A/N: The paragraphs with citations behind them in the beginning are direct quotes pulled from Plato's Republic and are not my own writing. The rest of the story is my creative extension to the Allegory of the Cave passage. (If you haven't heard of it, here's a quick summary of the Allegory of the Cave.) I tried to mimic the style that Plato used in writing the Republic. Let me know what you think!
Sitting alongside Thrasymachus and Polemarchus was another man, Nicodemus, who had stayed silent throughout the earlier discourse of the five men. He had chewed on the dissection of Thrasymachus’s idea of justice and later absorbed the arguments presented by Socrates, building the city in speech brick by brick until it may as well have already lived in his mind. Though he pursed his lips at the sudden turn of the discussion. As an educator in the city of Athens, he was uncertain of Socrates’s dismissal of his art.
“They presumably assert that they put into the soul knowledge that isn’t in it, as though they were putting sight into blind eyes.” (518b9 - 518c1) Socrates posited.
Glaucon nodded in agreement. “Yes, they do indeed assert that.”
“But the present argument, on the other hand indicates that this power is in the soul of each, and that the instrument with which each learns—just as an eye is not able to turn towards the light from the dark without the whole body—must be turned around from that which is coming into being together with the whole soul until is able to endure looking at that which is and the brightest part of that which is. And we affirm that this is the good, don’t we?” (518c2 - 518d1)
Nicodemus raised his voice and asserted, “I am not convinced that this is the case, dear Socrates. I believe a flaw in the argument has surfaced.”
Alerted by the contribution, Socrates addressed Nicodemus and said, “What of the previous logic does not bring you to the same conclusion as I, my comrade?”
“Allow me to present an addition to your analogy that may demonstrate the disagreement,” Nicodemus said, “and then we might seek out the error in speech.”
“Do go on,” Socrates said.
Nicodemus cleared his throat and began. “Consider a man who has lived, lives, and will live in the farthest depths of this cave, where not even the flickers of the firelight are able to touch the cave walls, so he is not blessed with enough light to make out or contemplate about shadows, correct? We may consider if this were a group of men, but it is sufficient for our purposes to stick to this individual, who has only known the darkness of the cave such that he may even be considered blind. But should he stumble across the group of prisoners, as they chatter of the shadows by their firelight, and be captivated by the moving darkness along the wall, what will he be able to think? For he has never seen these objects, has no language to express what his exceptionally adjusted eyes are able to precisely determine, and cannot understand the words uttered from the prisoners. Does this man have enough power within his own soul to comprehend what is before him, or would he need to rely on the kindness of the prisoners to teach and guide him in their language and custom, so he might approach reprieve from his ignorance?”
After a moment of thought, Glaucon added, “It seems it would be the latter.”
“So, it must be said that not all that knowledge is inherent within the soul, as Socrates would like to assert. Which leads us to the conclusion that there was either an error or an omission from the earlier stages of this argument. I shall pose the question: how should the prisoners react to the pitiful man from the caves? Do they cast their gazes down upon him, even as they themselves are chained and restrained, and refuse this willing man freedom from ignorance, if not true knowledge? Or do they offer their language and their understanding to him, as a mentor might to a novice, even if it may not correctly convey what is? For surely, we can agree that there is no harm for the prisoners to have intercourse with the man from the caves.”
“That we can agree.”
“Does this not resemble the role of the man who has seen the light of the sun? Only that he is one and the many are ignorant?”
Adeimantus heard this comparison and interjected, “But, Nicodemus, Socrates has established that the prisoners are blissful in their ignorance of the world above. They are not willing as you have portrayed the man of the caves, actively resisting attempts to be forced to go up for fear of ruining their eyes.” The other men agreed with this point.
Not to be dissuaded, Nicodemus agreed too. “This sentiment is true. The key is that they would not want to be forced. The man of the cave found the fire and prisoners by happenstance, but little by little he grew the courage to confront the flames and accept the knowledge he did not have. I believe the same can be said about the prisoners in time. Consider if once the enlightened man returned to the caves, he did not speak of his experience so not to frighten the skittish prisoners, instead treating them as one might cattle. In the beginning, he might appear to them a fool, but a kind and an unapprehensive fool, but once they are certain he is of little threat, he might be able to move slowly. Say he first unchains each head so the prisoners may stretch their muscles and relieve their rigidity. Then he releases their body, so that they may twist and turn their torso. Wouldn’t you say that upon this taste of freedom, the prisoners would begin to ask the enlightened man to free their arms, hands, legs, feet, so they might be able to walk view the firelight for themselves, even if it is slowly at first?”
“That is reasonable,” Adeimantus concluded.
“Then the prisoners would begin to see the holes in their world peeking through, as they might view the fire directly or catch glimpses from which the shadows originated. It is foolish to think that each of the prisoners would embrace this change, but it would be even more ignorant to assume that none would wonder about the mythical tales of the sun which the enlightened man would provide. Perhaps the enlightened man would even take some of the former prisoners to the surface, so they can also catch glimpses as what is true and good. Now, do the parallels to the man of the caves ring true? Could these prisoners have been freed and stepped ever closer to the light on their own, without the guidance of the enlightened man?”
“I suppose not. It is clearer now.”
“We now know where the issue lies, as if the enlightened man were to be gentler in his approach to the prisoners, much like a mentor, then a different outcome could be reached. Now, answer me this: was this action unjust of the enlightened man? According to Socrates, the just man is one who minds his own business, so was it unjust of the enlightened man to encourage others to seek justice? Or potentially turn an unjust man away from injustice?” Nicodemus posed.
“That does not seem like it should be true,” the other men concluded.
“I would postulate that it is not, then, unjust and is in fact just of the good and enlightened man, who has seen and contemplated the above world, to assist his fellow former prisoners, as others might assist their neighbors in the city in speech. Thus, if a man has corruption in his soul, that the desirous part is too greedy or the spirited part too fiery, then a calculating man may be able to aid him in smoothing over that corruption, so they both may walk a just path.”