Aristotle's and Plato's Ideas on Education


The literature works of both ancient philosophers, Plato and Aristotle, are aimed to help the mankind to achieve “higher good” through harmony in social relations. The philosophers believe that the objective of harmonic development of an individual is to reach true virtues; thus, it is fundamental for harmonic human’s interaction. However, they see different ways in achieving the “true good”; that is why their educational approaches are different. Plato believes in abstract theory, and Aristotle prefers day-to-day practice. Plato neglects any ideas of practicality, meanwhile Aristotle finds them to be crucial for the process of learning.

Plato’s Concept of Education in “The Republic”

Plato’s views on education are widely implemented in today’s world. His book “The Republic” distinguishes the process of studying as well as its subjects and objects. Philosopher regards the given process as recollection. He compares human soul that constantly searches for insights to the cage dwellers. Plato emphasizes that cage prisoners cannot see the sun which he associates with knowledge. They can only see their shadows on the cage walls accepting this information as the only truth. If one goes outside the cage, it will hurt his/her eyes to see the sun. Thus, in order to get information, this prisoner will have to look at shadows at first, then, probably, on the water reflection, and only when his/her eyes adjust to the bright light, the cage dweller will be able to look at the sun. The things enlightened by the day light contain true information about the surrounding world. The prisoner knew it before he/she got into the cage; however, it was forgotten within the time.

Plato reveals Socrates’ analogy of step-by-step enlightenment with the recollection of an ancient soul. According to his scrutiny, any knowledge can be learnt since the soul (the cage man before he was imprisoned) knew the sun and the true things (not only their distorted reflections on the walls). Thus, this process is not learning something new but rather recollecting what was forgotten. Plato believes that education is an art of directing the instrument (the body) into the right direction to see the sun, but not the art of putting the power of sight into it (Plato, Republic 518c). Socrates emphasizes that necessary subjects of this art are the following disciplines: physical exercises, music, arithmetic, geometry, and astronomy. Physical education helps to keep the body strong and prevents it from decay; musical education adds harmony. However, probably the most important education, according to Socrates, is arithmetic, because the necessity to calculate is essential for every field. Moreover, he emphasizes that “people with natural gift for arithmetic reasoning are naturally quick at virtually all subjects” (Plato, Republic 526b).

Through the thoughts of Socrates, Plato reveals the importance of geometry claiming that “geometrical knowledge is knowledge of what always is” and that is why it draws the soul towards the truth (Plato, Republic 527b). The philosopher thinks that astronomy encourages the soul “to look upwards, directing it away from thing here and towards things up there” (Plato, Republic 529). Answering the question whom to study, Socrates says that only brave handsome individuals with the ability to learn should be taught. Plato generates good ideas that underlie the modern system of education. The thinker encourages teachers to use games for preliminary education, because kids should not be compelled to study, and free learning should not be associated with slavery. He divides the society into three parts: the appetitive (money-makers), the spirited (warriors), and the logical (philosophers). Plato suggests different levels of education for each of them: primary education for the appetitive part’s representatives and 15 years of education for the remaining two. At the age of 20, both future warriors and philosophers are supposed to serve in troops since the education must be all-sided (physical and mental). After 2 years in the army, philosophers are expected to continue studying, and the best of them will be chosen as leaders at the age of 30. Plato believes that men and women are born with the right natural abilities; thus, women should be taught as well (Plato, Republic 540c). He proposes to isolate kids at the age of 10 from their parents in order to form the consciousness beneficial for a particular regime (Plato, Republic 541). Despite of staying topical in a contemporary world, this concept has some weak sides. Firstly, if kids are ruled by a given regime, it violates the process of free thinking. Secondly, not all people are equal in their right to get education. Finally, dialectical method (finding the truth by evaluating the arguments) is important, but practice is essential.

Aristotle’s Concept of Education

Aristotle supports Plato’s ideas about how to achieve “supreme good” in the society. He agrees with his teacher on the division of Greek education into stages corresponding to the level and years of schooling although he does not really support his master's theory of recollection. He rather believes in gaining knowledge through day-to-day practice “intellectual virtue result mostly from teaching – hence it requires experience and time” (Aristotle, The Nichomachean Ethics Book 2, 1103a15). He claims that “none of the moral virtues are present in us by nature” which contradicts Plato’s concept of “ancient soul’s recollection”. Aristotle emphasizes on observation and learning by doing “those things we must learn how to do, we learn by doing them – for example, by building houses, people become house builders, and by playing the cithara, they become cithara players” (Aristotle, The Nichomachean Ethics Book 2, 30). Furthermore, philosopher reveals the importance of ethical upbringing which should be implemented in a practical way through observing the examples and thus forming the right habits and behavior. Aristotle’s idea that human’s infants do not have moral virtues underlies the principles of modern psychology and pedagogy. Moreover, his idea of learning through training and observing is an important part of schools’ curriculum since getting knowledge and skills is impossible without constant exercising of body and mind. However, to become a builder, one should obtain theoretical knowledge which is supposed to be implemented and improved in practice. Therefore, learning only by observation and doing is not effective.

Plato’s dialectical approach to education which is based on argumentative discussions and Aristotle’s practical approach of getting knowledge complement each other in the modern education systems of numerous countries. At first sight, they seem to be opposite; in fact, one does not exclude the other. It is impossible to become a highly skilled employee without gaining theoretical knowledge first. The development of practical skills is based on theoretical knowledge which one must recollect using his/her abilities to learn. The given approaches are interdependent. The combination of these methods is aimed to support every individual with better possibilities to excel in personal harmonic development. Both philosophers agree that only such person is capable to make a significant positive contribution into the society.

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