"But I have begun this story in the cave, like the cave of the speculations of Plato..." -G.K. Chesterton
Republic (Book VII)
(514a-b) 'Next,' I said, 'make an image of our nature as it involves education and the lack of it, by likening it to a condition such as the following: picture human beings in a cave-like dwelling underground, having a long pathway open to the light all across the cave. They're in it from childhood on with their legs and necks in restraints, so that they're held in place and look only to the front, restricted by the neck-restraint from twisting their heads around. For them, the light is from a fire burning up above and a long way behind them, and between the fire and the prisoners there's an upper road. Picture a little wall built along this road, like the low partitions puppeteers use to screen the humans who display the puppets above them.'
'I see it,' he said.
(514c-515a) 'Then see the humans going along this little wall carrying all sorts of articles that jut out over the wall, figurines of men and other animals fashioned out of stone and wood and materials of all kinds, with some of the people carrying them past making appropriate sounds and others silent.'
'You're describing a bizarre image and bizarre prisoners,' he said.
'Like us,' I said. 'First of all, do you imagine such people would have seen anything of themselves or one another other than the shadows cast by the fire onto the part of the cave right across from them?'
(515b) 'How could they,' he said, 'if they were forced to keep their heads immobile throughout life?'
'And what would they have seen of the things carried past? Wouldn't that be the same thing?'
'So if they were able to converse with one another, don't you think they'd speak of these very things they see as the beings?'
'And what if their prison also had an echo from the side across from them? Any time any of the people carrying things past uttered a sound, do you imagine they'd believe anything other than the passing shadow had made the sound?'
'By Zeus, I don't,' he said.
(515c) 'So in every way,' I said, 'such people wouldn't consider anything to be the truth other than the shadows of artificial things.'
'That's a great necessity,' he said.
'Then consider,' I said, 'what their release would be like, and their recovery from their restraints and their delusion, if things like that were to happen to them by nature. Whenever one of them would be released, and suddenly required to stand up, and turn his neck around, and walk, and look up toward the light, he'd suffer pain from doing all these things, and because of the blazes of light, he wouldn't have the power to get a clear sight of the things whose shadows he'd seen before. (515d) What do you imagine he'd say if someone were to tell him that he'd been seeing rubbish then, but now, somewhat nearer to what is and turned toward the things that have more being, he was seeing more accurately? And especially if, pointing to each of the things passing by, one forced him to answer as he asked what they are, don't you imagine he'd be at a loss and believe the things he'd seen before were truer than the ones pointed out to him now?'
'Very much so,' he said.
(515e) 'And if one forced him to look at the light itself, wouldn't he have pain in his eyes and escape by turning back toward those things he was able to make out, and consider them clearer in their very being than the ones pointed out to him?'
'That's how it would be,' he said.
(516a) 'And if one were to drag him away from there by force,' I said, 'along the rough, steep road up, and didn't let go until he'd dragged him out into the light of the sun, wouldn't he be feeling pain and anger from being dragged, and when he came into the light and had his eyes filled with its dazzle, wouldn't he be unable to see even one of the things now said to be the true ones?'
'That's right,' he said, 'at least not right away.'
(516b) 'So I imagine he'd need to get accustomed to it, if he were going to have sight of the things above. At first, he'd most easily make out the shadows, and after that the images of human beings and other things in water, and only later the things themselves; and turning from those things, he'd gaze on the things in the heavens, and at the heavens themselves, more easily by night, looking at the starlight and moonlight, than by day, at the sun and its light.'
'How could it be otherwise?'
'Then at last,I imagine, he'd gain sight of the sun, not its appearances in water or in any setting foreign to it, but he'd have the power to see it itself, by itself, in its own realm, and contemplate it the way it is.'
'Necessarily,' he said.
(516c) 'And after that, he could now draw the conclusion about it that this is what provides the seasons and the years, and has the governance of all things in the visible realm, and is in a certain manner the cause of all those things they'd seen.'
'It's clear that he'd come to these conclusions after those experiences,' he said.
'And then what? When he recalled his first home and the wisdom there and the people he was imprisoned with then, don't you imagine he'd consider himself happy because of the change and pity the others?'
(516d) 'And if there had been any honors and commendations and prizes for them then from one another for the person who had the sharpest sight of the things passing by and remembered best all the things that usually passed by before and after them and at the same time, and based on those things had greatest ability to predict what was going to come, do you think he'd be longing for those rewards and feel jealousy toward the ones honored by those people and in power among them, or would he feel what Homer depicts, and wish powerfully "To be a bond-servant to another, tilling the soil | For a man without land of his own," and submit to anything whatever rather than hold those opinions and live that way?' [He's pretty much asking if the person would rather be a champion in the darkness or a servant in the light.]
(516e) 'The latter, I imagine,' he said; 'he'd submit to enduring everything rather than live in that [other] way [in the dark].'
'Then give this some thought too,' I said. 'If such a person were to go back down and sit in the same spot, wouldn't he get his eyes filled with darkness by coming suddenly out of the sun?'
'Indeed he would,' he said.
(517a) 'And if he had to compete with those who'd always been imprisoned, at passing judgments on those shadows, at a time when his sight was dim before his eyes settled back in, and if this perios of adjustment was not very short, wouldn't he make a laughingstock of himself, and wouldn't it be said about him that after having gone up above he returned with his eyes ruined, and that it's not worth it even to make the effort to go up? And as for anyone who attempted to release them [the other slaves] and lead them up, if they had the power in any way to get him [the releaser] into their hands and kill him, wouldn't they kill him?'
'Ferociously,' he said.
