Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Plato's Ideas on Education


Brain Proffitt (2004) states that Plato is renowned as Father of Western Philosophy. The legendary figure was born in 427 B.C.E. in noble family of Athens, the third child of Ariston and Perictone. Some biographers believe that Plato was the descendent of the last king of Athens, named Codrus. Plato belonged to a politically strong and active family in the Athenian society. These political influences theatrically affect later years of Plato’s life. He received the best education that his family could afford. Plato was much skilled in mental as well as physical arts. Because of his family’s strong political background, Plato was also trained for career in politics and leadership.  Plato’s family was affluent in Athens but was not pleased by the leadership of nobles of that time. He learned the way other upper-class Athenian men learned. He closely followed the teachings of pre-Socratic philosophers specially Cratylus, Pythagoras and Parmenides. Hence Plato was well acquainted with the knowledge of the universe along with the concepts of metaphysics and epistemology (the study of nature of knowledge). He met Socrates, a great philosopher in one of the family functions and became his student. Aristotle who was the student of Plato wrote that he was also a poet till the age of 20 but he decided to burn all his poems and diverted his thoughtfulness to philosophy. His acquaintance with Socrates altered his course of life. Socrates’s methods and arguments influenced the minds of the youth of Athens including Plato, and he became one of the close associate of Socrates.
Hummel (1999) states that the works of Plato are still unique and valued. He had covered a variety of subjects such as responsibility, obligation, justice, courage, love, beauty, science, nature, rhetoric, nature of human kind, wisdom, kingship and law in his works.   One of his most famous works is “The republic”. Blackburn (2006) states that “The republic” was written around 375 B.C.E , when Plato was in his early fifties. This renowned book is conventionally divided into ten books. First book gives the introduction whereas tenth book serves as conclusion of the whole book. From books II to IX the main discussion which runs, is of morality and politics. Within this book there is a separate part for the nature of reality (epistemology and metaphysics) and theory of knowledge which runs from Book V to VII. These central books contain most of the metaphysical concepts and fundamental doctrines.  The allegory of cave is one of the most famous allegory and the myth which lies in Book VII.
Blackburn (2006) states that Plato’s masterpiece “The Republic” uses the mouthpiece of Socrates and made Socrates leading character in his dialogue which is the evidence for the height of inspiration Plato derived from Socrates. Dillon (2004) states that book VII of Plato’s republic is well known for the two main themes that includes absolute defense of justice and effective defense of philosophical education. Plato has discussed visions of education i.e. for a warrior and a philosophers’ king.
Plato presents the Allegory of cave in book VII of “The republic” in which he states that Plato describes the scene of cave by telling the parable of human beings are chained in an underground cave, which has a mouth open towards the light and reaching all along the cave. People who are confiscated here are living here from their childhood, and their necks are chained in a way that they cannot move themselves and they can only see the shadows which are in front of their eyes on the wall and they consider it as reality. Above and behind them a fire is blazing at a distance, and between the fire and the prisoners there is a raised way; from which the puppeteers pass by, and prisoners can only see the shadows of these puppets and can hear their own voices and the echoes of the puppeteers passing by. The prisoners talk with one another only for giving the names to the puppets or guessing which shadow will be next. People who are able to guess the right puppet will be considered the most intelligent among them. If any of the prisoners is set free, he commences the journey upwards and will have to suffer severe pains to turn his neck round or standing on his feet, and finally he sees the light of fire in the cave. When he moves out of the cave he won’t be able to see all the realities at once. He will take time to get familiarize with the sight of upper world. First he will see the shadows best, next the reflections of men and other objects in water, and then the objects themselves then he will gaze upon the light of star and moon in the night and then he will be able to see the sun. , when he sees the sun, his eyes are perplexed. He would be stunned and baffled by seeing the reality. And last of all he will be able to see himself and will contemplate his own self. And then he will get to know the real designer of this whole world. When he knows this reality, he would pity on his fellow prisoners and will consider all that honour of guessing the shadow that is coming next, as the false honour. And when he will return to the cave he will try to explain that reality to the dwellers of the cave and they would consider that his eyes is weakened because he went to the upper world and consider him insane. The shadows which were seen by the men in cave were not absolute reality but the shadows of the reality. Whatever we see in this real world is actually the imperfect copy of the perfect and absolute reality. Roochnik(2003) is of the view that the act of getting imprisoned from the cave and go for a journey upwards portrays that education leads to the journey of soul to intelligible place. The man who is set free is going upward and suffers sharp pains, which denotes the severe distress which a person faces when he selects the way of truth, as the way of truth and good is most difficult one. When the person comes out of the darkness which is only possible through good education, he is exposed to truth or he has selected the way of truth, then he will understand that this truth is the cause of every good happening in the world. Plato has also explained through this allegory that education is not a forceful activity to put sight into the blind eyes, but it refers to the process of shifting the sight of a person so that glimpse of truth is visible. 
