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Method and Madness: Education in Plato's Republic and Aristotle's Politics

Essay by review  •  December 22, 2010  •  Essay  •  2,678 Words (11 Pages)  •  1,475 Views

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Education is a central part of the establishment and continued advancement of any government, so it rightfully commands the attention of politicians, philosophers, and citizens who seek the betterment of their own community and state to this day. The debate around the topic of education is even more heated because everyone has had some type of personal experience with itвЂ"be it through state-sponsored schooling, private education, professional training, or attaining a general understanding of the world from one's parents. With those experiences, every individual forms a view of what they themselves should have learned or skipped over, when those things should have been introduced, and whether other types of people should have a certain type of education. Two differing methods of addressing the issue of education are presented by Plato in The Republic and by his student, Aristotle, in Politics. Plato presents three types of education in The Republic: the mechanical education for each type of citizen within Socrates' republic, the process of attaining an intelligible understanding of the world for philosophers as described in part by the allegory of the cave, and the Socratic Method of circular questioning that Socrates uses throughout the conversation to persuade his interlocutors. Aristotle, by contrast, explains and utilizes just one method: the most direct and rational, both in his explanation of politics through lecture and within the text with the assessment of each situation including variables and inconsistencies that may exist within any system. Both agree that education cannot be uniform for all citizens, but their approaches and guidelines are sure to produce dramatically different results. Through one lens their proposals spell out what each believed would be the most important values to instill in their citizens in order to maintain a government, but if looking at Politics as a response to The Republic, there is another layer confusing the matter. This paper will argue that Aristotle's qualms with The Republic are rooted not only in the rationality of Plato's idealism for a utopian regimeвЂ"an idea that consistently depends on the success of the education process to unsure its stabilityвЂ"but also with the Socratic method as a teaching tool which is inherently indirect and presumably did not convince Aristotle to accept Plato's claims.

The arguments on education within The Republic are hard to summarize because there are several distinguishable perspectives presented. If reading it as a literal instruction manual for the governance of a city, Socrates spells out the concept of training all members the city so that they will be loyal and perform their assigned duty. The regime education includes myths to fill in the gapsвЂ"the myth of the metals explains the hierarchical formation of the classes by the type of metal that is in each person from their birth, and the myth of the people being born out of their land instills patriotism and brotherhood. Every aspect of the children's upbringing is ordered, with variation only in their specific role in society, so that they will become good and unquestioning citizens within the city. The entire governmental system that Socrates explains depends on the success of this education process. Should the initial process work, “once well started, it will roll on like a circle in its growth. For sound rearing and education, when they are preserved, produce good natures; and sound natures, in their turn receiving such an education, grow up still better than those before them, for procreation as well as for the other things, as is also the case with the other animals” (Plato, Republic 424a). Should the education fail, the myths and unified understanding that hold together the peaceful sustainability of the state would begin to crumble. However, an entirely different view of education is presented when considering the training of the ruling philosophers. They too have a regimented upbringing with a set time line, their education is meant to nurture their intellect as opposed to aide them in subjection to the will of the city. If all works properly in their upbringing, they are introduced to “philosophy suited for youths” (Plato, Republic 498b), serve the city in the military or in some other regard to learn firsthand and develop their soul, then either continue to serve that purpose until becoming too old to do so. A select few from this guardian class leaps to true philosophic knowledge and become philosopher king. The allegory of the cave, which set alone appears to be about attainment of truth and the process of individual enlightenment, comes only after the discussion of true philosophers understanding the intelligible realm. In Socrates' cave, the masses are chained facing the shadows that they call reality. There is not really a way to overcome this understanding, and to try and understand their source or to even look into real sunlight would be a painful process. It is only by having their head turned or being dragged out of the cave that people can be freed from their flawed understanding. But someone not everyone who is living without true understanding of the world has someone drag them “away from there by force” (Plato, Republic 515e). Because of its placement within the text, its wisdom is not meant for everyone in the city, but only for those destined to be philosophers. It is implied that there must be disillusioned people in the world, including in Socrates' city, because the philosophic life is both rare and difficult. In terms of the government and aside from its broader meaning, the passage helps to explain why the philosopher is most fit to rule and why the philosopher returns to visible realm to rule for the good of the unenlightened. It could be said that Socrates' description of the education for philosophers is similar in logic and form to that of the other classes of citizens he presents, but they are quite different in terms of the their objectives. Socrates says “education is not what the professions of certain men assert it to be. They presumably assert that they put into the soul knowledge that isn't in it, as though they were putting sight into blind eyes” (Plato, Republic 518c). To a certain extent, however, his government depends on their blindness and obedience in order to function.

Aristotle takes many of the core ideas from The Republic as stepping-stones to present his own arguments about a more realistically feasible government. His criticism of his teacher Plato is open and directвЂ"he reads The Republic literally and argues against, among other things, the formation and structure of its communal community through education. He comments of

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