Analytical Essay on Ideas of Plato Republic

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From time immoral the question seems to be to dictate or not to dictate, and in no avenue does this seem to hold more prevalent than in the arena of education. Educational reform as of late has been a rudimentary cause to great ill for our nation. Progress is understood as progress only when moving forward, and it is of my opinion that forward momentum should never have been taken from that first educational system in its most perfect inception so very long ago. Simply stated, there is some truth in the acknowledgement of a certain point when progress ceases to be so due to a perfection molded upon the wings of the already perfect ideal. As Alfred North Whitehead once and so insightfully maintained,

“the safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato. . . . The things which are temporal arise by their participation in the things which are eternal. . . . This ideal realization of potentialities in a primordial actual entity constitutes the metaphysical stability whereby the actual process exemplifies general principles of metaphysics, and attains the ends proper to specific types of emergent order. By reason of the actuality of this primordial valuation of pure potentials, each eternal object has a definite effective relevance to each concresent process. . . . We are here extending and rigidly applying Hume’s principle, that ideas of reflection are derived from actual facts” (Whitehead, 1978, p. 39-40).

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With this logic and general assumption in mind, we can easily see that theories of education are in effect all mere divergents of Plato’s collaborative intentions surmised within a variety of his works. Despite the fact that almost every dialogue written by Plato could be considered as educational, an analysis of the overall process as outlined within his Laws as the formulation of the first complete system of a workable nature seems the most prominent place to begin.

Before we commence however, I must mention that it is not my intended interest to advocate immutability of ideas over time, but rather, bring forth an observance concerning the validity of certain foundations as ultimately true opposed to being simply a jumping off point for further footnotes. You see my friends, the greatest problem with footnotes is that by definition they maintain that something more is needed in explanation, and in the case of Plato, that rival opinion is simply a fallacy; as to change the perfect workable ideal is a step backwards from remaining concurrent. I guess the question is why do we insist on fixing ourselves to the path of making things worse when clearly from their inception by one of the greatest minds the world has ever known, the ideal could not have been thought to attain better?

Historically speaking, the problem with Plato seems to be two fold. Although what concerns us today is primarily of educational importance, the fact remains that in order to understand this philosophy, we must in fact delve a little deeper into his political ideology; for what could education ever be beyond the aims of a solid political foundation. To that end it could be said then that one of the major criticisms of Plato seems to concern itself with the fact that he was, not in the modern sense of the term at least, prone to romanticized notions of democracy. However, if one honestly looks at the political dichotomy of all that succeeded his time, it should not be too difficult to conclude that no such thing as democracy could ever truly exist. Although one could argue this by pointing at present systems that may appear as such, it is however only the fool that could truly believe that any nation has ever been truly democratic. At the very least in fact, beyond the scope of ancient Athens, all succeeding forms are but a pseudoistic attempt to recreate the closest possible ideal of the concept in itself. When looking at the modern state of America for instance, what we find is not a nation that is holistically democratic, but rather, an entity that is a pseudo derivative of the initial intent. For even in the ‘perfection’ of the ancient Athenian democratic ideal, there existed a dichotomy of divisions. As John Dewey points out in The Ethics of Democracy, “what Plato himself said of his ideal state, we may with greater truth say of democracy: . . . ‘any ordinary state, however small, is indeed two states at war with each other, and in [its divisions] there are many smaller states… originat[ing] in divisions of the governing power’” (1988/1997, p. 194- 195; Plato, Republic 4.423, 8.545). One could even go as far as to point out that Plato himself was aware of the downfall of such a system as naïve as the rule of the common man all in common. This idea is further illustrated through an examination of the much later philosophies of Alexis De Tocqueville (1958/2003) and Fredrick Nietzsche (1886/2008); each in their own way noting inevitable and irrevocable degenerated mediocrity abolishing morality in favor of individual conquest of materialistic being. In this sense, the dream of contriving a system whereby the will of the people reigns supreme is at its very nature a fallible ideal. This may have been one of Plato’s most noble insights and in all likelihood stemmed from the very tragic first hand witnessing of the trial and conviction to death of his great educator and mentor, Socrates.

Plato illustrates his notions concerning the will of the people best in the Republic and the Laws whereby he notes that certain periods of time exist when the masses need to have their opinions quelled through some manifestation of benevolent authoritarian character towards the greater good beyond the bias of the reasonable capacities of the average man. The best system then in order to allow both the freedom and protection of the most noble society must be based in combination of opposing political orders which allows citizens just enough voice to assume they are free, while at the same time, ensuring integrity of the whole through noble and just leadership of mandated laws preventing the irrational misgivings of the power of mob rule. Although through this analysis it becomes clear that Plato was anything but a liberal democrat in the modern sense, to demonize either him or Socrates as the precursor to Marxism or Fascism is simply neglectful of the truth; for it was not that type of authoritarian rule in which he was prone to, but rather as illustrated within the premise of his Republic, the rule of the trustworthy, the just, and the wise philosopher. For as Leo Strauss so skillfully noted, “Plato was not a Communist in the sense of Marx, or a Fascist: Marxist communism and fascism are incompatible with the rule of philosophers, where as… [Plato’s notion of government] stands or falls by the rule” of the just for the benefit of individual within society as a whole (1963/1987, p. 35-36). We might then consider a replication of sorts of this political ideology within our contrived system of educating the masses. In other words, the most workable system should be recognized as one that allows the student just enough autonomy as not to discourage participation in learning while at the same time affording enough direction to enable those teachings necessary to uphold the value of society in which we live.

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