's Political Philosophy


Plato’s allegory of the cave was among his most popular works. It reflects the difference between the life of knowledge and the lack of it. In the allegory, Plato explains the real world to his student, Glaucon. He uses a cave that has a small entrance that allows very little sunlight into the cave, and a wall that ensures that there is no sunlight that reaches the deeper end of the cave (Levinson, 1953). On this interior end, there are chained people who have faced the wall for the whole of their lives and they have never turned to face the side of the cave behind them. They have faced the wall for all their lives. The wall at the center of the cave divides the cave into two sections. In the first section, the cave caretaker carries out his daily chores and lights a big fire. When the caretaker passes between the fire and the deeper end of the cave, his shadows are cast on the wall that captives faced. They believe that shadows were actual things. Captives were also compelled to believe that shadows cast on the wall produced the sound due to the echo. Captives develop knowledge on the shadows and they can even compete on which shadow would come next and so on. Plato imagined what would happen if one of the captives was released and allowed to explore real situations (Levinson, 1953). He would even try to argue that things he would see were not real but shadows on the wall were. When this freed captive was allowed to move outside the cave to see the sunlight and the rest of the world, he would not believe it at first. He would wish to remain a poor servant in the real world and not a master of shadows inside the cave.

If this freed captive was taken back to the cave, he would have a bad vision and would become incompetent among other captives (Bosanquet, 1895). Other captives would condemn him as having lost his sight and would wish they never went outside themselves. If the freed captive tried to convince them that shadows were not real, they would kill him at the first chance they got. He would be treated as an outcast (Bosanquet, 1895). 

Significance of the Allegory to Plato’s Political Philosophy

In order to effectively discuss the significance of the allegory, it is crucial to determine the allegorical meaning of the myth. The dark cave represents the contemporary society while the chained captives represent the ignorant people. The shadows represent things that the ignorant people see and believe in and shadow casters represent actual things that cause the occurrence of things people see. The freed slave is a symbol of liberation and unacceptance at first symbolizes the gap between the reality and false hood of life. Though, the reality seems very close to visible things, they have a big difference. The world outside the cave is the fantasy world that can only be achieved through spiritual intervention, according to Plato (Bosanquet, 1895). With this in mind, people can now look into the significance of the allegory to Plato’s political philosophy.

Difference between Truth and Falsehood

A true philosophy is able to determine the difference between truthfulness and falsehood.  It is also able to identify social rights and wrongs, since these virtues and vices are well defined and elaborated. In his work, The Republic, Plato brings forth an argument that attempts to define the difference between justice and injustice (Nettleship, 1935). The question seems simple but all answers brought forth are somewhat questionable, as displayed by Socrates. He shows the complexities between the two and how thin the line between them is. In most states today, what is defined as justice may bring injustice to others, while Socrates argues that there is in no way that justice should bring suffering to anyone. A true political philosophy should have a clear definition of social good and social evil. The closeness of justice and injustice has been well represented in the Allegory of the cave due to the close likeness of the reality and falsehood of the shadow and objects that cause them. Captives are so close to know what real objects are, yet they are taken aback upon revelation of objects. If they have not experienced objects themselves, they would not listen to anyone of the opinion that there were such objects that ever existed. They believed in the shadows and anyone telling them anything else was considered an enemy and filled with corrupt and wayward thoughts. They would even kill such a person if they had the chance.

Perception Issue

Perception of issues around could be very deceiving. A true political philosophy should have the people perceive the reality with their senses (Annas, 1981). They should not just use some of their senses to know what was going on around them. Real perceptions require spiritual senses, since the correct truth is an extremely complex phenomenon that a person can undergo. Understanding the reality is very complex and cannot be easily unwoven. In the allegory, the freed captive required a special illumination of the mind, in order to start believing that shadows were not real and objects he saw were real. Other slaves only used their senses to see and hear but never employed their spiritual intervention; thus, remained in the dark. A political system should, therefore, follow a system where all senses are employed in running a political unit, in order for subjects to understand the reality of their territory.

The Ideal State

In his work, Republic, Plato describes the ideal state in the form of a city (Annas, 1981). In such an ideal city, Plato develops four regimes that people go through. These regimes include timocracy, where the rulers are selected according to the degree of their social honor. The second regime is oligarchy that arises from temptations of the people to choose between retaining honor and earning wealth. In the course of this, some other groups of people that consist of criminals and greedy people emerge.  Two classes of the rich and the poor are created and the two classes start to plot against each other (Cropsey, 1987). The third regime is democracy where the two classes formed during oligarchy exceed their tensions. The poor start rigorous movements to overthrow the inept oligarchs in order to protect the lowly places people. After the power is devolved to lowly placed people, they get drunk with it and start to abuse it leading to the emergence of tyranny, the fourth regime. Three groups emerge, of the commoners, elites and dominant people. The tug between the three as each tries to fight for their place in the society and escalates to bring social conflicts. In allegory, three classes can be represented by the people outside the cave to represent the dominant people, the cave caretaker to represent elites and captives to represent commoners in a tyrannical set-up.

The ideal city that Plato talks about can also be likened to the world outside the cave where the sun shines and green grass thrives besides flowing streams. The setting is filled with utopia but it shows the levels that people should go when social virtues, mainly justice are upheld. Plato was termed as the first communist after his philosophy of justice and equality for all, since all people in the world were equal (Nettleship, 1935). Such virtues can, however, occur after a spiritual illumination of the society that may be hard to occur, just like it was hard for the freed captive to believe that real objects were real and shadows unreal. 


Plato believed that the true philosophy was supposed to be followed by true education. He regarded spiritual knowledge as an integral part of education, since it brought out the socio-political illumination. He felt that people should learn the society by perceiving and making judgments and not solely through explanations from other scholars. In the allegory of the cave, the freed captive was given the chance to go out and learn by feeling and being part of the system. This was the most ideal way to illuminate the society.

A self learnt political system in a given country would be ideal in developing the ideal world or society that Plato talked about in his work. He believed that the society would get to understand the system of governance and they would easily uphold virtues of justice and equality (Cropsey, 1987). Uneducated society would result in to an unreasonable society that would not be able to keep equality, but the development of regimes that would eventually get to tyranny would develop after some time.


Evidently, Plato’s work is among the oldest and widely read by all generations. It has been applauded, since the ancient Greek period and up to date. His allegory of the cave was a very efficient and symbolic piece of work that can be used to explain a host of many issues that Plato thought about and supported. It can be elaborated in many social settings as it has been used in the paper to relate to Plato’s work to one of the oldest political philosophers.

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