Presenting this cave allegory Plato is of the view that the new education should not chain the people in such a way that they are unable to see the reality, but the education should help men in seeing the reality or the ultimate truth. Plato has also laid the emphasis on the early childhood education and had explained that slight carelessness in early childhood education can result in drastic and rigorous minds. He focuses on the early childhood tales that are not censored and are sometimes based on terror and enmity. Dillon (2004) states, Plato is of the view that  a young child cannot distinguish between good or bad , so tales taught in the early childhood years should be strictly censored , as the messages that these tales give, have long lasting impacts in children’s mind. The souls of children can be carved by the tales in a good or bad manner.  According to Plato, these tales must highlight the virtues of courage, liberality, moderation, magnificence, justice, obedience to elders, restraint in drinking, sex, love for money etc. which will result in youth who act upon these virtues and make their decisions considering these virtues. This will benefit individuals and society.
Plato has also given divided line theory which supports this cave allegory. Plato has divided the process acquisition of true knowledge in four stages. First stage or the lowest stage is based on imaginations and inferences because the knowledge is based on assumptions or suppositions which are termed as shadows of puppets in the cave allegory. Second stage is based on beliefs. In this stage, knowledge is constructed on the basis of images of real objects. Third stage in this hierarchy is the stage of scientific knowledge. Knowledge is tested by experimenting, providing evidences and equating it mathematically. Last and the highest stage of acquisition of knowledge is reasoning, and the knowledge at this stage is called dialectics. This stage balances all the physical and metaphysical knowledge in a rationale manner and person contemplate him and knows the reality. This reality is represented by sight of the sun in allegory or contemplating the creator of the whole visible world.  
In “The republic” Plato states that there were two sections in former scheme of education i.e. Gymnastic which refers to growth and decay of body and music which will make the souls rhythmical and harmonious. Plato further focuses that music doesn’t give them knowledge about science and the truth which had harmony in them, and therefore people have no instinct to search for truth .In the republic there is a debate either music and gymnastic should be the part of education or not, as if they are, then they don’t inculcate the instinct to search for truth and if they are excluded then the art will be excluded from the education. Plato has given the solution for this conflict that those subjects should be included in education that are common in all arts and sciences and all the intelligences use them in common. Plato is presenting arithmetic as a subject as this is common in all the universal subjects. He emphasizes on arithmetic by saying that it is very necessary for every man, irrespective that he is to be a warrior or a king; every men should have knowledge of arithmetic. Dillon (2004) states that Plato has given importance to arithmetic not because it’s use in practical matters but also because of its abstractness which results in usage of intellect and arose questions about its existence. Studying the complex concepts, questioning about them, searching for evidences and providing the answers can lead to the search of ultimate reality and truth. Plato also laid emphasis that astronomy should also be the subject in education as the observation of seasons and years is very essential for all to study, either he be farmer, sailor, or related to any other occupations .Plato had entitled astronomy and music as sister sciences, as eyes can see the stars and ears can hear the melody . So according to Plato both should be studied. Plato also emphasized on geometry a lot. Harris (1981) states that, Plato has taken geometry as the model for all reasoning. The height of inspiration which Plato derived from geometry is, it was written on the door of his academy that “Let no one without geometry enter here”. Plato hoped that geometry would lead people to reach the stage of dialectal reasoning and will direct people to the ultimate truth. He gave an example to connect the geometry with dialectical reasoning as one tangent pass through the circle at only one of the infinite point that will make people contemplate the absolute. He is of the view that main aim of education is to achieve the perfection or know the ultimate truth.
Dillon (2004) states that Plato has presented a view in “The Republic” that early education should not be given forcibly to the people but it should be more of play and enjoyment, thus a child must enjoy his early years of education and learn from that enjoyment.  When pupils reach age of twenty they will be able to find the relation between the subjects studied.  Those who are able to cross this stage and perform their duty well will be selected for the dialectics where they will explore the truth. Plato in republic, book VII further describes dialectic as a person who starts discovery of absolute by light of reason only. This is the stage where senses don’t help in exploring and his discovery continues till he reaches to the ultimate reality. Socrates also recognizes the danger of the full truth and emphasizes that students must not be allowed to have a dialogue with the dialectics on ultimate truth at an early age because they might contradict the rules and laws of the state instead of following them. And therefore is of the view that dialectic can reveal the ultimate truth or reality to those only who have studied previous sciences and have crossed the age of youth.  So this process of discovering the truth is step by step. At the age of 35 he must be sent down to the cave in the darkness to experience the people out there and spent time in explaining them his view. After fifteen years of experience of this service, finally at the age of 50 if candidate proves that he is commendable in all respects and then he ought to become the ruler of the state and the true guardian. There are many people who when reach the age of fifty and are enlighten with the reality, don’t want to accept power and responsibility and they will move far to the islands but Plato wants them to work for the state as they are the people who owe to the society for their education and they should return that by dwelling in the society and serving the society to their best efforts.  
Jayapalan (2002) states that nothing much is known about the later years of Plato but he must have gone through the process of lecturing at the academy , since Aristotle entered the Academy in 367 B.C., was one of his students and these years he must have been busy in composing political philosophy and laws. The great philosopher died in 347 B.C.

Blackburn, S. (2006). Plato’s republic: a biography. Available from
Harris, C.L. (1981). Evolution, genesis and revelations: with readings from Empedocles to Wilson. Available from
Plato.(360 B.C.E.). The Republic. Available from   

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