Plato’s Allegory of the Ship and the True Navigator (Part 1)

One of the most famous illustrations of Plato’s defence of philosophy is to be found in the section of The Republic dedicated to the Allegory of the Ship (488a-489c) in which Socrates illustrates the negative attitude of his contemporaries towards the true philosopher. On board the ship are the captain, the crew, the leader of the crew and a character called the ‘true navigator’: 1) The captain is described as ‘larger and stronger than any of the crew, but a bit deaf and short-sighted, and similarly limited in seamanship.’ [488a/b] This is, indeed, a strange description for a character symbolizing political authority and power. The captain may be physically imposing but he is actually vulnerable and not in total control of the ship. He may be associated with a weak democratic leader or an equally weak assembly of the people. 2)The crew is the very image of an erratic, never satisfied ‘demos’ or rabble, split into factions vying for control of the ship. Typically, none of them has the slightest understanding or knowledge of navigation and furthermore, ‘they say it can’t be taught and are ready to murder anyone who says it can.’ [488b] The crew spend their time plotting … Continue reading Plato’s Allegory of the Ship and the True Navigator (Part 1)