The Republic: Novel Summary: Chapter 3
In this section of The Republic, Plato begins his description of metaphysical good. Only the Forms, which possess true knowledge, identify this good. Therefore only philosophers (who understand the Forms) can know it. The rest of the population simply holds onto opinions-- imaginative ideas founded in often faulty observation. Soon, Plato illustrates these ideas with the metaphor of the cave. Briefly, this metaphor takes place in a dark cave where everyone is forced to look at one wall. This wall possesses shadows created by puppets in front of the sun, which is the backdrop to the scene and illuminates everyone in its grasp. The sun helps those who feel it to remember the knowledge they have forgotten. The philosopher is the person who escapes the cave and learns to see objects, not as shadows, but as they really are. Thus these gifted philosophers understand true goodness through education and knowledge of the Forms. In this way, Plato answers the ridicule many philosophers receive for seeming disconnected from reality. Indeed they are disconnected from the reality of the shadows- they know a deeper reality-that of the sun.
Next, Plato details his ideas about the varieties of government, and what causes them to change forms. He says that oligarchy becomes democracy when the upper class becomes motivated by money instead of virtue. Then, the lower class becomes poverty-stricken, causing them to rebel. Plato continues, "And when the poor win, the result is a democracy." Since a democracy is little more than anarchy, where man's evil appetites reign supreme over his virtue, the cornerstone of a just society collapses. Soon a strong leader emerges from this chaos, and a dictatorship begins.
Toward the end of The Republic, Plato addresses the immortality of the human soul. It is this eternal life that makes it possible for humans to learn, since learning is nothing more than remembering knowledge from previous lives. He reasons (through creative rationale) that the soul can never die since it is not inherently evil in itself. He continues by giving a quite long-winded description of a purgatory-type system where the soul is forced to live for one millennium before being reincarnated into another body. Obviously this theory of immortality is quite different from the Hebrew or Christian concept.