The general definition of education is the transmission and learning of cultural technique by a group of individuals that is able to satisfy its general needs, to protect each other against the hostility of physical and biological environment, and to work and live together peacefully. These all techniques are usually called culture, and a human society could not survive without its background of custom and culture. This concept can be applied in civil and primitive society; the primitive society is characterized by the role of education finalized to guarantee the immutability of the cultural techniques. On the other hand, in a civil society the education gives the opportunity to face new and mutable situations. At this point we can define two different forms of education: the one, which simply transmits the technique of work and behavior to maintain the natural immutability of human beings, and this concept is related to moral and religious education. The second form interests the role of education into a civic society. Its aim is to forge the individuals’ personalities by giving them the capacity to correct and improve their own education. This civic form of education analyzes the human being’s process of forming his own culture, and even the education becomes the aim and the goal of the entire process. For this reason, education has always been an important theme in political and social background. Since ancient age philosophers and scholars wrote about the main principles and general foundations of public and private education in a state. Famous emperors such as Charles the Great who attributed importance to the role of education into his empire, even if he was not a cultured king, considered education a relevant instrument for creating an homogeneous ruling class loyal to the empire and capable to create a unity for the formation of cultural traditions and customs. Therefore, education is a natural part of human beings’ development; it allows individuals to acquire some basic and relevant skills in attitude and mental thought that staying in animal stage they are not able to learn. The aim of this essay is to define the right definition of education in political theory field through the main and significant works of Plato and Rousseau, and to analyze its importance in the social and political common good.
As it is mentioned before, both Plato and Rousseau have elaborated different ideas regarding the same topic of the role of education, the pedagogy, the formation of perfect philosopher-king and good social figure in their own conception of society. This essay wants to begin an analysis by comparing and contrasting the political and philosophical theories of there two thinkers.
First of all, Plato’s Republic has defined more as an educational treatise rather than a political book (Rousseau 57); in fact, Plato’s philosophy is concentrated on ethics, he is interested in what and “how is the best to live” (Meckenzie 88). According to Plato, education is the base of the philosophical education of guardians and future citizens of the ideal city of the Politeia. Plato elaborates a new kind of education in line with the Socratic philosophy; in fact, the main speaker of dialogues in the Republic is Socrates himself, who embodies the philosophical soul and figure of which should be the skills and characteristics of the perfect philosopher-king. The conception of education in the Republic is explained through the philosophical concept of the Myth of the Cave; it is not a case that Plato decided to present education in the way of the myth. In ancient cultures, in particular in Greek culture, the myth indeed had been considered a kid of tale with a underlying meaning that through the heroic deeds of gods and semi-gods should have convey a specific learning for human beings. According to Arthur A. Krentz of Luther College in his Play and Education in Plato’s states: “The Myth of the Cave is presented as a metaphor of education (paideia, 7.514a) but it may also serve as a model of the role of an educational mentor, such as Socrates. Thus we can compare Socrates to the free, philosophical wise man who reenters the nether-world of the dark caveâ€¦ in order to attempt to rescue those who live in this shadowy worldâ€¦” With this quotation, we can understand that Plato-Socrates wants to outline a fixed model of elite education regarding to those people who are by natural inclinations more talented to cover the role of the guardian. In the Encyclopedia of Children and Childhood in History and Society, in the paragraph of The State as an Education Entity is expressed how Plato considers Education the core of his Republic alike the research of the meaning of justice. In fact, Plato is firmly persuaded that if guardian and future children are educated through Socratic philosophical ideas, the pursuit of the Public Good becomes the principle at the base of the just City-State. Therefore, the passage that the other spokesmen have to understand before starting the investigation of justice is “what is the best education for philosopher-kings and in what does consist it?” In the opinion of Ariel Dillon “the ability to know is always within a man-faltering, but useful only depending on whether it is focused on the truth (518e)â€¦ anyone could be a philosopher with the right trainingâ€¦the purpose of the philosopher-kings’ education is eventually teach children how to distinguish right from wrong showing them the whole truth”. The knowledge and development process that philosophers undertake from the cave to the new world is long and difficult, but they are motivated by the inner truth that they own to achieve the common good for a just state. After the release from the cave where human beings are imprisoned and forced to see projected figures on the wall, philosophers start they path out of the cave; they will encounter the powerful light of the Sun and they are blinded by it, but afterwards a period of familiarization with the external world they acquire the truth and the capacity to become the real philosopher king and guardian. According to Arthur A. Krentz “the aim of the educational process is the fostering of the growth and development of the learner toward the ultimate objective of the individual’s contribution to a good society and the vision of the Good itself.” Plato has a altruistic vision of education in fact as Ariel Dillon states in her article Education in Plato’s Republic: ” [the philosophers] must escape the cave, be educated in the good through philosophy (512c), and then return to the cave to rile and enlighten others (519d).
