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Paste your essay in here...Abigail Alpern Fisch

Western Political Thought I

Final Exam Prompt 3

Professor Sullivan

December 2018

Is Political Education a Complete Education?

The Education of The Excellent Citizen as Compared to The Complete Human Being

Education is one means of empowering individuals with the tools and knowledge to address challenges and further succeed, whether that be through contributing to the preservation of a city, upholding justice within a community, or teaching them to discover the ‘truth.’ Education of an individual or city can be tailored to an objective, and a political education is often taught with the objective of encouraging civic participation and knowing how to both “be ruled and to rule” within the context of a particular regime’s political structure (Aristotle, Politics, 1277b15). Philosophic education, on the other hand, can be considered as encompassing fully the facets of a political education, as well as other disciplines including the concepts of prudence and justice, which enhance the character of a complete human being. As Socrates, Adeimantus, and Glaucon discuss in Plato’s The Republic, the principles of how to originate a city, and the topic of education is explored in order to determine how both the citizenry and guardians of the city will be educated to ensure the city’s success. Will a political education of the citizens and the guardians suffice in creating the individuals who are fit to protect and preserve the regime and uphold justice? Or, is a more philosophical education needed to provide individuals with the knowledge and faculties to pursue a complete human life? In the process of discussing such themes, Socrates employs his well-known methods of questioning and critique while engaging with Glaucon and Adeimantus to assert  his own belief in the right system of education. He wants his interlocuters to discover truth and acquire knowledge regarding justice, education, and the organization of cities, not simply because he says, ‘what is,’ but rather, because Glaucon and Adeimantus take the risk of engaging with philosophy to find their way into the light and realm of being; thereby, making them equipped to help others find their way as well. This tension between an education for politics and that of a complete human life comes to light by comparing Aristotle’s Politics and Plato’s The Republic. Aristotle’s Politics asserts that the political education of a regime informs the character of a citizen as a human being and is what is needed to propel forward the individual, as well as the success of that specific regime. However, Aristotle supports the notion that a combination of both a political and philosophical education can support the completeness of an individual, only if the philosophy for which he or she pursues does not conflict with that of the regime. Plato’s Socrates in The Republic displays more interest in the philosophic education as a way to educate individuals more completely, whereby the process of philosophizing and questioning as demonstrated by Socrates’ engagement with his interlocuters provides more enlightenment and discovery than a political education itself. Looking to both Socrates and Aristotle, it can be argued that a political education alone is not adequate as compared to a political education enhanced with philosophy in providing an individual with the tools and knowledge necessary to be an excellent and complete human being. However, the excellent person may not always thrive as well within the political community as the excellent citizen if his or her philosophy conflicts with that of the political regime, thereby creating tension between politics and philosophy regarding what works best as the complete education for a city.

The relation between education and politics can first be examined through looking at appraisals and critiques of the Socratic perspective on education provided by the depiction of Socrates in Plato’s Apology and Aristophanes’ Clouds. Socrates’ Thinkery, such as that described within Aristophanes’ comedy, Clouds, could be considered as an example of Socrates supporting a more contemplative, philosophic education, while also not discounting the value of politics. As an entity within Athenian society that relies on the protection and participation of Athenians for its continued existence, the Thinkery can be seen as a possible guardian of justice within the political community. Yet, with the teaching of making arguments through just and unjust speeches, and examination of the natural world, including (but not limited to) Athens, the Socrates depicted in Aristophanes’ Clouds, seeks to discover truths related to humanity and justice, and not unique only to the political community. In fact, the Thinkery includes examination of topics as broad as the whole universe, with Socrates “contemplate[ing] the sun,” and the students in the Thinkery referencing a map of “the whole earth,” which shocks Strepsiades when he sees how close other islands are to Athens (Clouds, 225, 205). As the Thinkery’s teachings reach a horizon beyond educating those only relevant to the politics of Athens, the accusers of Socrates worry that he will make Athenians less civically engaged. Aristophanes presents an example of such a concern when Socrates is sought out by Strepsiades who hopes that Socrates’s ‘Thinkery’ can educate his son, as he believes that “if someone gives [the Thinkery] money, they teach him how to win both just and unjust causes by speaking” (Aristophanes, Clouds, 95). In this moment, Aristophanes presents a critique on Socrates’ way of teaching philosophy, commenting that philosophic education is a separate endeavor than an education with purpose related to politics and civic virtue. Additionally, Aristophanes suggests that philosophy must be a self-interested endeavor for both the teacher and student as Socrates teaches for a profit and Strepsiades seeks for his son to learn the unjust speech for selfish reasons. While repeatedly criticized by Aristophanes and other accusers for not focusing enough on the success of the political community and prioritizing a contemplative lifestyle regarding the natural sciences, Socrates’ method for guarding justice and supporting his political community includes the process of questioning those who enter the Thinkery, or those with whom he has dialogue, and strengthening their character and completeness as individuals. The practice of questioning what is accepted as ‘truth’ and ‘not-knowing’ are qualities encouraged by Socrates for the complete individual; his advocacy of a citizen’s engagement with philosophic education works to ensure that citizens are engaging with both the matters of their city’s politics and that of the world.

