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Plato's Allegory of the cave still applies

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I saw a quote attributed to H.L, Mencken recently that really resonated with me.  "For every complex problem, there is a solution that is clear, simple, and wrong."

Indeed we live in a time where it's relatively easy to amass "proof" of whichever side of an issue one might choose.  Objective truth is buried in, well... stuff that isn't objective truth.  I think there are a lot of people who see that as a feature, not a bug.  Some of them strike me as being smart, reasonable and decent people in other respects, so why is this happening?  

The Greek Philosopher Plato, may have the answer with his "Allegory of the cave".

It goes like this.  Imagine a cave in which there are three prisoners.  The prisoners are tied to some rocks, their arms and legs are bound and their head is tied so that they cannot look at anything but the stone wall in front of them.  These prisoners were born in the cave, and know nothing else.  Behind the prisoners is a fire, and between them is a raised walkway.  People outside the cave walk along this walkway carrying things on their head including animals, plants, wood and stone.  

Consider the prisoners perspective.  They spend their lives looking at shadows on the wall.  To the prisoners, the shadows are real objects.  To pass the time the prisoners begin a game of guessing which shadow will appear next.  When one guesses correctly, the others praise him as clever and say that he is a master of nature.  

Now imagine that one of the prisoners escapes their bindings, and then the cave.  Everything he thought of reality is proven wrong.  Eventually he comes to understand the "new" world through an intellectual journey that touches on beauty and meaning.  He's aware that the guessing game of his former life was useless.

The prisoner returns to the cave to tell the other of what he's found.  They do not believe him, and threaten to kill him if he tries to set them free.

Based on what I've read, Plato's allegory was trying to represent the following;

The cave represents people who believe that knowledge comes from what we see and hear in the world. 

The shadows represent the perceptions of those who believe empirical evidence ensures knowledge. 

The game represents how people believe that one person can be a "master" when they have knowledge of the empirical world.

The escaped prisoner represents a philosopher who seeks knowledge outside the senses.

The other prisoners reaction to the escapee returning represents how people fear philosophical truths.

On some level, I think there's a practical need to do the best with what you've got at the moment.  A person can't launch into a philosophical vision quest before deciding on what to have for lunch every day.  That being said, a whole lot of what we think we know, just doesn't factor much into what we're trying to achieve.

There was a cute example of this in "A Study in Scarlet" where Watson revealed that Holmes didn't know or care that the planets revolved around the sun, because it didn't help his investigations.

Indeed, I bet most of us can recall a time where an expert's solution to a practical question, overlooked undesired outcomes which affected things outside of the expert's interest.  In this case, the experts truly are excellent resources, assuming you're chained to the same rock as them.

What do you think?



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That’s interesting I’ve never heard of that story. I can think of a few times over the years were I argued with manufacturers when I was doing warranty work on a customers machine and they kept asking me to do tests and they would have me change parts and check this and check that but it wasn’t until I would get frustrated in dealing with them and broke off from what they wanted and just follow my thoughts on the problem based on my experience that I actually found the problem and was able to fix it. I have had them get angry at me for not following them and their ultimate knowledge because they built the machine but sometimes like your story you gotta walk outside the cave and learn something knew and if the people in the cave don’t want to listen then you just move on and keep repairing machines lol. 


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I know that story. You have it right. Fear keeps us chained to the things we think we know because that is all we have ever known, and to venture out of the cave and find real answers would mean we were wrong about almost everything. And almost everyone can relate be it their job or even relationships. As you also mention I have been in both sides of the light. Lol. I have found solutions to things that my mentors have over looked and have also went into projects/ problems and found even though I made it to my desired location my mentor (master) told me a faster, easier, and most often safer way to get there. Typically after the fact. Probably for a laugh to themselves. I learned young to listen to the people that came before me but to also keep an open mind to a new path. You never know what you may find? I never forget though that baby steps is where it all starts. (Still forging leaves)

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I've always thought of the "Allegory of the Cave" differently, maybe very differently. 

The person who escapes is first struck by the impossibility of what he sees but learns to cope. Cognitive Dissonance is the mental discomfort, confusion, caused by the conflict between what person "knows" and what apparently is. This isn't a philosophical condition, it's real and has real physical manifestations. It can cause a major change in philosophy, usually good if a person can adapt to the condition. 

The only significant change in philosophy the escaped man learns is the uncertainty of what he believes true. 

