Plato’s “Republic” is the finest treatise ever written on education: Rousseau

“The direction in which education starts a man will determine his future in life.”

-Plato


BY HEIGRUJAM PREMKUMAR

Plato’s Republic is remarkable in many ways and one of this is his scheme of education.

rousseaus-emile-by-allan-bloom
Rousseau’s Emile– a translation by Allan Bloom.

The kind of State that Plato idealised in his Republic was an educational institution. Education was the key to his new social order. The Ideal State of Plato was not possible without a scheme of education that was elaborately explained by him in his Republic. He emphasised that virtue is knowledge and those who have the knowledge of the Idea of Good are meant to be the rulers. Because of the importance that Plato gave to education in realising the Ideal State, came Rousseau’s comment that Plato’s Republic was the finest treatise ever written on education. In fact, Rousseau’s Emile was written in response to the suggestions given in the Republic in regard to the education of men and women.

Importance of Education in the Ideal State

In Republic, Plato says that education is necessary for both moral reform and cultivating the human soul. After the philosopher rules the State, it was to be sustained by the education or through education. Education was to be controlled and regulated by the State.

Plato believes in the Socratic dictum that virtue is knowledge. He believes that it is through knowledge that one can come to know about the Idea of Good. That’s why Plato said that a ruler must also be a philosopher because a philosopher ruler can have the knowledge of the Idea of Good and thus can best make the city-states similar to the Ideal State. Plato’s scheme of education emphasised on producing philosopher kings.

The philosopher ruler (the guardians) could become a philosopher only through education. He has to undergo a rigorous process of education, thus giving great importance to education.

Nature and Nurture

The Republic talks about the importance of nature and nurture in individuals. Plato accepted that men were born with some predetermined intelligence. However, at the same time, he said that through training one can acquire the skills. According to Plato, talent and training are both important to bring out what is best in an individual.

Interestingly, Plato said that children of the guardian class could become soldiers or artisans and children of the latter classes could also become guardians. This is also a significant point about his insistence on the importance of education.

In Republic, Plato outlined that upto 18 years of age there will be elementary education, followed by two years of compulsory military training and then higher education. The process of education will continue upto 50 years of age.

Elementary Education

The purpose of elementary education is to train the body for the sake of the mind. This includes gymnastics and music.

Plato suggested censorships on literature and poetry. He censored from reading Homer and Hesiod. Only those works of Dorian and those who talks of courage and temperance were allowed.

Individuals are allowed to play music bot not for profession.

This is followed by compulsory military training for two years. In this, individuals would be allowed to see battles but won’t take part in it. Those who qualified this will enter the realm of higher education.

Higher Education

The purpose of higher education is to train the mind itself, not through body. This includes studying arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and harmonics.

Arithmetic is useful in two ways- both for philosophical value and practical purposes.

Geometry enables one to know the Idea of Good, the highest of the ideas.

Both astronomy and harmonics have the same usefulness as arithmetic and geometry.

This study  will continue for 10 rigorous years.

Then at the age of 30, there will be another test. Those who qualify will continue their study and those who do not will become soldiers.

Those who qualify will study dialectics or metaphysics, logic and the first principle of Being. This would continue upto the age of 50. At 50, an individual is equipped to become a philosopher ruler.

Critical Assessment

There is an elaborate and central theme of education in Plato’s Republic. Plato’s Ideal State, its sustenance, the rule of philosopher king- all are possible through his scheme of education only.

plato-scheme-of-education
A portrait of Plato.

Plato’s emphasis on the importance of both nature and nurture is also an indication of the significance of education.

Plato made a significant point in his emphasis that both men and women should equally undergo the same education system. If qualified through various stages of education, even women could become a philosopher ruler. This was an aspect education played a positive role and how much Plato gave importance on education and its enabling aspect.

Plato’s emphasis on a state-controlled and state-regulated education system has still influence in many Western and Asian countries. Though many scholars criticise Plato because of his idea of state-controlled education system, many others embraced and adopted this idea as good.

The importance of education that Plato outlined in his Republic influenced many thinkers, Rousseau being one them. Education was important to realise Plato’s Ideal State. It was key to the Ideal State. Education was important to root out corruption and maintain stability. Indeed, Plato’s Republic makes education as its central theme. Seeing all this, Rousseau had to say that Plato’s Republic was the finest treatise ever written on education.

Note: I wrote this piece as an answer in my undergraduate examination while in Ramjas College, University of Delhi.


Reference:

Plato, The Republic (translated by Allan Bloom) (Basic Books, 2016).

Rousseau, Emile or On Education (translated by Allan Bloom) (Basic Books, 1979).

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