Allegories and Metaphors in Early Political Thought

From Plato to Machiavelli

by Kevin Dooley (Author)
©2019 Textbook XII, 130 Pages


Allegories and Metaphors in Early Political Thought: From Plato to Machiavelli examines allegories and metaphors that best exemplify the ideologies of Plato, Aristotle, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Niccolo Machiavelli. Author Kevin Dooley’s approach allows readers to gain a greater understanding of each thinker’s ideas through the lens of metaphor, which stimulates imaginative discussions and more thoughtful reflections.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Preface
  • Chapter 1: Introduction
  • The Structure of the Chapters: The Biographical Sketches
  • The Allegories and Metaphors
  • Notes
  • Chapter 2: Plato (427–347 BC): Gyges’ Ring, the Divided Line, and the Allegory of the Cave
  • Introduction
  • Plato and Greece in the 5th Century BC
  • The Allegories
  • Gyges’ Ring
  • The Divided Line
  • The Allegory of the Cave
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • Chapter 3: Aristotle (384–322 BC): Acorns and Oak Trees, the Feast
  • Introduction
  • Biography
  • Learning From Acorns: Human Nature and the Good Life
  • The Acorn and the Oak Tree: Happiness and Human Flourishing
  • Preparing for the Feast
  • The Deviant Feasts: The Tyranny/Oligarchy and the Democracy
  • The Good Feasts: Kingship/Aristocracy and the Mixtures
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • Chapter 4: St. Augustine (354–430): City of God, City of Man
  • Introduction
  • Biography
  • The Grand Allegory
  • The Two Cities
  • Pride: Perversions of Truth and Justice
  • Pride and Power: How the Roman Might Inform the Christian
  • Just War Theory
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • Chapter 5: St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274): The Pilot and the Shepherd
  • Introduction
  • Biography
  • The Pilot and the Shepherd
  • Eternal and Divine Law: God’s Plan and Unknown and Known to Us
  • Natural Law: Our Innate Sense of Right and Wrong
  • Human Law: A Dictate of Practical Reason
  • Separating the Pilot From the Shepherd: Leadership Through Service
  • Preventing Tyranny: Checking the Power of the Monarch
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • Chapter 6: Niccolo Machiavelli (1469–1527): The Lion and the Fox, the River
  • Introduction
  • Biography
  • The Lion and the Fox
  • The River
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • Index

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Since the fall of 2005, I have had the pleasure of teaching a course in Early Political Thought at Monmouth University. The course covers the dominant figures in early Western political philosophy—Plato to Machiavelli—in a fourteen-week semester. My first few years of teaching the course were filled with a strange mixture of excitement and confusion. I was excited because I was bringing Plato and Aristotle to the masses! Students were finally able to read and discuss Republic and Politics in an academic setting and more importantly, grow into fully formed human beings. However, I was also a bit confused to learn that I was the only one excited by the ideas of the ancients. Was it possible that not everyone found Thomas Aquinas interesting—even his thoughts on natural law?

Eventually, I had an epiphany (or a realization that something had to be done). Since the purpose of any course is to convey knowledge to the point of understanding, I went back to the drawing board and attempted to see how I might make these works more palatable to a college student. And like so often is the case, I discovered that the answer was right in front of me: allegories and metaphors. The students in my class had always reacted positively and had the deepest discussions when we went over the allegories in Plato’s Republic. They loved discussing Gyges’ Ring and most importantly were able to grasp ← xi | xii → Plato’s unique concept of freedom. Over time, I was able to isolate the three most important allegories from Plato’s Republic and to weave them together to form a strong foundation that allowed us to engage in his deeper philosophical arguments.

After a few tries, I was able to do the same with the other thinkers in the course. By setting up each thinker by means of either his own chosen allegory or metaphor, I was able to get the students to open their minds more fully. In other words, Thomas Aquinas sounds daunting. In fact, he is daunting. However, if one approaches his political works through two of his own metaphors—the pilot and the shepherd—his work is grounded and approachable. Students began to see his connection to Aristotle (who we had already covered) and, most importantly, his unique contribution to political philosophy.

In the Fall of 2016, I decided to write down some of my own notes on each thinker and entirely revise my syllabus. The result was not only a new syllabus, but also an outline for a textbook on early political thought. Since then, enrollment in the course has grown and, more importantly, so has interest in the subject. It is not uncommon these days for students to want to write a thesis in political philosophy and possibly pursue graduate studies.

In closing, this book was a labor of love. It was also one that has allowed me to take a subject that I teach and incorporate it into my research. The project has made me a better teacher and scholar and I hope that it will do the same for you.

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The American transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson spent a lifetime assessing the limitations of language.1 For Emerson, human fallibility is evidenced not only in moralistic terms but also in our use of and appreciation for words when trying to convey and comprehend philosophical and metaphysical sentiments. Clearly we need words to help us make sense of the world, but our language, like our morality, is limited. The words we choose when conveying ideas require a contextual framework as well as a level of universality to be understood.

The philosophers in this collection shared Emerson’s concerns. Thus, they utilized allegories and metaphors to foster greater insight, understanding, and, subsequently, further investigation into human nature. The use of allegories and metaphors in the Western tradition can be traced back to the mythology of the ancient Greeks.2 Greek tragedy described a sensational interconnectedness among beasts, humans, and gods that forces us to investigate our own lives and to seek answers to the questions of love and hate, war and peace, and wisdom and folly. The story of Icarus is useful because it is multifaceted.3 It was not only intended to demonstrate that children should listen to the guidance of their parents, but also that we should be wary of our own hubris. Humans may not own an oversized pair of wax wings unable to withstand the heat of the sun, but we may carry a reckless ego that overpowers our best judgments. ← 1 | 2 →

The usefulness of allegories and metaphors is based on their applicability to the human condition. Since words often fail to capture the expressed consciousness of an event or the precision that a philosophical concept requires, allegories and metaphors can provide individuals from various backgrounds with an opportunity for reflection.4 They serve as a multilevel approach to learning. This is why a great deal of children’s literature takes the form.5 An abstract concept can gain an intellectual foothold with the right allegory or metaphor. It can cause a sense of wonder and investigation that propels the reader into further inquiry.

Therefore, it can be said that allegories and metaphors serve three primary purposes. First allegories and metaphors must be universal. In other words, they must utilize objects or terminology that are commonly understood. The aforementioned allegory—the Tale of Icarus—is useful because it speaks of a familial relationship within the confines of familiar objects and principles. We understand the relationship between a parent and a child as well as the science behind heat and wax. If the story spoke of a principle or a set of ideas that were confusing to the reader, then it would not serve its greater purpose. If it required an advanced understanding of a particular concept or a reference to an obscure literary or historical figure, it would lack universality.6 Thus, it is vital for allegories and metaphors to use both physical and theoretical concepts that are familiar to anyone reading the story.


XII, 130
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2019 (January)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2019. XII, 130 pp.

Biographical notes

Kevin Dooley (Author)

Kevin Dooley is Associate Professor of Political Science at Monmouth University. He earned his PhD in global affairs from Rutgers University-Newark.


Title: Allegories and Metaphors in Early Political Thought
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144 pages