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Higher Purpose
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As Crazy As They
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Different Shades, Same Color
A Rose for a Funeral
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Obsessed With Race

     In both his "Apology" and "Allegory of the Cave," Plato makes some strong remarks about his ideas involving the correct path to "the good." He involves philosophies on education, interaction, individuality, and human nature to make his statements of what the correct path to "enlightenment" should be. His example seems to reflect quite favorably in the Athenian way of life, while the opposing Spartan lifestyle is left in disagreement.

     The contrasting educational methods of the Spartans and the Athenians are a major cornerstone in Plato’s idea of enlightenment, as he states, "…we must conclude that education is not what it is said to be by some, who profess to put knowledge into a soul which does not possess it, as if they could put sight into blind eyes (Plato 232)." According to Thucydides’ "Funeral Oration by Pericles," Athenian philosophy of education did not include the same hurried necessity for children to be forced into adulthood and the knowledge of the "real world" that the Spartan way did. He writes: "When it comes to education, Spartans no sooner reach boyhood than they painfully train to become men, whereas we, who live a more relaxed life, will nevertheless advance to meet the same dangers as they (Thucycides 73)." This passage seems to convey a decision by the people of Athenian culture not to force education on their children the same way the Spartans choose to. Instead, they choose to let the children become enlightened by their surroundings, developing a lust for knowledge rather than a requirement of it. While the people of Athens thirst for knowledge and interaction and teach their children to do the same, the Spartans disapprove. In his account of The Politeia of the Spartans, Xenophon describes the Athenian ways with distaste: "Outside Sparta, those who claim to educate their children best put servants in charge of them as paidagogoi as soon as the children can understand what is said to them, and immediately send them to teachers to learn to read and write, to study the arts, and to practice gymnastics. Moreover, they soften their children’s feet by giving them shoes, and weaken their bodies by changes of clothes; their diet is limited only by their capacity (Xenophon 11)." Plato believed that forcing an intelligible way of life on a child was inefficient, and that the child should develop certain appreciations for knowledge on his or her own—a philosophy compliant with the Athenian choice of enlightenment over force.
     Plato’s Allegory of the Cave is a parable to understand the process of how a person becomes enlightened, and the positive and negative influences it can have on that person in their natural environment. It also shows exactly what sort of ideas Plato supports, so they can easily be compared to both the Athenian philosophy and the Spartan philosophy. In the journey to enlightenment, there are three different types of people: the prisoners, the workers of the parapet, and the enlightened people who live outside of the Cave. Although Plato gives us little to know about the people in the story, a reader can make the connection between the setting of the story and the real world applications given in metaphor. The images of the people become clearer and the meaning of The Cave becomes stronger. As an enlightened person, one is figuratively dragged to true light, away from everything familiar and uniform. Once the eyes have adjusted to the true light, the individual has gained knowledge of what is and isn’t, and can now understand the change was for the better—can understand "the good." Is this the softening of the feet and body that the Spartans despise? Xenophon clearly had a certain amount of skepticism regarding the process of enlightenment, a view quite similar to that of the decisive cave prisoners when approached by the enlightened one: "…he had gone up only to return with his sight ruined; it was worth no one’s while even to attempt the ascent (Plato 231)." An Athenian child who spent his time learning to read, write, and appreciate art would certainly not be suited for the military training invoked on a Spartan child, and so in the Spartan culture this Athenian way would be considered highly inferior.
     Just as the prisoners in the cave thought the entire enlightenment process to be completely worthless, there was also a certain amount of resentment for both the enlightened one and the one who had given him that chance to break free of the chains. The prisoners felt "if they could lay hands on the man who was trying to set them free and lead them up, they would kill him (Plato 231)." Such an example was made clear when Plato’s own teacher, Socrates, was put to death by the Athenians. In many ways, Socrates had simply been trying to enlighten the people—to show them a perspective they had not yet embraced. With resentment for the morbid and unfamiliar possibilities, the people were revolted.
     Plato was very outspoken in regards to his belief of self-motivation. Cave, when read without analysis, may seem morbid and unfamiliar in many ways, just as new experiences and perspectives can seem obscure to an individual. This is especially apparent in situations where the individual feels chained down by helplessness. In The Funeral Oration by Pericles, Thucydides quotes the Athenians on their philosophy of dark hardship, saying "…the real shame is in not taking action to escape from it (Thucycides 73)." This clearly represents the desire to break out of the chains holding an individual, and can be directly applied to the concept of enlightenment.
     It is necessary to analyze The Allegory of the Cave from a philosophical perspective. Then, when it’s meaning is clear, one can apply it to life and will be better equipped to ascend into the "outer world." This approach once again underlines both the Athenian way of education and Plato’s philosophical opinion.




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Plato. The Apology, Phaedo and Crito of Plato. Trans. Benjamin Jowett. New York: P.F. Collier & Son, 1909. 3-29. Paideia I Reader 42-68.

Plato. The Republic. Trans. Francis MacDonald Cornford. Oxford UP: London, 1941; New York, 1945. "The Allegory of the Cave" 227-35. Paideia I Reader 69-77.

Thucydides. The Peloponnesian War. Trans. Walter Blanco. New York: WW Norton & Company, 1998; Excerpted, Paideia I Reader 23-41.

Xenophon. Aristotle and Xenophon on Democracy and Oligarchy. Trans. J. M.Moore. U of California Press: Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1986. "The Politeia of the Spartans" 75-92. Paideia I Reader 5-22.

Katherine Kennon (2004)