(517b) 'Now this image... needs to be connected as a whole with what was said before, by likening the realm disclosed by sight to the prison dwelling, and the light of the fire within it to the power of the sun; and if you take the upward journey and sight of the things above as the soul's road up into the intelligible region... (517c) What appears true to me appears this way: in the knowable region, the last thing to be seen, with great effort, is the look of Good, but once it's been seen, it has to be concluded that it's the very cause, for all things, of all things right and beautiful, that it generates light and its source in the visible realm, and is itself the source that bestows truth and insight in the intelligible realm. Anyone who's going to act intelligently in private or in public needs to have sight of it.'
... (517d) 'Don't be surprised that those who've come to this point aren't willing to do what belongs to human beings, but their souls are eager to spend all their time up above; presumably it's likely to be that way, if this also stands in accord with the image already described.'
... (517e) 'Do you imagine it's anything surprising,' I said, 'if someone coming from contemplation of divine things to things of a human sort is awkward and looks extremely ridiculous while his sight is still dim and if, before he's become sufficiently accustomed to the darkness around him, he's forced, in law courts or anywhere else, to contend over the shadows of the just or the images they're the shadows of, and to compete about that in whatever way these things are understood by people who've never looked upon justice itself?'
'It's not surprising in any way whatsoever,' he said.
(518a-b) 'But if someone had any sense,' I said, 'he'd remember that two sorts of disturbances occur in the eyes from two causes, when they're removed from light into darkness as well as from darkness into light. If he regarded these same things as occurring also with the soul, when he saw one that was confused and unable to make anything out, he wouldn't react with irrational laughter but would consider whether it had come from a brighter life and was darkened by its unaccustomed condition, or was coming out of a greater ignorance into a brighter place and was overwhelmed by the dazzle of a greater radiance. That way, he'd congratulate the one soul on the happiness of its experience and life and pity the other, and if he did want to laugh at that one, he'd be less laughable for laughing at it than someone who laughed at the one coming out of the light above.'
... (518c-d) 'Education is not the sort of thing certain people who claim to be professors of it claim that it is. Surely they claim they put knowledge into a soul it wasn't present in, as though they were putting sight into blind eyes... But the current discussion indicates,' I said, 'that this power is present in the soul of each person, and the instrument by which each one learns, as if it were an eye that's not able to turn away from darkness toward the light in any other way than along with the whole body, needs to be turned around along with the whole soul, away from what's fleeting, until it becomes able to endure gazing at what is and at the brightest of what is, and this, we're claiming, is Good. Isn't that right?'
'Then there would be an art to this very thing,' I said, 'this turning around, having to do with the way the soul would be most easily and effectively redirected, not an art of implanting sight in it, but of how to contrive that for someone who has sight, but doesn't have it turned the right way or looking at what it needs to.'
'That seems likely,' he said.
(518e-519a) 'Then the other virtues said to belong to a soul probably tend to be near the things belonging to the body, since they're not present in the being of the soul before they've been inculcated by habits and practice, but the virtue involving understanding, more than all, attains to being something more divine, as it seems, which never loses its power, but by the way it's turned becomes either useful and beneficial or useless and harmful. Or haven't you ever reflected about the people said to be depraved but wise, how penetrating a gaze their little souls have and how sharply they discern the things they're turned toward, since they don't have poor sight but force it to serve vice, so that the more sharply it sees, that much more evil it accomplishes?'
'Very much so,' he said.
(519b) 'But surely,' I said, 'if, straight from childhood, this tendency of such a nature had been curtailed by having the edges knocked off that have an affinity with becoming, like lead weights that, through eating and the pleasures and greediness involved in such things, get to be growths on the soul that turned its sight excessively downward, and if, freed from them, it was turned toward things that are true, this same power of these same people would have seen them too most sharply, just as it sees the ones it's now turned toward.'
'Very likely,' he said.
(519c) 'And what about this?' I said. 'Isn't it likely, even necessary from what's been said before, that those who are uneducated and lacking experience with truth could never adequately manage a city, and neither could those who've been allowed to devote all their time to education--the former because they don't have any one goal in life that they need to aim at in doing all the things they do in private and in public, and the latter because they wouldn't willingly engage in action, believing they'd taken up residence in the Isles of the Blessed while still living?'
'True,' he said.
... (519d) '[So, the best leaders would be able to] see Good as well as to climb the path up to it, and when, having climbed up, they've seen it sufficiently, not to allow what they're now permitted to do.'
'What in particular [should they not do that they are now able to do]?'
'To stay there,' I said, 'and not be willing to come back down among those prisoners or take part beside them in their labors and honors, the more frivolous ones or even the more serious.'
'What?' he said. 'Are we going to do them an injustice and make them live worse when it's possible to live better?'
(519e-520a) 'My friend,' I said... '[These men are to be used in 'the binding together of the city' 'by harmonizing the citizens through persuasion and compulsion and making them contribute to one another a share of the benefit with which each sort is capable of improving the community.']'
... (520b-d) 'We'll be asking just things of them in requiring them also to care for the other people and watch over them.... So it's necessary for each of you [men able to 'see Good as well as to climb the path up to it'] in turn to go down into the communal dwelling and to get used to gazing at dark objects with the others, because when you're used to it you'll see thousands of times better than the people there, and recognize each sort of image for what it is and what it's an image of, from having seen the truth about beautiful and just and good things. And so the city will be governed by you and by us wide awake, and not in a dream the way most are governed now by people who fight with each other over shadows and form factions over ruling, as though that were some great good. But the truth is surely this: that city in which those who are going to rule are least eager to rule is necessarily governed best and with the least divisiveness, while the one that gets the opposite sort of rulers is governed in the opposite way.'
'Quite so,' he said.
... (521b) 'It's necessary, though, for people who aren't in love with ruling to go after it; if they don't, the rival lovers will do battle.'
Need more Plato?
Or, check out Chesterton's The Everlasting Man.