The Republic Book 7
Socrates now attempts to describe human nature in both of its states: the educated and the uneducated. He asks his audience to imagine a cave with prisoners in it. The cave has a long entrance and there is a fire burning above which gives them light. The prisoners have been chained since childhood, and can only look from side to side. Between the fire and the prisoners, higher than the prisoners, there is a road with a low wall built alongside it, similar to the screen set in front of puppeteers. People, and animals, often walk along the road, sometimes talking and other times silent.
Having described his cave, Socrates asks his audience whether the prisoners would ever see anything of themselves or their prisoners except for the shadows on the wall. Everybody agrees that the only thing the prisoners would see is the shadows of themselves, the prisoners, and the passers-by. Furthermore, if they spoke to each other, they would believe that what they saw was reality, as would be the case when the passers-by spoke if there was an echo. Thus, "men like that would firmly believe truth to be the shadows of the artificial objects." Book 7, pg. 176, line 515c If one of the prisoners were to be allowed to look up and saw the fire and light, at first he would be blinded. However, afterwards, when the things passing by are pointed out to him, he would probably be baffled and believe that the shadows are truer than the reality. Then, he would return to the cave and to the things he believed were in reality clearer than the ones pointed out. If somebody then forced him outside again, he would probably be blinded, in pain, and outraged and unable to see the truth. However, eventually he would adjust - probably first to the moonlight and starlight, but then to sunlight. He would also look at shadows first, and then associate them with the objects that they belong to. Finally, he will be able to see himself and contemplate what he is like.
After coming to these realizations, the prisoner will think back to his cave-life and his old "wisdom," and pity his fellow prisoners. Also, if he went back down to the cave, darkness would fill his eyes, and he would not be able to make out the shadows as he used to. Thus his fellow prisoners would believe that his eyes were ruined, and they would want to kill the person who was trying to make them go up into the sunlight. Now, Socrates says to apply this to everything that has been said, and regard "the upward journey and the viewing of the upward world as the soul's ascent to the intelligible." Book 7, pg. 177, line 517b Socrates takes his point further now, and says that the shape of the good is finally, and with difficulty, seen in the intelligible realm (as previously discussed). When it is seen, it must be recognized for what it is, and thus the gods will be recognized and people, especially this man, will feel that it is his obligation to act rationally for himself and his community. However, not all people will want to tend to human concerns, as they may keep their new education to themselves.
As shown by the parable of the man from the cave, the source of confusion was moving from darkness to light and then from light to darkness. The same happens to the soul, and so people must not laugh at others when they see them stunned and confused by things in life, but instead try to reason whether they are stunned because they are coming from the darkness to the light, or dazed because they are darkened by unfamiliarity and are leaving the light. This shows that the power of learning is in everyone's soul, and that the eye cannot be turned from brightness to darkness without turning the whole body until it faces being and can recognize and contemplate what is. Therefore, education would be the art of turning the soul around in the easiest, most effective way, so that it looks where it should be looking. With this in mind, Socrates claims that the excellence of understanding comes from something divine, whereas the other excellences are probably close to the body.
From this, it is clear that uneducated people with no experience of truth, and people who have not finished their education, should never rule. This is because the uneducated have no single target in life at which to aim their activity, while the others won't willingly work or act at all. Thus, the aim of the new city will be to educate those with the best natures to the highest level possible, but then make them climb back down and share their knowledge with the rest, as this is for the good of the city. In this manner, the philosophers will be forced to care for others as guardians, and the city will be governed better because the guardians, living in a cave, know the reality. Then Socrates claims a truth: "A city whose future rulers are the least eager to rule will necessarily be the best governed and freest from strife, and the one with opposite rulers the worst." Book 7, pg. 181, line 520d
Next, the men ponder which type of education has the power to turn the soul around. The first thing that occurs to Socrates is that they already mentioned that while young, the guardians must be athletes of war; thus, the education they are looking for must be also useful for warriors. Besides poetry and physical education, they find that mathematics will be necessary, since everything always occurs in numbers, even war, and since mathematics would lead the soul to contemplation of what is, as it can be puzzling and leads people to think. Next, they move on to examine whether geometry would be beneficial to the soul or not. They first establish that it is the knowledge of what always is, not what is becoming or passing away. Therefore, it should be taught to the guardians. The third subject they discuss is astronomy. They deem this necessary because it makes people contemplate the third dimension, whereas geometry deals only in planes. Also, astronomy suits farming, sailing, and soldiering. The part of astronomy that they should learn is the speed and slowness that is as the stars move in relation to each other. In order to make the soul useful, astronomy should be pursued like geometry - by means of problems. Also, harmonics must be studied, as must dialectics. Dialectics is incredibly important, because it means that people can express themselves, and it is also the only study that does not use assumptions that people cannot explain. Therefore, dialectics is the only study that opens the eye of the soul, yet it needs the other studies to help it turn the soul around. Also, dialecticians are able to grasp and explain the essence of things, and are able to define the good.
Now they return to discuss the type of people to be taught these things. Primarily, they must be willing to learn, and must be good at it. Also, force must not be used, because enforced learning does not stay with the soul. During this time, students must be closely watched to see who has a natural affinity for what. Those who consistently prove to be the best at everything must be put on a list at age twenty-one. After this, they will receive honors, and all their studies will be unified into a comprehensive view of their relation to one another and to the nature of what is. Also, this is a good test for the dialectic nature, as a comprehensive person is dialectic, while others are not. At age thirty, the selected few must be reexamined and tested to see who can let go of their eyes and the rest of their senses thereby approaching being itself and the truth. Those who can must be brought to an even greater honor. However, dialectics must not be taught while people are young, since children will only use it as a source of contradiction, and when they have been refuted many times, they quickly start doubting themselves and all their former beliefs. This, in turn, will defeat the purpose of dialectics, which is to have people of stable, orderly natures. However, since dialectics is very necessary, they must engage in it for twice as long as they engaged in physical education, thus resulting in training in dialectics for about five years. Then, they must rule in the military offices of the young, so that they do not lag behind in experience; and they must be tested for strength. After about fifteen years of ruling in these military offices, when they are about fifty, the best of these people must be taken to see the light itself, and must spend the rest of their lives taking turns at ruling the city, the individuals, and themselves, though spending much of their time with philosophy. When their turn comes to rule, however, they must do it because it is necessary, and not because it is beautiful, and keeping in mind that they must constantly educate those younger than them so that they may rule one day.
Socrates adds that this could all be possible if the current ruler sends everyone in the city older than ten out to the farms and takes over the children, raising them as discussed.