The men still in the cave can't believe the escaped man, they have no frame of reference but what they can sense. They defend their beliefs because the escaped man's claims are extraordinary. Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary proof or you're a mark. 

The escaped man isn't bringing the trapped men philosophy, he's bringing the destruction of all they know to be replaced with the absurd. 

Does anybody remember their first day of school? Mother drops you in front of a strange building, maybe you've seen it in passing but today you have to GO IN! Perhaps a strange but nice lady meets you and your Mother introduces you. Then she GIVES YOU TO HER! And LEAVES! 

I know I was all enthusiastic to go to school where I'd LEARN all that stuff grown ups know. But what a strange scary place it was. Worse they DIDN'T teach me all that stuff, I had to go back OVER AND OVER and it was hard. 

The escaped man had no choice, he was freed and had to leave the cave. The trapped men had a choice and chose what they knew. 

DRATS, now I find I can't express what the Allegory meant to me very clearly at all. <sigh>

Frosty The Lucky.

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It's worth reading the entire text; there's a bit more to it than rockstar.esq's summary above:

From: Plato, The Republic, Book VII (Benjamin Jowett, Tr.)
Socrates is speaking with his friend, Glaucon.

Socrates. And now, let me show in a figure how far our nature is enlightened or unenlightened: — Behold! human beings living in a underground den, which has a mouth open towards the light and reaching all along the den; here they have been from their childhood, and have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see before them, being prevented by the chains from turning round their heads. Above and behind them a fire is blazing at a distance, and between the fire and the prisoners there is a raised way; and you will see, if you look, a low wall built along the way, like the screen which marionette players have in front of them, over which they show the puppets.

Glaucon. I see.

Socrates. And do you see men passing along the wall carrying all sorts of vessels, and statues and figures of animals made of wood and stone and various materials, which appear over the wall? Some of them are talking, others silent.

Glaucon. You have shown me a strange image, and they are strange prisoners.

S. Like ourselves; and they see only their own shadows, or the shadows of one another, which the fire throws on the opposite wall of the cave?

G. True; how could they see anything but the shadows if they were never allowed to move their heads?

S. And of the objects which are being carried in like manner they would only see the shadows?

G. Yes.

S. And if they were able to converse with one another, would they not suppose that they were naming what was actually before them?

G. Very true.

S. And suppose further that the prison had an echo which came from the other side, would they not be sure to fancy when one of the passers-by spoke that the voice which they heard came from the passing shadow?

G. No question.

S. To them the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images.

G. That is certain.

S. And now look again, and see what will naturally follow it: the prisoners are released and disabused of their error. At first, when any of them is liberated and compelled suddenly to stand up and turn his neck round and walk and look towards the light, he will suffer sharp pains; the glare will distress him, and he will be unable to see the realities of which in his former state he had seen the shadows; and then conceive some one saying to him, that what he saw before was an illusion, but that now, when he is approaching nearer to being and his eye is turned towards more real existence, he has a clearer vision, -- what will be his reply? And you may further imagine that his instructor is pointing to the objects as they pass and requiring him to name them, -- will he not be perplexed? Will he not fancy that the shadows which he formerly saw are truer than the objects which are now shown to him?

G. Far truer.

S. And if he is compelled to look straight at the light, will he not have a pain in his eyes which will make him turn away to take and take in the objects of vision which he can see, and which he will conceive to be in reality clearer than the things which are now being shown to him?

G. True.

S. And suppose once more, that he is reluctantly dragged up a steep and rugged ascent, and held fast until he 's forced into the presence of the sun himself, is he not likely to be pained and irritated? When he approaches the light his eyes will be dazzled, and he will not be able to see anything at all of what are now called realities.

G. Not all in a moment.

S. He will require to grow accustomed to the sight of the upper world. And first he will see the shadows best, next the reflections of men and other objects in the water, and then the objects themselves; then he will gaze upon the light of the moon and the stars and the spangled heaven; and he will see the sky and the stars by night better than the sun or the light of the sun by day?

G. Certainly.

S. Last of he will be able to see the sun, and not mere reflections of him in the water, but he will see him in his own proper place, and not in another; and he will contemplate him as he is.

G. Certainly.

S. He will then proceed to argue that this is he who gives the season and the years, and is the guardian of all that is in the visible world, and in a certain way the cause of all things which he and his fellows have been accustomed to behold?

G. Clearly, he would first see the sun and then reason about him.

S. And when he remembered his old habitation, and the wisdom of the den and his fellow- prisoners, do you not suppose that he would felicitate himself on the change, and pity them?

