Plato’s Theory of Education | 01

When education is concern the thoughts root back to the stone age; with time it developed substantially by the help of great philosophers, hundreds of them can be named however few are more luminous with their thoughts and enlighten us more than others like Thales, Anaximander, Anaximenes, Hercules and others, Nevertheless It must be admitted that Plato rightly justified his place with new level of thoughts regarding education with his theory of education.

Plato and Education

Plato was one of the most penetrating philosophers of his time; The great intellectual and teacher. His thoughts are so profound that till now most of the thoughts that we admire today often refers to him in the footnote. One of his most notable contributions was theory of education well known as “Platonic theory of education” which was designed to provide a comprehensive vision to solve the problems of education. His powerful thoughts enabled him to bring the education to a new level, his plan was not isolated rather in a harmony with the concept of state, justice and his idea of communism.

Plato’s contribution comes to light through his write up in “The Republic”. Rousseau made an observation about the book, which might not be precise but contains much of the truth. He said, “Republic is the finest treatise on education ever written”.[1] Though it is not a treatise solely on education, nevertheless education was one of the most thought-provoking one there and it was so connected and important to Plato’s ideal society and therefore occupied most important place considering the whole concept.

Plato’s thoughts about education

Plato sees education from the teleological point of view, means he believed there is some purpose that is rational and for that relational purpose some action or acts come into existence. From his point of view whenever human mind acts it acts for some reason, rational action can never be purposeless. To what extent human will act rationally and purposefully that he believed depends on his education.

According to Plato, “the primary object of education is to turn the eyes, which the soul already possesses, to light”.[2] The essence is that the function of education is not that to put knowledge into the soul, but to bring out the best things that are latent in the soul. Baker rightly says, “Plato’s scheme of education brings the soul into that environment which in each stage of its growth is best suited for is development”.[3]

Plato’s theory of education was so important because it is one of the basic elements of his ideal society along with theory of justice and communism. Plato has believed that “Virtue is knowledge” as, like his teacher Socrates, he believed that virtue make people virtuous, he also opined that, education builds man’s character, it is, therefore, a necessary condition for extraction man’s natural faculties in order to develop his personality and to make him properly able to contribute to his state. His whole concept of education was to serve the state and to place the state in a just condition and to ensure justice, therefore he believed education should be facilitated by the state, not by private enterprise, Thereafter Plato designed his educational structure and he also classified the category of citizens according to their condition and abelites.

Though he was a dreamer, however, he places the reality in the context very well occurs that is not without some criticism. Plato says, “Education is a path of social righteousness, and not of social success; it is a way to reach the truth.”[4]

Plato in his theory of education accepts certain assumptions;

  • Soul; being initiative and active, throws up, through education, the best things that ae latent it.
  • Education moulds the character of the growing young; it does not provide eyes to the blind, but it does give vision to men with eyes; it brings soul to the realms of light; it activates and reactivates the individual.
  • Each level of education has a pre-assigned function:
    • the elementary education helps individuals give direction to their powers;
    • middle-level education helps individuals understand their surroundings; and higher cation helps individuals prepare, determine and decide their own course of education
  • Education helps people earn a living and also helps them to become better human beings.[5]

It must be mentioned Plato never wanted education to be a commercial product, therefore, he emphasized on the state arranged education for his dreamed utopian society. It was thought by him that the principle of justice can only be maintained by proper education. For the operation of justice in the ideal state, education is the must. Plato was convinced that the root of the vice lay chiefly in ignorance, an only by proper education can one be converted into a virtuous man.[6] 

Pre – Socratic Thoughts

Socrates was the teacher of Plato, therefore Plato’s political views and thoughts often influenced by his teacher, in fact, Plato’s dream of balanced society and the ideal state was also adopted form Socratics, the same is applicable for his educational theory too. It is not that their view and thoughts are same but undoubtedly Plato’s thoughts are influenced by Socratics.  On the other hand, pre- Socratic thinkers were quite different, though their development was very crucial therefore it is important to mark few developments in order to compare with Plato’s theory of education.

