Monday, February 28, 2011

Plato's men in a cave

Plato used an allegory to describe our human state, and to describe how we learn, and how we are manipulated to learn,  (or not learn) that scholars have called, "Plato's prisoners in a cave." He believed that the true purpose of education should be that of liberation of society from its delusions, that each, including the lowest among us, might live in the light rather than controlled darkness.

I am curious what other blog readers think this story tells us about education. It has been interpreted differently by different scholars depending on the points they wish to make. A tradesman might see another story.

One of the things I find interesting in Plato's allegory is that it illustrates how things can be seen differently from differing points of view, and one of the problems in American education is that we have divided education along class lines, of either the trades or academic advancement, whereas most early educators believed that all, even those of the highest academic advancement should learn trades fro the skill and character they impart. In light of this read Socrates dialog with Glaucon as follows:
[Socrates] Then, I said, the business of us who are the founders of the State will be to compel the best minds to attain that knowledge which we have already shown to be the greatest of all-they must continue to ascend until they arrive at the good; but when they have ascended and seen enough we must not allow them to do as they do now.
[Glaucon] What do you mean?
[Socrates] I mean that they remain in the upper world: but this must not be allowed; they must be made to descend again among the prisoners in the cave, and partake of their labors and honors, whether they are worth having or not.
[Glaucon] But is not this unjust? he said; ought we to give them a worse life, when they might have a better?
[Socrates] You have again forgotten, my friend, I said, the intention of the legislator, who did not aim at making any one class in the State happy above the rest; the happiness was to be in the whole State, and he held the citizens together by persuasion and necessity, making them benefactors of the State, and therefore benefactors of one another; to this end he created them, not to please themselves, but to be his instruments in binding up the State.
Just open your eyes and look at the mess we have made of economy and culture by neglecting to reinforce each child's responsible, creative and productive inclinations.

You could look at Plato's allegory as being relevant to modern American society and politics. What do you think? Are there things we might learn from it? In the US, we have a huge number of people who are imprisoned by ignorance resulting from disinterest fostered by their schooling. Marching across the cave behind the wall, are those who attempt to control their thoughts.

Make, fix and create.


  1. This makes me think of something that was written by an artist by the name of Eric Sloane. Sloane wrote his own "Declaration of Self Dependence" back in 1976. I think you'd like it.


  2. Mr. Stowe...Following your blog for the last few weeks has kicked by memory banks back to the 60's where in 7th grade 1/2 year wood-shop 1/2 electricity 8th print & machine-shop
    9th 1 year elective of both. We also had to take 2 years of drafting and could elect a third. Though not Sloyd it did provide an insight the dignity of all mens labor.

    After returning home from military service in 71, 4 books from E. Sloane "Diary of an Early American Boy", "Reverence for Wood", "Museum of Early American Tools", and "Our Vanishing Landscape" have always inspired me and still cherish to this day.

    Sadly unlike Noah Blake of 1805, we do not have the apprenticeship and values passed down father to son/daughter, but we can a least teach our children the reverence,dignity and worth of all peoples labor.

    I have spent the last 40 years chasing the bucks using the wisdom my head. Now that I'm recently retired maybe I can find some "Wisdom in My Hands"

    Thanks for your insight.

  3. Many of those 7th and 8th grade teachers had been influenced by sloyd even though it had been suppressed in the American educational landscape. At least the teachers knew they were adding to the child's intellectual capacity by teaching hand work. Now try to explain that to someone and they just won't understand. AT ALL.

    I also love Eric Sloane's books. I am not familiar with the declaration of self dependence. Thanks Chris, for pointing it out to me.

  4. Anonymous4:36 AM

    I haven't read Plato's allegory of the cave, but it strikes me that many people live in self-imposed caves, not looking beyond those limits they have set.