G. Certainly, he would.

S. And if they were in the habit of conferring honours among themselves on those who were quickest to observe the passing shadows and to remark which of them went before, and which followed after, and which were together; and who were therefore best able to draw conclusions as to the future, do you think that he would care for such honours and glories, or envy the possessors of them? Would he not say with Homer, "Better to be the poor servant of a poor master, and to endure anything, rather than think as they do and live after their manner?"

G. Yes, I think that he would rather suffer anything than entertain these false notions and live in this miserable manner.

S. Imagine once more such an one coming suddenly out of the sun to be replaced in his old situation; would he not be certain to have his eyes full of darkness?

G. To be sure.

S. And if there were a contest, and he had to compete in measuring the shadows with the prisoners who had never moved out of the den, while his sight was still weak, and before his eyes had become steady (and the time which would be needed to acquire this new habit of sight might be very considerable) would he not be ridiculous? Men would say of him that up he went and down he came without his eyes; and that it was better not even to think of ascending; and if any one tried to loose another and lead him up to the light, let them only catch the offender, and they would put him to death.

G. No question.

S. This entire allegory you may now append, dear Glaucon, to the previous argument [i.e., the Divided Line analogy]; the prison-house is the world of sight, the light of the fire is the sun, and you will not misapprehend me if you interpret the journey upwards to be the ascent of the soul into the intellectual world according to my poor belief, which, at your desire, I have expressed whether rightly or wrongly God knows.

But, whether true or false, my opinion is that in the world of knowledge the idea of good appears last of all, and is seen only with an effort; and, when seen, is also inferred to be the universal author of all things beautiful and right, parent of light and of the lord of light in this visible world, and the immediate source of reason and truth in the intellectual; and that this is the power upon which he who would act rationally, either in public or private life must have his eye fixed.

G. I agree, as far as I am able to understand you.

S. Moreover, you must not wonder that those who attain to this beatific vision are unwilling to descend to human affairs; for their souls are ever hastening into the upper world where they desire to dwell; which desire of theirs is very natural, if our allegory may be trusted.

G. Yes, very natural.

S. And is there anything surprising in one who passes from divine contemplations to the evil state of man, misbehaving himself in a ridiculous manner; if, while his eyes are blinking and before he has become accustomed to the surrounding darkness, he is compelled to fight in courts of law, or in other places, about the images or the shadows of images of justice, and is endeavouring to meet the conceptions of those who have never yet seen absolute justice?

G. Anything but surprising.

S. Any one who has common sense will remember that the bewilderments of the eyes are of two kinds, and arise from two causes, either from coming out of the light or from going into the light, which is true of the mind's eye, quite as much as of the bodily eye; and he who remembers this when he sees any one whose vision is perplexed and weak, will not be too ready to laugh; he will first ask whether that soul of man has come out of the brighter light, and is unable to see because unaccustomed to the dark, or having turned from darkness to the day is dazzled by excess of light. And he will count the one happy in his condition and state of being, and he will pity the other; or, if he have a mind to laugh at the soul which comes from below into the light, there will be more reason in this than in the laugh which greets him who returns from above out of the light into the den.

G. That is a very just distinction.

S. But then, if I am right, certain professors of education must be wrong when they say that they can put a knowledge into the soul which was not there before, like sight into blind eyes.

G. They undoubtedly say this.

S. Whereas, our argument shows that the power and capacity of learning exists in the soul already; and that just as the eye was unable to turn from darkness to light without the whole body, so too the instrument of knowledge can only by the movement of the whole soul be turned from the world of becoming into that of being, and learn by degrees to endure the sight of being, and of the brightest and best of being, or in other words, of the good.

G. Very true.

S. And must there not be some art which will effect conversion in the easiest and quickest manner; not implanting the faculty of sight, for that exists already, but has been turned in the wrong direction, and is looking away from the truth?

G. Yes, such an art may be presumed.

S. And whereas the other so-called virtues of the soul seem to be akin to bodily qualities, for even when they are not originally innate they can be implanted later by habit and exercise, the of wisdom more than anything else contains a divine element which always remains, and by this conversion is rendered useful and profitable; or, on the other hand, hurtful and useless. Did you never observe the narrow intelligence flashing from the keen eye of a clever rogue — how eager he is, how clearly his paltry soul sees the way to his end; he is the reverse of blind, but his keen eyesight is forced into the service of evil, and he is mischievous in proportion to his cleverness.

