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Posted on April 11th, 2014, by

In its explicit form, the issue of liberty appeared in Plato’s dialogue The Republic in the parable of the cave (Plato 79). According to the myth, people inside the cave see only reflections, distorted shadows, while real being is outside. The concept of liberty was not necessary until people realized that the world was not the way it appeared, compared to the way it really was like in its truth-idea, in its essence: prior to this, the truth was unconcealedness (aletheia), obvious when being looked at (Plato 79-82; Heidegger 117).

However, the proximity of the truth is ruined on the basis of the fact that our feelings start disagreeing with the logic. The problem gets exacerbated in Plato’s cave allegory, when one person manages to get out and look at the real world (the world of ideas), and then comes back and tells other people about it (Plato 81). Thus, to see the real truth, it was necessary to crawl out of the cave and, gradually getting used to the light, capture the real shapes, or knowing the misrepresentation of cave shadows and the way things change while dropping shadows, guess the subjects from the outside, i.e. construct the vision of them. In both cases, it is likely to be mistaken, and thus, truth and knowledge have become a problem to face (Heidegger 121; Pater 67).

It is at this point that there appears the ground for the concept of liberty. The truth issue turns to be a kind of problem of a completely different nature than the ones that had to be solved previously. Earlier, the easy cave life supposed finding ready things, growing what others were grown, doing as all do, learning from the wise oracles, and behaving like the other did. Now, a person has to decide on one’s own where the real nature is (Heidegger 130). A person has a natural right to determine what is true not even in the relative, but in the absolute manner, and no force can change the determination of thinking, if thinking itself is not going to change the determination (Zvesper 679).

For the first time, the problem of knowledge has become an issue of self-identification; and thus, for Plato, liberty is self-determination in knowledge, the reality of self-determining thinking (Plato 83). However, liberty is not the result, but is rather seen as the process of liberation through the abovementioned process of self-determination (Heidegger 132; Zvesper 680). In addition, liberty has introduced the labour of new quality – education (paideia) (Plato 85), appearing simultaneously with the problem of knowledge, because if there was no problem of cognition (non-compliance of phenomena and their essence), there would be no need for making self-determining choices.

Further, Plato opens up a new approach to the problem of liberty through responsibility accompanying it: imputation is more steadily associated by Plato with the arbitrariness of decisions and actions; morality is understood as the epiphenomenon of the highest moral virtue, while liberty itself is seen as the ability to produce virtues (Plato 84-87; Pater 78-79). A man is responsible because one has the knowledge of moral and duty issues (Brooks 70), and the virtuousness of an action is identified by its soundness (no one sins voluntarily (Plato 90)). Choosing one’s own truth, a person thus becomes responsible for this choice (Brooks 71). However, for Plato, liberty lies not in the autonomy of the subject in one’s choices, but in the ascetic state of involvement into knowledge, self-determination and intelligible highest virtues (Zvesper 684-5; Dénes 87).

Plato’s liberty is also not a theory of individual freedom for citizens, and the theory of total liberty – the liberty of the state in its integrity, indivisibility (Dénes 93-4; Vacano 52). Still, Plato brings human into a sacrifice to the state. He understood the connection of single to the whole characteristic for the ancient polis, the dependence of an individual from a larger community, the conditionality of an individual by the state. Realizing this connection, Plato transformed it into the norm of his project of an ideal social and political order. The philosopher considers it necessary to pursue the achievement of the average form of government, combining the advantages of strong power and self-government (Plato 124-5). The main factor is the maintenance of a certain measure of liberty and power, for governors should not bring people to the slave conditions, as well as possible weaken control over them (Vacano 57; Tinder 156-8).

In this perspective, liberty is surely understood as the virtue for democracy, but, according to Plato, democratic systems finally get ruined by their thirst for liberty, just as oligarchy is destroyed by the thirst for wealth. Burning with the thirst for liberties, a democratic state gets intoxicated by the excess of undiluted liberty and grows out of it into its consequence and antithesis tyranny (Plato 111-2; Pater 73-76).

At the same time, Plato is much more concerned with the increase in liberty than with the threat of tyranny (Tinder 141). The thinker constantly notes the danger of excessive self-determination of citizens for the welfare of the state, saying that complete liberty and independence from any power is much worse than moderate subordination to others (Santas 66-68). Plato sees democracy as a favorable and varied system, yet, having no proper control: domination of false opinions inherent to the crowd in democracies leads to the loss of moral values (Santas 59; Stalley 163).

On a whole, Plato advises people, who do not want to experience slavery, not to strive for full independence, as it is this aspiration that will eventually throw them into slave condition (Zvesper 687; Stalley 165). According to Plato, both obedience and liberty crossing moderate borders are the great evil, but in the adequate extent, both of them may be the great virtue.

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