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pol 200 notes on the cave-the republic.docx

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University of Toronto St. George
Political Science
Clifford Orwin

Book 7 begins with the third and cumulative image, the cave. It will incorporate the ontological and epistemological doctrines of the first two images and include political and educational dimensions. With these last two, it brings into play all three levels of the Republic, that is, logos, mythos, and ergon. First, we should note the structure of the cave (514a-15a; 516a-c) as a sort of underground "theater." Starting from the bottom, we see 1) the screen; 2) the chained prisoners; 3) the "projection room" with its barrier, puppets, puppet masters, and fire for light source; 4) the path out of the cave; 5) the reflecting pool outside; 6) the objects outside; 7) the sun as outside light source. 1-3 correspond to the lower section of the divided line; 4 to education; 5-7 to the upper section. More on this later. Second, we see the political implications of the cave as an allegory for the "unexamined life" (515a-c). Here we see the mythic or image level of the text. Remember the Piraeus as "going down" into slums or even into Hades. Living chained in the cave looking at shadows on the wall is like living with unexamined cultural presuppositions. The people on puppet master duty are the political leaders, manipulating the people by appealing to cultural myths. If this were the just city, the puppets would be "noble lies" and the puppet masters would be philosopher-kings on political duty; if an unjust city, then the puppets would be stereotypes, prejudices, etc. and the puppet masters professional politicians, working for tyrants, etc. Plato includes two returns to the city for the philosophically initiated. The first is motivated by pity and ends in disaster (516c-17a), as the enthusiastic neophyte tries to straightforwardly de- mystify the world for his fellow prisoners; remember the fate of Socrates. The second is motivated by fear of being governed by those worse (519d-21b); it is said to be done under compulsion and as a duty. What would the philosopher-kings rather be doing? Being just plain philosophers, living up above all the time. Third, we see the epistemological/ontological meaning of the cave (517b-c). Here the philosopher-kings are on research duty as it were. They have to make sure their political judgments are attuned with the structure of the universe. Thus up above, the sun represents the form of the Good; being able to understand its role in the intelligible order ensures that they have an understanding of the whole and the polis as part of the whole, each obeying the principle of unity. The upper world is the world seen through teleological explanantion, not just the mechanical explanation (=guessing what shadow comes next available to the cave prisoners). Hence we can maintain a one- world interpretation: the "upper world" is just our world seen philosophically rather than on the basis of everyday unquestioned cultural presuppositions. However, remember that to what extent
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