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Could Plato be an Inspiration for My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic?
In his opus magnum The Republiic, Plato discusses the analogy of the cave. In it, one is held prisoner in a cave with a single flame since birth, chained to face a wall... seeing nothing his whole life except the shadows on the wall made by the single flame inside the cave. These shadows make up the sum of reality as far as the prisoner is concerned. There is no reality outside of the wall and the shadows, as the prisoner forms his ideas about the world around him based solely on the shadows that he sees.
Then one day, the prisoner is mysteriously freed from his shackles. The first thing he sees is the fire. The light is almost painfully blinding, but he realises the shadows were not reality, but rather his captors walking past the fire was reality. He sees other prisoners. He knows that being alone was not reality. Finally, he leaves the cave and is blinded by the sun, to experience the whole world around him, and wonders how he could have been so easily deceived.
Now on to Ponies
For most Bronies, watching My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is like leaving the cave. We spent our entire lives forming ideas about the franchise based on shadows, which, for the non-brony, the current series is "living in the shadow" of it's predecessors. We all had an idea formed about what the show must be like. All we had known was shadows.
How we all came to be compelled to watch the show was different. It may have been a video on YouTube, it may have been some artwork we saw, it may have been a captioned screenshot we found somewhere on the internet. It may have been a documentary, a commercial, anything that piqued our interest, and told us that the shadows were not all there was to the show. This was us mysteriously being unshackled from our chains and seeing the fire.
Finally we took our first steps out of the cave and decided to watch an episode.
Classes of the Kalipolis and Equestria
First of all before I delve to deep into Plato, I should start by discussing the classes of citizens that make up the Kalipolis, or Plato's perfect society. (It should be noted, a lot of these ideas are ascribed to Socrates. We have no record of any texts by Socrates, rather we have several dialogues of Socrates written by his student, Plato. I have credited Plato with these ideas because it is my opinion that these accounts are rather fictional dialogues based on what Plato believes Socrates would have said in certain situations.)
In the Kalipolis, Society is divided into three classes. The labouring class, the guardian class, and the intellectual elite - AKA "Philosopher Kings."
Now, Let's start with the labouring class. These are the folks responsible for working the ground (workers, labourers, hired hands), selling goods and services (merchants and tradesmen) and other facets that keep the economy going smoothly. Sound familiar?
It should. In "Heart's Warming Eve" (The My Little Pony version of Christmas) This class was represented by the Earth Ponies. They worked the ground and provided food for everyone. Additionally, let's take a look at labourers and merchants in Equestria. It's not always the case, but most of the notable ones happen to be Earth Ponies. Ponyville was founded by Earth Ponies (Including Applejack's grandmother Granny Smith) when they built the farm Sweet Apple Acres. Many of the more popular merchants, such as the Cake family, Ponyvilles resident pastry chefs, are also Earth Ponies, as well as many of the merchants seen at the Bizarre whenever it appears on the series.
Next we have the guardian class. There are two different groups among the guardians. One is military, and one is police. Basically, defend the City and uphold the law. Now, remember, this is a CLASS, not a job. Guardians would do these duties because it is in their nature. They would participate in society, be outstanding examples of citizenry, yet stand up for wrongdoing and maintain order.
This would be, in the Heart's Warming Eve episode, The Pegasi. Militaristic, warriors, strong. In other episodes, it should be noted that most royal guards are pegasi (with the notable exception of Shining Armor). They escort the Princesses in their travels, serving as protectors (such as against the Changeling invasion), and conduct investigations into any wrongdoings (like the kidnapping of Philamena).
Finally, we come to the aristocracy. The intellectual elite. The Unicorns. That's right. No trip to the Capital City of Equestria is complete without taking note of the ridiculously high unicorn population. They have it all, the most money, the best fashion, top-notch education. We could even see this (to a less extent) in the Heart's Warming episode, where Rarity played the "aristocratic" Queen of the Unicorns. Or at least, aristocratic when compared to her counterparts in the other races. Also, their language (plus the inclusion of Twilight Sparkle) leads me to believe that there is an air of sophistication and likely "Higher education" surrounding the Unicorn race in the era the pageant takes place in.
