Plato - Simile of The Ship (aka The Navigator)

Explanation/Importance of the similie of the ship

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Used to retort Adeimantus' assertions that philosophers are "very off birds, not to say thoroughly vicious",
and even their best qualities prove to be useless to society.
Illustrates Plato's views on the shortcomings of democracy
Illustrates the way in which true philosophers are ignored, or help contempt in a democratic society
when they should really be in charge.
The illustration of the way true philosophers are ignored has already been shown in the analogy of the Cave
(when the philosopher prisoner returns back but no one believes him). It has also been shown in the similie
of the Beast where society will never want to hear what a philosopher has to tell them. But the Ship makes
this connection clear.
Ship ­ the democratic state
Captain ­ the democratically elected ruler, or voting public (plato is ambiguous)
Large and strong but also deaf and short-sighted. He cannot know what is good for society in the
long run; essentially the democratically elected ruler.
Crew ­ politicians
they quarrel amongst themselves, with a desire to seize power from the captain. Similar to
political parties they vie against each other using underhand means (alcohol & drugs) to try
manipulate the captain. When they succeed in taking control, the Ship becomes a `drunken
pleasure cruise' as they cannot run the state efficiently.
Navigator ­ a true philosopher
He has the ability to bring the ship to its port through knowledge of stars, skies & changing
seasons (Forms). This represents the Philosophers ability to bring the state to its ultimate
destination through knowledge of the Forms. Even though he holds all the knowledge, his voice is
lost and ignored. He is unimportant to the Crew and should he try to explain the art of navigation,
they will call him a "word spinner and star gazer". This opinion is similar to that of ARISTOTLE who
questioned the use of the Forms being practical in society.
The sky, stars, winds ­ the Forms
Other skills of the navigator ­ the skills required to apply knowledge of the Forms into running a
Plato believes that such knowledge of the Forms (or the sky, starts etc.) is of practical use as the
philosopher has the Form of the Good as knowledge and can therefore know what is good for society. For
this reason, he believes the navigator should have total control of the ship and the others should obey him
as not only can he navigate, but he is the only person with true knowledge of where the ship is going. Plato
recognises this will never happen in a democracy because in a democracy, acclaim is given to those who are
the strongest or the most argumentative rather than those who have trained themselves in abstract though.

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Strengths Weaknesses
Similarities can be drawn between our Plato claims that the navigators knowledge
modern democratic societies and the of the stars, skies, etc. (the Forms) make him
ship. Politicians (crew) do manipulate the best person to lead the ship. However,
the voters. Protestors (the masses) this is not the only function. The ship's unruly
can persuade politicians into a force of crew also need to be kept in line and this is
action.…read more


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