October 9, 2012
Escaping an Artificial Reality: Reaching a Just Society
When accustomed, you will see ten thousand times better than the residents, and you will recognize what each image is, and what is its original, because you have seen the truth of which beautiful and just things are copies. And, in this way, for you and for us, the city is ruled in a waking state and not a dream like so many of our present cities, which are mostly composed of men who fight among themselves for shadows…(107)
Plato, in The Republic, distinguishes between an artificial reality and an absolute reality. He explains these sorts of realities through extended metaphors—the most important one being the Allegory of the Cave. What results from this allegory, among other things, is a greater understanding of Plato’s Theory of the Forms as well as a glimpse into the way education works. Plato uses this theory to help the polis live in a more purely just society. The above quote eloquently describes, briefly, the way in which leaders can help their state achieve a just society. When the philosophical leaders are ‘accustomed’ to the true forms, they can then be able to see ‘ten thousand times better than the residents’ as rulers and philosophers. By understanding the purest Form, the Good, the leaders can achieve justice by grasping it through education and then leading others to it. By educating the polis, the state itself can reach the highest form of a just society. Especially through the differentiation of artificial and absolute reality, the leaders reach the highest level of a just society that contributes to a better-ruled and functioning state.
“…The city is ruled in a waking state and not a dream like so many of our present cities...”
A city should be cultivated by the constant struggle for attainment of true knowledge— this attainment is fulfilled through education. If the future philosophical rulers of the city can grasp this true knowledge through education, their city will be more justly ruled. Plato explores the way education works in the Allegory of the Cave. Understanding the way education works will help the city be ruled in a ‘waking state’ rather than one that is dream-like. The Allegory of the Cave explains how people will be educated depending on the way reality is presented to them. However, for the future philosophical kings to be educated about what is actually good and just, they must step back and grasp the difference between a waking state and a dream-like state. In The Republic, Plato highlights that “education is not what certain men proclaim” because many seem to think that a waking state is one where the people acknowledge their present state, including physical objects and things that are in our grasp (Plato 105). They also believe that a dream-like state would supposedly be one where the people think abstractly and relish things that do not exist in the world they live in. On the other hand, Plato states that abstract forms—not material forms that can cease to exist— are those that possess the most central kind of reality. The material forms are actually shadows or ‘copies’ of the essence of the object. This explanation of the forms is seen in the Allegory of the Cave when Plato contrasts the shadows on the walls of the cave to material forms. He describes how the freed prisoner “was watching foolery” on the walls of the cave. It is incorrect to think that the shadows on the wall are the truest Forms. However, now the prisoner “is somewhat nearer to reality, and is turned towards things more real” because he could see— and therefore is educated regarding— true reality (Plato 104). Using education to understand a true reality, through a waking state, gives us a key to unlock a greater way to rule a city—a way in which a just society can easily be formed. This is a way that rarely exists in ‘our present cities’.
“…And you will recognize what each image is, and what is its original, because you have seen the truth of which beautiful and just things are copies…”
Now that the philosophical leaders have been able to achieve an accurate educational analysis of absolute reality, they have retained an understanding of Good itself. At this point, it is important for this knowledge to be shared with the polis—those who have always been prisoners and never understood anything beyond what is physically present. But how can the leader explain and pass down the knowledge he now holds to those who cannot grasp the great knowledge he has attained? The leader can contribute knowledge to the greater good through the creation of laws that are fair to the citizens and truly improve society. They can then use the knowledge of true reality to foster justice. Although the citizens may not quite understand “ the truth of which beautiful and just things are copies,” laws can be the link with which some shred of truth is passed onto the polis and a way in which society can benefit from this knowledge. Plato explains how law “links the citizens together by persuasion and constraint” as well as makes the citizens “share with one another the benefit which each individual can contribute to the commonwealth” (Plato 106). Such laws are developed primarily by the creation of the true Good that is then exercised by the philosophical leaders. Once we are able to explain the utmost Form or Good, a just society follows. So, it is important for rulers to obtain an educated understanding of goodness and then to integrate this understanding into the laws and into their methods of ruling.
“…When accustomed, you will see ten thousand times better than the residents…”
After a leader is correctly educated and is able to translate his knowledge of the ultimate Form to society, the status of a just society is achieved. The philosopher-king will be able to see “ten thousand times better” than his citizens at which point he can spread goodness to the commonwealth. With great knowledge comes great responsibility. Each of these rulers, as Plato states, “will undertake ruling as an unavoidable duty” and so these men need to be just (Plato 107). Once the leader understands that the world that we live in is filled with error and once he or she understands what a ‘waking state’ consists of, then he or she can take steps to create just laws and to justly rule a society. This duty to understand such concepts is the “opposite of what is pursued by the present rulers in each city” (Plato107). So it is proven through Plato’s explanation of an ideal state in The Republic that a just society leads to a happy and stable society.
Shadows are produced when light cannot reach an object because of an obstruction. What is created is a distorted image of the physical object. In the same sort of way, a certain type of shadow is created when something blocks the Truth from being viewed. Therefore, in order to clear the shadow and understand how The Republic’s ideas on education and the ultimate Good lead to a just society, we must make the distinction between artificial reality and true reality.