In present day Equestria, we can see that the bulk of the aristocracy is made up of Unicorns. Some are Aristocratic purely in terms of wealth ("Fancy Pants"), some by fashion (Rarity) and some truly redefine "Intellectual Elite" (Twilight Sparkle). In Plato's Idealistic Society, the aristocracy would be made up entirely of the intellectual elite. Alas, it is my belief that doing so would subtract from Twilight Sparkle's role as the central character by detracting from her uniqueness. While there may be other reasons for the manner of the aristocracy in Equestria, only the shows creators know for certain. But there is little doubt in my mind that the races are designed to be parallels for Plato's perfect city-state.
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The Philosopher King
"Okay. That's all well and good. But it could be coincidence. What else have you got?"
Philosopher kings. That's what.
The capstone to the Kalipolis is it's rulers, the Intellectual Elite, which we touched on briefly in the last module. Out of the intellectual elite comes someone who is worthy of rule. It is not passed on from generation to generation, not is it a duty done alone. It is the rule of the Philosopher King.
Plato said for a just society, philosophers would need to rule, or rulers would have to philosophize (and according to my spell-check, that is an actual word). A common theme among early Greek philosophers was justice, and a ruler who wished to rule justly, and to rule over a just society would have to be a philosopher. You know where I'm going with this: Princesses Celestia and Luna.
First off, we need to look at some of the characteristics of philosopher kings. Aristotle believed that anyone who desired to rule, is the least qualified, and that most qualified to rule is the one who humbles himself (I use masculine terms, strictly in keeping with the ancient Greek ideologies and civilisation. It shouldn't need mention, but yes, women can be philosopher kings too). Nightmare Moon, who was full of selfish ambition could not possibly gain power over Equestria. It was only when she was defeated and humbled, that she could truly put aside her selfish ambition and rule by Princess Celestia's side.
Secondly, too much power is too much. There has to be checks and balances in the system. There has always been some debate as to how this could work. Rotating leaders on a regular basis. Elections held among the Intellectual Elite where no candidacy is announced, but anyone among the aristocracy may be eligible. The most common one is by a Council of Equals, or shared Kingship. In this case, we have two Princesses, Celestia and Luna, who share the royal duties side by side as equals. While it doesn't always seem that way in the series, we must keep in mind, Celestia rules the day, and Luna the night. Most of the episodes take place at daytime, so it would make sense we'd see more of Celestia.
Thirdly, benevolence . I often think of the philosopher king as the "benevolent dictator" in comparison to the "brutal dictators" we hear about in the real world. In order to rule justly, there must be a genuine concern for the well being of all of the subjects. We have yet to see much of Princess Luna, although I would like to think she has this trait. But one thing can be discerned, is that Princess Celestia does have this trait. After Twilight Sparkle accidentally stirred up some chaos in Ponyville (see "Lesson Zero"), Celestia forgave Twilight her mistake after seeing the opportunity to better the lives of her friends, and teach her friends an important lesson about life and friendships. Likewise, she granted the opportunity to Luna to repent of her mistakes as Nightmare Moon and once again rule "by her side, together." She is also friendly and always kind to her subjects, and also willing to learn from her own mistakes ("A Canterlot Wedding, Part 2"). It would be my belief that Princesses Celestia and Luna would make near-ideal philosopher kings.
As you can see, there is plenty of evidence to support that Plato may have inspired the Society we see in My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. And it also says there is definitely more to the show than meets the eye. It's not just a show for little children. It gives us adults something to think about. It isn't just a little girl's entertainment. It sparks the imagination of an adult. A "what-if" of intellectual and education possibilities. It challenges the mind in ways other shows normally don't. And for that, I want to thank the creators of the series, and I want to thank Bronies everywhere around the world for making this show successful enough that even I would become a fan, and for leading me out of the cave into the sunshine.
Buy Heart's Warming Eve on iTunes!
- iTunes - TV Shows - My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, Season 2
This episode helps reinforce the ideas outlined in this article and is a great reference for discussion. Purchase the episode here on iTunes. Starting at just $1.99