Focusing on the contribution, Thales, Anaximander, Anaximenes and Heraclitus should be named first, they attempted the new journey to explain the natural phenomenon without the very concept of supernatural power, which was quite unique at their contemporary society. Then they tend to rely on observation and experiment and try use them as methods of discovery and proof. Last but not the least, they recognized the vital connection between natural philosophy and technique.

Therefore, for the element to shape their philosophy many markable philosophers adopted the materialistic view. They emphasized on scientific methods and technique, separating spiritual thoughts form the philosophy, but all of them were not the follower of the same path.  Pythagoras followed the spiritual path.

Development in contrast with the predecessors

Plato was a follower of Socrates and Socrates was moved by the tradition that is followed by Pythagoras and thus Plato did the same. He believed materialistic thoughts can lead us to wrong direction due to our limited knowledge. Moreover, as he loved to see from the teleological point of view he believed in spirituality, He was realistic but his educational theory emphasized on morality and for the goodness of state, which in contrast to the materialistic viewpoint cannot coexist because when materialistic thoughts are concerned human tend to be selfish and social unity breaks down.

At Plato’s time, the Greek’s emphasized on focusing practical aspect of education to grow wealth or to secure a higher position or to be successful in political career. The sophist, as well as Socrates, felt the same. On the other hand, Plato’s system wanted to provide the positive and negative condition for the good citizenship. His whole plan of the Ideal state relies on proper education of citizens. Plato emphases on moral purpose of education, he introduced a metaphysical element to it. He did not believe that education is a way to social success but regarded it as a way of social rightness.

Plato’s motivation behind his educational theory

Being a student of Socratics, and a follower of Pythagoras spiritual view it is not surprising he tried to build an Ideal society like Socratics did to do that he believed that personal desires so to say the practical approach of mand was creating hindrance towards his goal of utopian society, therefore he focused on more united and purpose-driven education system of which the basis was morality and social security. To keep a society just and in proper order, social harmony is needed therefore a state-controlled education system came into his mind.

At his time Athenian citizens focused on education for a materialistic reason which he believes a reason for anarchy of that time. Though he loved the diversity of knowledge, the cultural and philosophical practice, he was concerned that this scattered way of education can be a reason of revolutionaries because of private enterprise in the education sector. Private education of Athens included reading, writing, religion, ethics, gymnastics, and music at the primary education of the citizen. In the second stage, the used to get some higher education.

 Compared to this education system another education system was very attractive to him and that was the education system of Sparta, it was another city-state of ancient Greece. Basically, they were great warriors and educated their rate to build a marshal society, their total system was state-controlled and every capable citizen was trained to be a solder as per the need of the state.

Plato was critical of both Athens and Sparta, in one side Athens had a total chaos at their education system not consistent for the benefit of the state not uninformed on the other side Sparta was missing the valuable knowledge and philosophical aspect ok education. Interestingly enough he adopted good parts of their system and incorporated into his new design of educational method.

Continue reading part two here: Plato’s education system and some criticism | 02

[1] Quraishi, Zaheer Masood, and Zaheed Masood Quirashi. “Plato’s Theory of Education.” The Indian Journal of Political Science, vol. 18, no. 1, 1957, pp. 61–74. JSTOR, JSTOR,

[2] “Plato’S Theories: Theory Of Justice, Education And Communism”. Political Science Notes, 2018, Accessed 12 May 2018.

[3] “Essay On The Plato’S “Theory Of Education””. World’S Largest Collection Of Essays! Published By Experts, 2018, Accessed 12 May 2018.

[4] “Essay On The Plato’S “Theory Of Education””. World’S Largest Collection Of Essays! Published By Experts, 2018, Accessed 12 May 2018.

[5] “Essay On The Plato’S “Theory Of Education””. World’S Largest Collection Of Essays! Published By Experts, 2018, Accessed 12 May 2018.

[6] “Plato’s Theory Of Education”. Your Article Library, 2018, Accessed 12 May 2018..

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Advocate Rayhanul Islam is the founder and Editor in Chief of Law Help BD. He is also a researcher. Critical thinking is his main focus. He is on a quest to bring positive change to the legal sector of Bangladesh. He promotes legal knowledge and human rights concept to the root level. e-mail: [email protected]

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