G. Very true.

S. But what if there had been a circumcision of such natures in the days of their youth; and they had been severed from those sensual pleasures, such as eating and drinking, which, like leaden weights, were attached to them at their birth, and which drag them down and turn the vision of their souls upon the things that are below — if, I say, they had been released from these impediments and turned in the opposite direction, the very same faculty in them would have seen the truth as keenly as they see what their eyes are turned to now.

G. Very likely.

S. Yes; and there is another thing which is likely. or rather a necessary inference from what has preceded, that neither the uneducated and uninformed of the truth, nor yet those who never make an end of their education, will be able ministers of State; not the former, because they have no single aim of duty which is the rule of all their actions, private as well as public; nor the latter, because they will not act at all except upon compulsion, fancying that they are already dwelling apart in the islands of the blest.

G. Very true.

S. Then the business of us who are the founders of the State will be to compel the best minds to attain that knowledge which we have already shown to be the greatest of all — they must continue to ascend until they arrive at the good; but when they have ascended and seen enough we must not allow them to do as they do now.

G. What do you mean?

S. I mean that they remain in the upper world: but this must not be allowed; they must be made to descend again among the prisoners in the den, and partake of their labours and honours, whether they are worth having or not.

G. But is not this unjust? Ought we to give them a worse life, when they might have a better?

S. You have again forgotten, my friend, the intention of the legislator, who did not aim at making any one class in the State happy above the rest; the happiness was to be in the whole State, and he held the citizens together by persuasion and necessity, making them benefactors of the State, and therefore benefactors of one another; to this end he created them, not to please themselves, but to be his instruments in binding up the State.

G. True, I had forgotten.

S. Observe, Glaucon, that there will be no injustice in compelling our philosophers to have a care and providence of others; we shall explain to them that in other States, men of their class are not obliged to share in the toils of politics: and this is reasonable, for they grow up at their own sweet will, and the government would rather not have them. Being self-taught, they cannot be expected to show any gratitude for a culture which they have never received. But we have brought you into the world to be rulers of the hive, kings of yourselves and of the other citizens, and have educated you far better and more perfectly than they have been educated, and you are better able to share in the double duty. Wherefore each of you, when his turn comes, must go down to the general underground abode, and get the habit of seeing in the dark. When you have acquired the habit, you will see ten thousand times better than the inhabitants of the den, and you will know what the several images are, and what they represent, because you have seen the beautiful and just and good in their truth. And thus our State which is also yours will be a reality, and not a dream only, and will be administered in a spirit unlike that of other States, in which men fight with one another about shadows only and are distracted in the struggle for power, which in their eyes is a great good. Whereas the truth is that the State in which the rulers are most reluctant to govern is always the best and most quietly governed, and the State in which they are most eager, the worst.

G. Quite true.

S. And will our pupils, when they hear this, refuse to take their turn at the toils of State, when they are allowed to spend the greater part of their time with one another in the heavenly light?

G. Impossible; for they are just men, and the commands which we impose upon them are just; there can be no doubt that every one of them will take office as a stern necessity, and not after the fashion of our present rulers of State.

S. Yes, my friend; and there lies the point. You must contrive for your future rulers another and a better life than that of a ruler, and then you may have a well-ordered State; for only in the State which offers this, will they rule who are truly rich, not in silver and gold, but in virtue and wisdom, which are the true blessings of life. Whereas if they go to the administration of public affairs, poor and hungering after their own private advantage, thinking that hence they are to snatch the chief good, order there can never be; for they will be fighting about office, and the civil and domestic broils which thus arise will be the ruin of the rulers themselves and of the whole State.



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  I'm not a philosopher.  I read that many years ago and considered it a case of extreme culture shock. :) Evidently it goes deeper than that...  Thank you for posting that.  It may take a few re-readings on my part!

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It’s a sad truth (at least in my experience) that the Allegory of the Cave is usually first encountered by high school and college students who are predisposed to think of themselves as persecuted for their superior insight and wisdom. Since that presentation is usually shorn of the second half, about enlightenment leading to compassion and thus to a desire to rule in service of justice and virtue rather than of self-aggrandizement, most readers end up missing the point entirely. 

That said, the Πολιτεία is a political treatise above all, so I think we need to be careful about not discussing its application to current politics, politicians, and political situations.

5 minutes ago, ThomasPowers said:

It has much deeper meaning when read in the original Klingon...right John?

The Klingons are an Empire, not a Republic.

