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The Republic by Plato - Barron's Booknotes
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SIX EDUCATIONAL STAGES (535a-541b)

The guardians' course of study has been outlined. The greatest study has been explained. What remains to be established are the ages and stages for pursuing educational aims. Here Socrates traces the six educational hurdles of the future kings.

Until children are seventeen or eighteen years old they will undergo a program of physical and musical training, the arts and sciences. They will not be compelled to study, but will be encouraged to explore their studies in a playful way. And by observing their play the guardian selection committee will be able to determine the natural capacities of each child.

Between the ages of seventeen and twenty, the most gifted children will engage only in physical and military training. These years will be so physically strenuous that they will have no leisure time for study.

Another selection of future guardians will be made during their twentieth year. These chosen will study advanced mathematics for the next ten years. And although they will not be introduced to dialectic, they will be tested to determine who are the most able to see the connections among the five courses of mathematics.

In their thirtieth year those passing the tests will study dialectic for five years. The teachers of dialectic will have to be exceedingly adept at introducing students to philosophy. They must not proceed too quickly (remember the blinding light of the sun in the Allegory of the Cave). The danger is that youth too often use dialectic as a sport rather than as a tool for discerning truth. The chosen class of thirty-year-olds will have orderly and stable natures and the desire to devote themselves "to the continuous and strenuous study of dialectic undisturbed by anything else."



Between the ages of thirty-five and fifty the future philosopher kings must spend their time in the darkness of the cave. Here they will engage in the practical affairs of the city, and hold commands in war. This exposure to city life will not only provide them with practical experience (and the opportunity to adjust to the darkness), it will also serve as a test of their ability to abstain from the temptations of wealth and from other appetitive corruptions.

Finally, at the age of fifty, those who have passed all of the tests will be selected as philosopher kings. For the remainder of their lives they will take turns ruling the city and studying philosophy. In death they will be honored. And here Socrates again mentions that women of ability will be among the philosopher kings.

Through this program of education and selection justice will become possible in the city. But what happens to the candidates who flunk the tests at various stages? And who will the teachers be? Socrates never answers these questions.

This book ends with a much too handy solution to the problem of the realization of the just society-banish all adults and begin the city with only impressionable children ten years old and younger. Perhaps Socrates' tongue-in-cheek solution is simply intended to stop a tiresome discussion. But could he be demonstrating, as several scholars suggest, that political idealism is an absurd passion that leads to impractical suggestions and unreasonable conclusions? Or is he once more pointing out, in his ironic way, that the just city is an ideal model that can never be actualized, only approximated? And through this use of a shocking statement could Socrates merely be emphasizing the extreme importance of providing youth with a good, thorough education?

Whatever you decide, during your ventures into interpreting the Republic be certain to consider the crucial themes elaborated in this book-the place of education in the just society and the way in which moral character is shaped by intellect (reason).

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The Republic by Plato - Barron's Booknotes
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