Reflections on Formative Influence
Plato's Republic (2/14/10) Reflections by Demetrios Spyridakis
Revered in the western canon as the foundational work in political philosophy, Plato's Republic provides an endlessly fascinating inquiry into the nature of justice, which in turn leads to an examination of issues from across and even beyond the philosophical spectrum. In seeking, for example, to determine what makes man just, Plato must necessarily probe into the motives and weaknesses of human nature, arguably making the Republic a seminal text in psychology. The philosophical profundity of the Republic resonates in its ten books and reflects the coalescence in the dialogue of all themes in Platonic philosophy which are blended with skillful artistry. The dialogue also strikes the reader as astonishingly relevant to our modern times; fundamental questions which continue to be debated today, such as "What is justice?" "Who should rule the state?" and "Should all citizens have equal access to health care?" were first raised by Plato and addressed with the same concern and zeal. Moreover, the dialogue is especially valuable to the educational theorist for its novel exploration of pedagogy's purpose and uses. Education figures as a central theme in the dialogue and is presented as a civilizing force in Plato's ideal state, a sine qua non for democracy, and a preventive tool against demagoguery. It is also the theme contemplated in Plato's allusive "Allegory of the Cave," which illustrates the educational transition from a state of illusion toward a state of truth through which the state's Guardians, or "philosopher kings" must be guided.
The influence of the Republic on the thinking of posterity cannot be emphasized enough, and even prompted Alfred North Whitehead to remark that the entire western philosophical tradition consists of a series of footnotes to Plato. The totalitarian character of Plato's ideal state provoked sharp criticism from subsequent thinkers, from his own pupil Aristotle (see Book II of his Politics) to the pioneer of American educational philosophy, John Dewey (see generally Reconstruction in Philosophy and The Quest for Certainty). But while ideas such as censorship, abolition of private property, and regulation of morality have been largely discredited in the last century, Plato's insistence on education as a prerequisite for a just human being (and by extension, for a just state) remains correct and makes his work a worthy addition to the canon of any educator.
- Hi Demetrios. In reading your comment, I would be interested in how you came to study Plato. Rom2 22:13, 15 February 2011 (UTC)
- It seemed inevitable that I would be drawn to Plato and the classical humanities in general. As I student of Hellenic ancestry, I spent numerous summers in Greece surrounded by antiquities whose influence I failed to escape. Having studied Greek at a Jesuit high school, and later in the classics department at the University of California, Davis (along with Latin), I sought to round out my knowledge of Greek philology with courses devoted to the interpretation of the classical texts. One such memorable course was an introduction to political philosophy taught by the late Professor Larry Peterman. Professor Peterman was a passionate lecturer who exuded an infectious joie de vivre. His lectures on Plato's Republic were among the most thought-provoking I recall from my undergraduate years and inspired me to further explore the rich Platonic corpus. Because Professor Peterman was a political scientist, his introductory lectures emphasized modern parallels of ancient conceptions of statecraft. It remained for me to discover in later study that the Republic is actually as valuable to educational theory as it is to political theory.
One cannot stop with Plato. Coursework with David Traill, Professor Emeritus of Classics at Davis, also helped me gain a deep appreciation of the profound thought and humanistic legacy of other ancient authors. Examining Herodotus' Histories, Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War and Marcus Aurelius' Meditations comes immediately to mind. The Meditations in turn introduced me to the Stoics, who recorded the ethical principles of a philosophy that shaped the concept of natural law and man's inalienable rights. It seemed that I had returned full-circle to political theory. As an educator, I've always believed in the interrelatedness of the humanities and social sciences and have been fascinated by the common origin of most, if not all of their encompassing disciplines in the Greco-Roman world. Plato's Republic stands as one example- we find philosophy, political science, psychology, and pedagogical theory interwoven in one literary masterpiece. I can only hope that one day, as a professor of education, I can convey its richness to my own students so that they might consider it a part of their own canons. Dss2139 19:52, 22 February 2011 (UTC)Demetrios