In today’s world, the term “freedom” is used to imply a subject’s free will. Though Plato was a philosopher and dealt much with the different aspects of the freedom of the self, the term was not used in any of his works. In spite of a lack of the word itself, the concept is often found within Plato’s works through a look at the power of opposition or separation. The individual’s sense of freedom is presented in such a manner as that the individual has the power to distance or separate themselves from the masses or to oppose the predominant opinion of the masses, taking a stance that is different from the overall majority. In addition, though it is not referred to as often as the power of separation, the individual is likewise afforded the option of choosing to conform to the majority mentality. It is through these concepts that Plato discusses freedom.
Freedom in the Apology
Plato investigates Socrates’ attitudes toward wealth, power, and, ultimately, death in the Apology, and it is within those attitudes that the concept of freedom may be seen in this particular work. Plato returns to the concept of freedom several times as he cautions all individuals who wish to take a stance on a particular matter to “give your attention to the question, whether what I say is just or not?” (22). Plato demands that the individual looks at the topic, completing their own analysis, and then and only then should the individual determine whether to conform or oppose the given matter.
Through the lens of Socrates, Plato cajoles the populace to maintain an independence of thought, to utilize the freedoms afforded to them and investigate the questions that are posed to them as opposed to “sit(ting) to give away justice as a favor, but to pronounce judgment; and (be sworn), not to favor any man whom he would like to favor, but to judge according to law” (42). In stating this, Plato cautions the individual to choose their path carefully, taking the freedom granted to them as opposed to simply giving in to the opinion of the masses. The individual has the freedom to oppose others if they so choose, and in order to do so, that individual must base their decisions on that which is right or just as opposed to that which is the norm. As Plato shows, wealth is not freedom, as it serves to restrict the individual through certain societal constraints. Death is a freedom, allowing the individual, in certain circumstances, to choose their own path through that route, in the same manner Socrates did, for though Socrates was put to death, it was his choice to do so as opposed to conform.
Freedom in the Phaedo
In the Phaedo, Plato uses the perspective of Socrates, to review the concept of freedom. In this instance, freedom is viewed as the power of the individual to separate the mind from the body and the body’s desires and from society and its ideologies. Socrates is used to explain the different inconsistencies present in the possession of items, using the concept of theft of material possession to present the lesson. The analogy is used to explain how the individual can put away their senses, much in the same manner that material possessions may be stored to prevent their theft. In applying the concept of one to the physicality of the other, the individual may free themselves from the body’s material constraints, society’s material constraints, and the material constraints of life within that society, focusing instead on the free will of the individual, the constructs of the mind, and the different objects, concepts, or ideas that the individual identifies as good or just. Socrates explains how this freedom may be obtained and indicates that the individual is free and has their own freedom if they are able to put aside their emotions, their desires, and society’s constraints.
Freedom in The Allegory of the Cave
The Allegory of the Cave provides the individual with the ability to understand the manner in which the perceptions of the individual serve to chain the individual, reducing their freedoms. Through an in depth questioning of the world around oneself, the individual may be free to learn and to grow as a person, but this freedom cannot be obtained until the individual has thrown off the shackles of perceptions, allowing them to see the world as it truly is. Furthermore, the individual cannot assist others in increasing their freedoms until these perceptions are no longer tying down the mind and perceptions of the individual. Until the individual is able to see perceptions as a constraint, the individual will never be truly free, instead remaining chained to a construct of reality created by shadow dancing along a wall, unable to see the truth of the world and, as such, unable to experience freedom as it was intended. Unless the individual obtains freedom of the mind, freedom of understanding, and freedom of knowledge, gained through the dissolution of their perceptions, the individual will never be free.
The different types of freedoms are many, but they all boil down to whether or not an individual is shackled by mental or physical constraints. In each of Plato’s works, he reviews the different constraints upon the individual, each in some way working to limit the freedoms of the individual. Without an understanding of these constraints, the individual has no hope of experiencing true freedom. In working to understand and identify each of these concepts and apply those lessons practically, the individual will be able to gain true freedom.