The critique of Socrates in Aristophanes’ Clouds further examines the tension between a philosophic education and the expectations of a citizen within a political community. While accounts of Socrates often demonstrate his preference for philosophizing and pursuing of wisdom, he does not thrive within his political community of Athens and is eventually put to trial and found guilty for corrupting the youth with his philosophic teachings. In Plato’s Apology, Socrates is found defending his belief in philosophic education as a means of supporting a city; in fact, he critiques his accusers for their suppression of those “who really figh[t] for the just” as well as the unwillingness to entertain such a voice, like himself, within the public, and political sphere (Apology, 32a). In one instance, he questions Meletus regarding who makes the youth in Athens better, and Meletus responds that “the laws,” or an education in the politics of the community make the youth better (Apology, 24d). Meletus differs from Socrates in his hopes for what the youth learn, in that he has a focus on fostering good, democratic citizens within Athens rather than educating good, human beings for the world. Socrates’ defense in the Apology is a response to the resistance he faces while advocating for the incorporation of philosophy into the education of citizens rather than a political education focused solely on the laws that govern a city.

The tension between the education of citizens and that for a complete human life is suggested by Socrates and his distinction in the Apology between the virtue, “of a human being and citizen,” as well as in Aristotle’s discussion about the “excellent citizen” versus the “excellent man” (Plato, Apology, 20b; Aristotle, Politics, 1277a14-5). Aristotle notes that the virtue of an excellent citizen within a particular political regime is not necessarily the same as the virtue of an excellent person: “it is possible for a citizen to be excellent yet not possess the virtue in accordance with which he is an excellent man” (Politics, 1276b35-6). The virtue of an excellent citizen “must necessarily be with a view to the regime” whereas “the good man…is so in accordance with a single kind—complete virtue” (Politics 1276b31,33). In order for a city to be excellent, all citizens must be educated and aware of the common goal: to strive for the success of the regime, similar to how “the safety of the ship in its voyage” is the task of all sailors (Politics, 1276b26-8). Aristotle notes that while a common goal exists for citizens, and an excellent city must be composed of all excellent citizens, it is “impossible” to have a city full of all good men, “unless all of the citizens of an excellent city are necessarily good” (Politics, 1277a1-6). Therefore, being an excellent person and having an education beyond politics is not a prerequisite for Aristotle as he considered what defines an excellent citizen or an excellent city; rather, an adequate, political education is sufficient to complete citizens. However, to fulfill a complete human life and be considered an excellent human being, one must not only be educated in the qualities of the excellent citizen, but also how to come into being and live “for the sake of living well” (Politics, 1252b30).

An adequate political education for Aristotle may not be defined as solely an education in the laws as Meletus would define a political education in the Apology; instead, Aristotle asserts that the “political good is justice, and this is the common advantage” (Politics, 1282b17-18). To determine what justice is within each type of regime, individuals should not just be taught a political education, but a combination of a political and philosophical education, or “political philosophy” (Politics, 1282b23). A political education will differ depending on the type of regime, whether that be a democracy, tyranny, polity, or oligarchy, and Aristotle identifies that a political education can sometimes be in conflict with the education and virtue of the excellent, and completely virtuous, human being if the philosophy is not supported by the type of regime: “That it is possible for a citizen to be excellent yet not possess the virtue in accordance with which he is an excellent man” (Politics, 1276b34-36). This conflict in virtue will exist unless the political justice within a regime is in agreement with that of the philosophic justice and virtue of the excellent man. It would be ideal for a regime to support the teaching of a citizen or actor within the political community with “the education and the habits that make a man excellent,” thus making the education for the excellent man and that of the excellent citizen “essentially the same” (1288b1-2). Aristotle’s Politics demonstrates that a political education is complete enough to produce an excellent city with excellent citizens, but to have a city with excellent and good men, the citizens and ruler ought to be educated and engaged with political philosophy.

