On Plato’s educational programme in The Laws

Education or paideia is a central concern to both ‘The Republic’ and ‘The Laws’. However, the educational programme developed in ‘The Republic’ is heavily biased towards the intellectual development of the future philosopher-Guardians. The ‘productive class’ is not encouraged to rise above its station and for this reason Plato does not see the necessity for the lower class of the ‘perfect state’ to be educated as fully-fledged citizens. ‘The Laws’, on the other hand, place a much higher premium on the importance of education for all citizens as the flourishing of the state depends precisely upon their continuous support for its institutions. There is a much stronger sense of social unity among Magnesians than among their counterparts in ‘The Republic’, the latter being prevented from any form of political participation through the deceitful ploys of the two ‘noble lies’ and the ‘specialisation principle’. Plato may have realised that the ignorance which he liberally bestows on the common man in ‘The Republic’ can easily be remedied and turned to the advantage of everyone through an expansive programme of education.

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In ‘The Laws’, education brings citizens together through a common appreciation of their shared cultural heritage. Playing musical instruments, dancing and taking part in choral singing at religious festivals, all contribute to the shaping of the citizen’s personality and his allegiance to his city-state. There is no direct mention of dialectical studies, here, but young Magnesians are, like further education students in ‘The Republic’, to be initiated to mathematics and astronomy. Both boys and girls are to learn to dance and perform physical exercises, boys practising wrestling ‘for the sake of strength and health’. Gymnasia are also to be established ‘for all physical exercises of military kind.’ Young women are expected to practise ‘fighting in armour’, not so much to re-emphasise the equality of the sexes advocated in ‘The Republic’ but, on a more pragmatic level, ‘to ensure that if it ever proves necessary for the whole army to leave the state and take the field abroad, so that the children and the rest of the population are left unprotected, the women will at least be able to defend them.’ [814] We are far, here, from the suggestion that, in the perfect state, children of Guardians should be taken to the battlefield for them to have a first-hand experience of warfare!

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