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The city of Athens for years followed strict laws that were punishable by death if broken or gone against. One of the most important laws was the fact in believing only in the multiple gods the government believed in. For the most part, the citizens of Athens followed these laws because obeying the government and their religion was crucial to their way of life. It was not until philosophical thought became more popular that the citizens began to think differently. It began with the philosophical thinker, Socrates. Socrates is well known now for his “Socratic Method,” a method in which laid down the main groundwork for Western systems of logic and philosophy (Socrates Biography). One can see Socrates thoughts on the role and meaning of education in the city of Athens through his Apology statement to the Athenian court in which he was sentenced to death for allegedly corrupting the youth of Athens and not believing in the gods of the government law. “Socrates is guilty of refusing to recognize the gods recognized by the state, and of introducing other new divinities. He is also guilty of corrupting the youth. ” (Plato: The Apology of Socrates). Through his Apology, Socrates defends himself and states what he is trying to achieve by his teachings. Socrates was not corrupting the youth of Athens in the ways people claimed, his accusers were uneducated of his ideas and did not understand his thought. This scared them because people have a fear of the unknown and not understanding something, they want to be all wise.
They were threatened by Socrates ability to accept and admit his ignorance, the fact that he indeed did not know anything at all, which made him according to himself, wiser than most. This is also the first tenet to Socratic philosophy: In order to learn, one must admit ignorance. In the Apology, Socrates states his main purpose of his teachings. “For I go about doing nothing else than urging you, young and old, not to care for your persons or your property more than for the perfection of your souls, or even so much; and I tell you that virtue does not come from money, but from virtue comes money and all other good things to man, both to the individual and to the state. ” (Plato: The Apology of Socrates). Socrates highly emphasized on the fact that knowledge comes from virtue and accepting ignorance, because only then would one be able to grow their intelligence and become wiser. He wanted to digress from the theological doctrine of the government and establish an ethical system based on human reason and thought in order for the greater well-being of the Athenian society. Socrates emphasized on the “importance of the mind over the relative unimportance of the human body. ” (Socrates Biography). Socrates teachings influenced one of his student’s teachings, Plato, who believed in dividing reality into two realms, the world of senses and the world of ideas. Plato took influence from Socrates in his philosophical ideas on education and the role it played in the city of Athens. Plato shares his ideas through his story of The Allegory of the Cave. He uses this story to illustrate the effects of education on the human soul and mind. According to Plato, there are four ways of thinking—imagination, belief, thought, and understanding—each part of the story represents one of these stages. It starts out with prisoners bound in a cave, only being able to visualize what is seen on the wall in front of them, shadows produced from a fire light. To the prisoners, this is what they know to be true and this to Plato is the stage of imagination, the lowest stage. Next, one of the prisoners is freed and now sees that the shadows are not what is reality, it is in fact a fire and statues producing the images he saw on the wall. He now believes the statues and fire to be reality—the stage of belief. When the prisoner reaches the world outside he is able to see the real objects that the statues were based off of, reaching the stage of thought.
Finally, he reaches the last stage of understanding by realizing the sun is the cause of everything he sees around him. In his story of the Allegory of the Cave, Plato is stating that the main goal of education should not be to put knowledge into one’s soul, but to turn one’s soul towards the right desires, focusing on the Form of the Good. Plato claims that mathematics and philosophical dialectic are the two most important subjects to study to bring one’s soul out of the realm of senses and into the realm of intelligence and ideas—an idea influenced by his teacher Socrates. According to Plato, mathematics was in preparation for philosophical dialectic, the most important form of study because it leaves one’s senses behind and focuses on philosophical reasoning. His emphasis on mathematics in his teachings was because it made his students focus on the intelligible realm and set sights on the truths outside of the realm of senses. His students would drop their ideas based off of their human senses and rely on reasoning to contemplate the truths of the world. Plato believed that a true philosopher must ignore their senses and rely on thought alone. This is where the ideas on education between Aristotle and Plato diverge. Although Aristotle was Plato’s student, Aristotle’s method for education relied on the observational method of scientific investigation. Aristotle outlines his ideal thought for an educational system in the city of Athens through his writing of Politics in book VIII. Aristotle claims that a city’s educational system is the base for determining the character of the people, so he believes that it is important for the educational system to serve the needs of the city itself. He strongly believes in public education, just like Socrates and Plato. Aristotle wants the children to be taught of what is useful, moral goodness, and pure knowledge. He had four major disciplines of study outlined in his writing—reading and writing, physical training, music, and drawing. The reasoning behind these four disciplines that were chosen is because Aristotle believes that a work, play, relaxation and leisure life style is best for the mind, body, and soul in order to expand knowledge. Reading and writing satisfies the work portion of Aristotle’s system, this is where the students would be taught and express their knowledge. Drawing brings a more creative and artistic side to the mind and helps shape the individual to be able to think differently from a more scientific point of view. The physical training would also go under the work category.
Aristotle believes that a student should receive light training until they reach puberty, study for three years, and then begin physical training again alongside of studying to work the body and mind together simultaneously. Music was the last part of his four areas of study. He believes music should be included in education for amusement and relaxation. However, the study of music should be taken no further than appreciation of rhythm and harmony because if it is taken further, the students would be studying to please others and not themselves, according to Aristotle. In conclusion, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle did have similar beliefs in the role and meaning of education in the city of Athens. This is because of the influence each received from each other beginning with Socrates. Socrates was the teacher of Plato, and Plato the teacher of Aristotle. As stated earlier, Socrates emphasized on the “importance of the mind over the relative unimportance of the human body. ” Socrates really focused on one’s spiritual growth and thought that nothing else in the world mattered. To be wise to Socrates was to be able to admit ignorance in knowing nothing. When one can admit to knowing nothing, they can open their mind up to learning anything through philosophical thought. Plato’s ideas and beliefs on education were very similar to Socrates, in fact the importance of mind over the human body inspired Plato’s philosophy of the two separate realms of reality—the world of sense and the world of ides. To Plato, the world of ideas was of the utmost importance. Letting go of human senses to explain the truth of reality and simply relying on thoughts alone to reach the truth.
Plato believed mathematics and philosophical dialectic were the two most important forms of study. Here he has similarities with Socrates. Socrates spoke in a dialectic way, his Socratic method, and Plato thought that dialectic was the ultimate form of study because it left behind perceptions of senses and used philosophical reasoning to reach the truth. However, this is where both Socrates and Plato diverge from the thoughts of Aristotle. Aristotle focused on reading and writing, whereas Plato focused on mathematics. Aristotle is also the first known philosopher of the observational method of scientific investigation, completely differing from Plato who does not rely on observations whatsoever. All three philosophers relate in the aspect that they all believed in public education rather than private tutoring and did not want to charge for spreading their wisdom and knowledge to the citizens of the city of Athens. All around, Plato and Aristotle’s beliefs and ideas were more accepted than Socrates, who was put to death for his philosophical thinking. This reflects, however, that Socrates was able to influence the ways of the people of Athens to accept a different understanding of the world and be more open to new ways of thinking. Socrates paved the way for his student’s beliefs, connecting all of their ideas for education.
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