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Moreover, in the VII book of Republic Plato begins a long digression about what consists the philosophers’ education “the child belongs to the state and its education is the responsibility of the state” (Republic, 2, 376). Children have to be trained to become good philosophers through a complex and completed process of formation. This education consists in different disciplines, which the philosophers have to acquire to become good governor of this ideal state. Philosophers have to practice music, gymnastic, mathematic, geometry, astronomy and in particular the technique of philosophical dialectic. Plato acknowledges that the discipline of the philosophical dialect if the only one, which convey the philosopher the instrument to deeply know the real truth and the capacity to convey it toward other people. This type of education can be considered the previous idea of pedagogy, which will be in the 18th and 19th century elaborated by Rousseau as new psychological and philosophical discipline. Socrates, indeed, elaborates an innovating pedagogical technique called maieutics method of teaching, which consists in helping the child to formulate his own thoughts by aid of the teacher through a methodological process of dialectic dialogue. In the Republic Plato-Socrates presents a theory that education and play should be strictly connected; in fact, Socrates affirms that philosophers-kings should be perform their training without any kind of forcing, but instead with playing. In fact, as Ariel Dillon writes: ” Socrates says that the best education should be more like play than work (536d)â€¦students should come to the truth on their own rather than by force (536e)” As with the maieutics technique, Plato-Socrates wants to explain that the philosopher has to achieve the last and high meaning of the truth by a complex formation. In fact, during the entire dialogue, but in particular in the one with Glaucon and Adeimantus he applies this dialectics to lead them to the final meaning of justice and consequently truth.
As it has been analyzes before, Plato compares the conception of justice and truth with the theory of philosophers’ education in order to create the ideal city-state. Therefore, the education and political theory are two parts of the same project, and there are connected and dependent each other. In fact, Plato-Socrates considers education as a fundamental formation of learning without which the city-state could not own a group of governors interested in the common good rather than in their own private needs.
Therefore, education in politics and political theory has a necessary role. However, the idea of education elaborated by Plato in the middle of 4th century BC was subjected to changes and development, even because of the historical, political and social transformations. In the 18th – 19th century, Rousseau was one of the main philosophers and thinkers who paid attention to the education problems, elaborating a modern view of pedagogy in his famous book Emile. The Rousseau’s Emile is a brief treatise, which deals with the pedagogical problem; in this book Rousseau’s aim is to recreate the human beings’ spontaneous nature, which they had as quality during their primordial and primitive existence (State of Nature), into the society. Rousseau wants to give back a human measure to society and culture. Emile is an educational formation in which the final goal is to achieve a free and happy development of human nature. Rousseau’s philosophy is made by important concepts such as the feeling of pity and the amour the soi, and around these ideas is elaborated the pedagogical formation of human beings. The entire book is a detailed analysis of individual’s formation from the birth to the entrance in the civil society. Rousseau argues the behaviors and feelings for each ages of the man, giving an explanation and presenting the right model to follow in order to acquire the best education; he is interested in the pedagogical formation and development of the child who is embodied by the figure of Emile. Rousseau starts his first book with the phrase: “God makes all things good; man meddles with them and they become evil.” With this phrase Rousseau points out his negativity toward the civic society made by human beings, underlining the goodness of the Nature and God’s things. He continues: “We are born weak, we need strength; helpless, we need aid; foolish, we need reason. All that we lack at the birth, all that we need when we come to man’s estate, is the gift of education” (52) In the third section of the book I, Rousseau expresses the impossibility to a public education, mentioning briefly that the public institute does not and cannot exist because there is no more the concept of country and patriot; these words should be deleted from the modern vocabulary. (57) He quotes the Plato’s Republic as an example of public education: “If you wish to know what is meant by public education, read Plato’s Republic. Those who merely judge books by their titles take this for a treatise on politics, but it is the finest treatise on education ever written. In popular estimation the Platonic Institute stands for all that is fanciful and unrealâ€¦Plato only sought to purge man’s heart.” (57) Rousseau is more interested in the natural education and formation of individual than his acquisition of education in society and civil context; for this reasons, he states: “the natural man lives for himself, he is the unit, the whole, dependent only on himself and on his like” (56) in contrast with the idea that he elaborates regarding the citizen: “The citizen is the numerator of a fraction, whose value depends on its denominator” and this denominator are “the social institutions, those best fitted to make man unnatural.” (56) Rousseau in the first book of his treatise deals with Emile’s first age and his childhood; in the second book the second age of the childhood and the feel and awareness of the suffering, he continues analyzing the adulthood and the first contact with the society, in the fifth book are described the relations with the other sex and the conclusion of the treaties.
