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POL113H5 Lecture Notes - Alexis De Tocqueville, Proletariat, Political Philosophy

Political Science
Course Code
Mark Lippincott

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The Philosophic Roots of Modern Ideology
Chapter One: The Origins of Political Ideologies
Plato's cave: (from book 7 of The Republic)
Perhaps the most powerful and frightening of all metaphors in the history of
political philosophy
Insightful allegory about the dangers of domination and oppression, as well
as the equally perilous (hazardous) potentials of education and
Plato compares the effect of a certain kind of education, and the lack of it,
upon people who only know a life in a cave, shackled at the legs and
neck so they remain in place. A fire is lit behind and above them and
all they can see are the shadows of the men who lit the fire and all
they can hear are the men's voices. This leads them to believe that life
is made up of talking shadows and movement is not necessary.
People wonder why anyone would believe that all there is to life is what is in
front of them, but Plato claims that is the human condition. We are all
born into a condition where the meanings of the world are made for
us. Plato believes it is comfortable slavery where people who are
unknown to us, produce what we know and believe.
This results in the belief that the limited, artificial world we know (the world
of the shadows) is the entire world. This makes it extremely difficult to
become aware of our ignorance in relation to the broader world around
us, let alone become capable of discovering the difference (assuming
there is a difference) between truth and illusion.
Plato then suggests that if the prisoners were to be released they may be
blinded by the direct light, feels disoriented or frightened, walking

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would be extremely painful if even possible, and once freed from the
cave the prisoner wouldn't be able to understand even the simplest
Plato believed that the philosophic contemplation of the reality of ideas was
the highest form of reflection a human being could achieve.
In conclusion, the allegory suggests that although a philosopher's education
is fraught with difficulties, it is the odyssey one must endure to
become human, to become more fully aware of the imprisoned way of
life one has led in the past. One may long for the prior comfort and
security of fool's paradise, an illusion maybe, but where each question
was answered. (Which shadow will come next? How many shadows are
Everyone is prisoner is in the cave. Anyone whom is uneducated is unaware
of their state in the cave. The cave is not a realm of darkness, nor are
the prisoners in the cave blind. The use of some in the textbook is
inconsistent with the profs. beliefs of the story. The men that hold the
artefacts are very similar to an overhead projector; their only
significance is to evoke the minds of the prisoners. They are
universally deceived and diluted; there are no privilege positions. Plato
says we would all be like this in the absence of education, including
There is an exit out of the cave, a long hard path to the sun. But they think
all of reality is explained by the shadows on the wall. The environment
(the cave itself) creates this illusion. "You do not try to escape a prison
that you don't know you're in" -prof.
There are several blinding moments for Plato's prisoners. When they look at
the fire, when they are on the dark path out of the cave, when they
are exposed to the sun.
Any prisoner who returns to the cave with be disinterested in the shadows

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after seeing reality. But this prisoner would be ridiculed for being
different, and believing there's more to life than the shadows. This
person will try and make his fellow prisoners come with him. Once you
are educated and unbound, you can predict what shadow will come
next because you can turn around and see! The released prisoner
could revolutionize the cave itself and change its ways.
We are not born into a neutral environment, we are born into ideologies. So
if a prisoner wanted to change the ways of the cave, he must mobilize
people to deny the original ideology and accept a new one. Ideologies
are not false, they are contested and alternative versions of reality
(half truths). Ideologies are a simplification of truth, have broad-based
mass appeal and are logically inconsistent. The more illogical they are
in terms of their core beliefs, the more powerful they can be. The more
you invest into the ideology/the higher the cost for acceptance, the
more belief you will have.
The only way you can get insight into your own belief is by comparing it to
others. We don't need tolerance, diversity of thought, freedom of
speech, exposure to other cultures, etc; to make us more
The demon of presumed knowledge must be tested out. Don't fall for its
beliefs, find out for yourself. Than you'll have a better idea of what you
know and believe, what you know and don't believe and what you
believe and do not know.
Ideologies do not carry the same burden as political theory. They are
building a philosophic vision of politics.
Cannot get learned crap out of are heads unless we are jarred by an outside
Most people do not think of themselves as invalid. We can admit that we
make mistakes, but deep down inside we want to think we are
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