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

Topics: Plato, Socrates, Philosophy Pages: 7 (2664 words) Published: June 6, 2007
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 it—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 regime—an idea that consistently depends on the success of the education process to unsure its stability—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 gaps—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...
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