Rousseau defines the tree types of education: natural pedagogy, the pedagogy of things and the men’s pedagogy, and he declares that only the harmonic relation amongst them could make the individual “well-educated”. Rousseau affirms that the first kind of education that the child should learn is the negative education: “therefore, the education of the earliest years should be merely negative. It consists, not in teaching virtue or truth, but in preserving the heart from vice and from the spirit of error.” (107) Rousseau states: “the law of necessity soon teaches a man to do what he does not like, so as to avert evils which he would dislike still more.” (152) The fourth book is the most significant for the explanation of the main concepts of Rousseau’ s philosophy such as the amour de soi and the compassion. Rousseau explains that our passions are the main principles of our self-preservation; it is a ridiculous and absurd destroying these passions because are given by God so humans should not contradict the His will. (176) According to Rousseau our natural passions are very limited, but they are the instruments of our freedom and they maintain us; he writes: “the only passion which is born with man, which never leaves him as long as he lives is self-love; this passion is primitive, instinctive, it precedes all the restâ€¦self-love is always good, always in accordance with the order of nature.” (178) The self-preservation elaborated by Rousseau consists in the total and absolute self-love of human beings above everything, and this love is the one feeling, which can preserve individuals. (179) To this concept depends the idea of compassion; in fact, Rousseau argues that during the adolescence the individual is weaker and closer to the emotions and passions of fellows. This weakness makes man sociable with other people. The adolescent feels the need to share his condition of suffering and to support others; this pity is the first emotion of relation that human being’s heart feels.
In conclusion, by the analysis of the main conceptions of Plato’s and Rousseau’s philosophical theory about education we can assume that both had considered education and the pedagogical formation as an important part of the developing process for human beings; Rousseau in particular reclaims the Plato’s ideology of educational treatise, but he does not present the education strictly connected with the political and social estate of society. Rousseau is more interested in how the humans lost their natural qualities as amour de soi and compassion, which he had in the State of Nature rather than underlining the type of best education that the group of governors have to pursue and achieve in order to reach the Common Good as Plato elaborates in the Republic. Therefore, the role education in the civil and political society can be considered relevant for citizens and governors? At this question we could answer that both governors and citizens should be trained to acquire a pedagogical process of formation in order to realize together the common good without any personal interests as Plato argues in his treatise. On the other hand, it is true that the education of human beings should be more comply with their natural and sensitive feelings, but people should be accustomed to live in contact with other fellows and conformed to the right education for a civil society in which they have to belong.
Plato, Republic. Penguin Classics.2007. Print
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile. GLF Editori Laterza, 1953. Print
Meckenzie, Mary Margaret. Plato’s Moral Theory. Journal of Medical Ethics,1985, 11, 88-91. JSTOR
Krentz, Arthur A. Play and Eucation in Plato’s Republic. Luther College. Paideia: Philosophy of Education. Web. http://www.bu.edu/wcp/Papers/Educ/EducKren.htm
Encyclopedia of Children and Childhood in History and Society, Plato: The State as an Educational Entity. Web. http://www.faqs.org/childhood/Pa-Re/Plato-427-348-B-C.html
Dillon, Ariel. Education in Plato’s Republic. Santa Clara University Student Ethics Research
Conference May 26, 2004.Web
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