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I think a lot of the value of Plato's cave analogy is that we form our perceptions of the world on what we can observe.  We are necessarily limited in our perceptions.  We are always, to some degree, seeing "through a glass, darkly."  However, those perceptions are then caught up in the normal human emotions of ego, self worth, pride, mental inertia.  Theories become attached to the personality of the person proposing them and anything that changes that theory is seen as an attack on the person.  "We've always done it that way" is another way of saying that a proposal to do something differently is implying that what we have been doing is wrong and we are stupid for having been doing it that way.

Usually, major shifts in theory and ways of doing things require solid proof to change the former theories and ways.  In geology it took the discovery of the iridium anomaly at the Cretaceous-Tertiary stratigraphic boundary to give strong evidence to the idea that a meteor impact caused the extinction of the dinosaurs.  And it took additional evidence of sea floor spreading, convection cells in the mantle, and subduction zones to give enough evidence for plate tectonics to be generally accepted beyond just observing that Africa and South America jig saw together.  "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."

This becomes particularly true in areas where empirical proof is not available, e.g. politics and religion.  

I will not address Plato's final conclusion, as John mentioned, of virtuous service and compassion flowing from "true" perceptions.

"By hammer and hand all arts do stand."

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49 minutes ago, JHCC said:

Since that presentation is usually shorn of the second half, about enlightenment leading to compassion and thus to a desire to rule in service of justice and virtue rather than of self-aggrandizement, most readers end up missing the point entirely. 

  I wonder why that is.  Save on ink?   Perhaps the answer to that lies in the political realm.  If so, disregard my question.  I sure am curious though.

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JHCC,  Thank you for the additions, and the explanations.  Like the students you mentioned, I didn't know about the "second half" either.

That being said, I was talking to my kids about this which got me to thinking about the the returning prisoner.  Imagine trying to explain colors to people who've only ever seen firelit stone and shadow.  Concepts like seeing your own reflection seem a bit like mimicking magic to someone with a sense of their own proportions.  The prisoners are chained down which implies that they have no tactile reference for their own bodies.  In comparison, a blind person can tell that their fingers are shorter than their arms, and that their nose is above their mouth.  

Imagine trying to establish common ground on such simple things!  Even with great patience, skill, and compassion, the returning prisoner would likely sound like a raving lunatic to the chained prisoners.  

Now imagine working through all that's necessary to convey how cell phones work.  That could take years of effort.

After all of that effort, imagine trying to explain to the chained prisoner why some people prefer not to answer calls!


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2 hours ago, Nodebt said:

  I wonder why that is.  Save on ink?   

I'm going to suggest it's less about politics, and more about understanding how philosopher's operate.

Look at the major lessons of the first half,

We can't trust empirical evidence to know what we're doing in the world. 

We are as blinded by truth as we are by the concealment of truth.

"Who are you going to believe, me, or your lying eyes?"

The second half attempts to apply this understanding to morality and leadership, without answering the most important question of all.

That question is pretty simple.  "What practical purpose can any of this serve?"

Well, it promotes further study of philosophy, which mostly hobbles egos by creating questions which can't be answered.  

I think they teach the first half to hone critical thinking skills, and temper hubris, which are valuable lessons.

Once you've got those, it starts to make sense why a philosopher would recommend putting philosophers in charge.


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Well doggone. Funny how reading the whole thing changes your interpretation. I'd never realized how truncated a version we'd read and discussed in school, the version in high school was maybe half a page and in college maybe a whole page. It's small wonder my thinking was so superficial besides being a brain fog day.

Thanks Rockstar, John! I'll have to go over it a couple times and do some thinking. 

Frosty The Lucky.

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This thread is another example of how wide ranging the IFI discussions can get.  Classical Greek philosophy is not high on the list of what you would expect on a black smithing forum. Cool and thought provoking, though.

"By hammer and hand all arts do stand."

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1 hour ago, rockstar.esq said:

The second half attempts to apply this understanding to morality and leadership, without answering the most important question of all.

That question is pretty simple.  "What practical purpose can any of this serve?"

It serves as a lesson on leadership. Every leader (be it in politics, military, or civilian) should periodically spend time out in the field actually working with those under them. It is a common theme, at least in my trade, that a leader seems to forget what life in the field is like after a year or two in the office. Spending a month or so every couple of years actually doing the work might help correct the problem. 

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I see your point, and I also see how you took my wording.  I actually intended my suggestion of the "most important" question to apply to the first half.  