In Plato’s The Republic, Socrates appears in agreement with Aristotle’s claim that politics work best when supported by philosophy. However, Socrates goes further to say that philosophic education is a necessary component to politics, not just for the production of excellent human beings:

Unless the philosophers rule as kings or those now called kings and chiefs genuinely and adequately philosophize, and political power and philosophy coincide in the same place,… there is no rest from ills for the cities, my dear Glaucon, nor I think for human kind, nor will the regime we have now described in speech ever come forth from nature, insofar as possible, and see the light of the sun (The Republic, 473 d-e).

Socrates asserts that the “ills” of the city are only remedied by the joint teaching of philosophy and politics, and that adequate and genuine philosophizing are necessary to complete individuals and allow them to “see the light” of truth (The Repubic, 473d-e). Socrates guides Glaucon and Adeimantus into such a light through his method of questioning and argument, reminding them of their objectives as founders and the priorities of the city. Simultaneously, he models what he believes to be the correct practice of educating in philosophy (The Republic, 519e-520a). He asks them to consider how they can best educate others on the importance and value of a political and philosophic education. He notes, likely from his own experience as a philosopher and outcast in Athens, that too often philosophy is seen as a suspicious enemy to politics with “the blame for the many being harshly disposed toward philosophy” by those who are not educated to philosophize correctly, leading to malpractice in the discipline: “how a city can take philosophy in hand without being destroyed. For surely all great things carry with them the risk of a fall, and, really as the saying goes, fine things are hard” (The Republic 500b, 497d). Socrates suggests that a reformation of philosophic education is needed in order to convince others of its potential capacity to serve the city and politics. Not only does he promote the education of citizens and guardians to be in that of political philosophy, but the education of individuals who teach such philosophy themselves needs to be addressed so that philosophers can re-learn how to best present and educate philosophy for the sake of both the individual as well as the city.

Through his dialogue with Glaucon and Adeimantus, Socrates models the education that he believes is for the complete human life, which includes components of both a political education and that of philosophy. Socrates seeks to cultivate the skills of both teaching and learning political philosophy within the brothers:

Our job as founders…is to compel the best natures to go to the study which we were saying before is the greatest, to see the good and to go up that ascent; and, when they have gone up and seen sufficiently, not to permit them what is now permitted (Republic, 519d).

Plato’s Socrates uses the allegory of the cave to educate Glaucon and Adeimantus on the process of education and the best practice of both discovering, and later passing onto others, how to discover the truth or escape the cave and into the light (The Republic, 514a-518d). Perhaps the cave can be seen as a representation of a political regime, with the shadows and information learned by the citizens or “prisoners” being the political education deemed as best suited for the regime, provided by the “puppet-handlers” or politicians (The Republic, 514b). Being “compelled to keep their heads motionless,” the prisoners are only educated with regards to the regime, which according to Aristotle makes them excellent citizens (The Republic, 515b). However, if those trapped are able to be turned towards the entrance of the cave with “the whole body,” and then they exit the cave into the light, they will have undergone a process of “coming into being” by having engaged with the art of a philosophic education and not just accepting the “shadows of artificial things” in front of them (The Republic, 518c, 515b). Socrates presents the cave metaphor to describe the education of a citizenry, but in the process of doing so, he turns the bodies of Glaucon and Adeimantus to understand more with political philosophy beyond what they currently understand about Athens through a political education. He seeks to educate them in philosophy and show them the light beyond the cave, before compelling them to go back inside to educate others in the same way in order for more citizens in Athens to be completely educated.

To educate an individual in the virtue of being a complete human being, the education ought to be in political philosophy. Such an education would encompasses the virtue of being an excellent citizen who is taught through a political education and goes further to include an education of a more complete virtue and the justice of all humankind beyond the political community to which one belongs. While Aristotle asserts that the philosophy taught must support the goals of the political regime, both Plato’s and Aristophanes’ depictions of Socrates are in favor of expanding beyond the context of one’s political community and the horizon of Athens, because if the politics of one’s environment are not understood from the outside, one can become a prisoner to his or her regime. While Aristotle presents a complete education as being that of a political education with the potential for including political philosophy, he identifies the possibility for tension and conflict if the regime of which a citizen is a part does not allow or support the pursuit of such a philosophy. Socrates is an example of such an individual who is seen as a threat to his city by those who do not understand the value of the political-philosophical education that he teaches. While Socrates and Aristotle may both assert that a complete human life and the fulfillment of an individual are achieved through engagement with political philosophy, Socrates does not concede in the way what Aristotle might, that ultimately, politics and the type of regime for a city dictates whether the incorporation of philosophy is in fact possible for citizens to achieve completeness as human beings.

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