5. The Ring of Gyges [QP]


Plato differed from most philosophers in that he did not underestimate the ability of allegories and examples in conveying points to a reader. In the Republic, one of his most famous dialogues that explores epistemology, metaphysics and ethics, one of the interlocutors (Plato’s brother Glaucon), brings up the famous myth of Gyges by Herodotus.

One day, while the farmer Gyges was walking through his crops, he noticed that a chasm had emerged with stairs leading downwards. At the bottom of the stairs, Gyges found what appeared to be a ring of some value. When he emerged from the chasm and faced the ring towards himself, he noticed that the others farmers were oblivious to his presence – he had acquired the power of invisibility. It wasn’t until long that Gyges realised that he wielded an absurd amount of power with this ring. He robbed his neighbours, killed and usurped the king and amassed a large fortune.

The point which Plato’s brother was trying to convey to Socrates in the dialogue was the following: “He only blames injustice, who owing to cowardice or inability has not the power of being unjust.”(Plato, 39) J.R.R Tolkien echoed Plato’s belief in that power easily corrupts good-natured individuals whose appetites exceed their abilities to rationalise. With this myth, Plato provides us with deep insights into human nature and asserts himself as both a philosopher and a psychologist.

Plato Republic. Champaign, Ill.: Project Gutenberg, 1896. Print.

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