Broadly speaking, I think Plato supports portions your argument, however I would add that he goes into great depth about why it's not reasonable or just to explain the higher minded reasons of things to the cave dwellers.

Your comment definitely applies to me personally, and professionally.  I came up through the trades, went to college, and work in management of that trade.  Many of my professional colleagues are college graduates with limited, and heavily "sanitized" field experience.  By and large college internships in the construction industry feature a remarkable lack of difficult situations.  For example, spending eight hours working upside down in a trench.  Mostly they act as bystanders wearing fluorescent safety gear and carry a clipboard.

This whole thing get's a bit slippery depending on where you start a given person in the allegory.  Take the intern watching the trench crew from my example.  That empirical observation of "life in the cave" may be based on watching masters of their craft doing an ugly task, just as plausibly as it may be based on watching ham-fisted apprentices doing everything the hard way.  The intern would have no way to know.  

I would argue that this makes the intern a prisoner in the cave.

Now, send that same intern back to college and teach them everything about how construction contracting is performed.  All the hard work, knowledge, material sciences, all of it is ultimately a shadow of objects placed in front of the light source. 

What is the giver of all light in the construction world?  Contracts.  Contracts define what you do, when you do it, what you don't do, what you will be paid, and what happens when things change or go wrong.  

Everything thereafter is about professionals at companies arranging their affairs to trade risk for reward.

This is why it's often profitable to employ skilled people to do, and build, stupid things.   All employment is trading in human potential.

Sending the now "enlightened" graduate into the field to run stuff doesn't guarantee greater perspective, judgement, or morality.  The "blinding light of truth" in practical terms will mean that many contracts will require tunnel vision, slavish devotion to avoiding legal snags, and pushing risk off onto others.  

The only way to avoid this humiliating waste of human potential is to pursue contracts with clients who cultivate trusting working relationships which don't require vicious enforcement of their contracts.  That is not taught at the University I attended, and I strongly suspect it's not in the curriculum of most other schools either.  It's been my experience that most contractors and subcontractors are unaware of this principal beyond horse-trading change orders while speaking in platitudes about "building relationships".  

Much of this was explained to me by working journeymen during my apprenticeship.

I would argue that these journeymen were the prisoner returning to the cave, since it was childishly hopeful gibberish to most who heard them.

I would also argue that pushing those "enlightened" Journeymen into management via the Peter principle, is how this industry has formed the managerial equivalent of coprolites.  I'm sure that most of us can think of awful managers who have an abundance of education and experience.

I believe influence is the most important fundamental of leadership.  That's a dynamic property, driven by trust and engagement.  I've seen many projects where everything just "fell into place" so well that one might never notice the leader at work. 

Instead of assuming that education or experience will fill in this gap, let's consider what a person would have to do in order to achieve trust and engagement with the workers.  I submit that anything we might put on that list amounts to sincerely validating human potential, and honestly addressing the realities of the situation.

In other words, you've got to do the best you can, with what you have, right now.


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People do not like to be uncomfortable.  Nor do they like to be wrong.  Should someone become "self-actualized" be it through philosophy or perhaps by being a monk, it is through much effort and discomfort.  It is not easy to go from being a watcher of shadows to one who has a greater understanding of "life, the universe and everything".

Once one has become enlightened through personal sacrifice and they try to tell another that their ideas, way of thinking, and so on are wrong-no one wants to hear that.  It is very uncomfortable and will be met with resistance.  Tell someone that we could all live in a better society if they stop watching prime time sitcoms and sports and then spend that time doing community service or just checking on an elderly neighbor and likely they will tell you to pack sand.  Or, substitute anything behavior or activity that they could do to better themselves instead of wasting their life away.

I think that the ideal state that he was proposing is like what our founding fathers had in mind with the "citizen statesman", rather than the career politicians that we have today.  There is a warning that we should be wary of those who wish to rule.  They most likely are not wanting rulership because they are going to make great personal sacrifice for the greater good and to make society better for all.  One should be selected because they do not want the job, it sucks to be in charge.  It requires much effort to rule justly, compassionately and for the benefit of everyone else, even at one's own expense.  The ideal leader in this society would have to be dragged into office kicking and screaming, "No. not me!".  However, once resigned to their task, they will give it their all until the lousy job of being the ruler has run its due time.  Drag the next one into office, your time has been served.

Both Plato and our founding fathers expected that the society would be, by and large, well read, somewhat educated people, compassionate and caring, honest and just.  Well, sounds good on paper...

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