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).

Karl Popper’s Critique of Plato’s Philosophy

“The Utopian attempt to realise an ideal state, using a blueprint of society as a whole, is one which demands a strong centralised rule of a few, and which is therefore likely to lead to a dictatorship.”

-Karl R. Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies: The Spell of Plato


BY HEIGRUJAM PREMKUMAR
the-open-society-and-its-enemies-vol-1
The Open Society and Its Enemies: The Spell of Plato

Popper considers Plato as an enemy of the open society. In his book, The Open Society and Its Enemies: The Spell of Plato, Karl Popper argued that Plato’s philosophy is anti-individualist, anti-democratic, and has the aim of stopping all social change.

Let’s first try to understand Plato and his philosophy and then a detailed analysis of Popper’s arguments can be done.

The Basis of  Plato’s Philosophy

Plato had an organic view of State, by which it means that the State is an organic entity and the individuals its parts. The State is the whole body. Like a hand cannot move alone when it is separated from the whole body, individuals cannot have an interest against the State. According to Plato, whatever the State does is for the good of the community. Individuals have to obey the State.

Plato considered that democracy led to moral corruption and moral degradation. It led to factionalism, extreme violence and cannot tolerate highly-gifted individuals. The later view is in connection to the execution of Socrates. In any way, Plato was not in favour of democracy. According to him, the defeat of Athens to Sparta was due to Athenian democracy. Plato, in this aspect, was an aristocrat by birth and conviction.

Further, Plato was hesitant to changes that take place in his Ideal State. For this, he made a scheme of education that would keep the State as it is. For Plato, the Ideal State was to be eternal. Being influenced by Parmenides, he did not welcome changes in his Ideal State.

Critique of Plato’s Philosophy

I agree with Popper when he says that Plato’s philosophy is anti-individualist, anti-democratic and anti to social changes. Let’s see why.

karl-popper-open-society-and-its-enemies
Karl Popper

Anti-individualist

Plato never considered the rights of the individuals but only their duties towards the State.

Plato’s Ideal State ruled by philosophers is nothing but an authoritarian and totalitarian State. He advocated in his Republic an absolutist and totalitarian type of government. That is why he is regarded as the father of modern authoritarianism and totalitarianism.

Plato’s advocacy of a scheme of education is also a state-controlled and state-regulated one.

He denied owning property by the guardian class. His denial of family and children are against the interest of the individuals.

In Plato’s Ideal State, individuals are like commodities or tools  or instruments of state, or they are just like robots which are always under the command of the one who controls the remote, the State.

Anti-democratic

As already mentioned, Plato’s philosophy advocates a totalitarian and authoritarian system of government. Being an aristocrat, he always wanted to preserve the aristocratic values and lifestyles.

Plato was against popular participation by the average person, because they are not aware of the absolute truth. In this, Popper questions whether the claims of absolute truth are falsified. Besides, the so-called absolute truths (even if there is) may not be true according to particular time and place.

It is necessary to point out here that popular participation and existence of oppositions are essential for the growth and development of the State. Plato was against both. Thus, his philosophy is anti-democratic.

Anti to Social Changes

Plato wanted to maintain his Ideal State as it was originally instituted. He did not like make any changes to his Ideal State. His views on community of wives and property, the way he advocated on eugenics (meaning ‘well born’, which involved the selection of the best mates for child bearing), his scheme of education all reflected his hesitation towards social change.

In later years, in the Laws, Plato shifted his views from anti-individualist and anti-democratic to the opposite. He accepted the prevalence of rule of law, popular participation etc.

However, even though he shifted his views on individuals, democratic values and changes in the society in his Laws, Plato remained still stuck to many of the principles outlined in his Republic. Therefore, it can be said that Plato’s philosophy is anti-individualist, anti-democratic and had the aim of stopping all social changes.

Note: This critique is written taking reference from Karl Popper’s famous work, The Open Society and Its Enemies: The Spell of Plato.

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

Reference

Karl Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies: The Spell of Plato (Routledge, 2002)

Plato, The Laws (Cambridge University Press, 2016).

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