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An Education

Socrates dictates the kind of education and character a guardian should possess, so that from these the best are to be chosen as rulers. Ironically, the guardian’s nature will have two opposing traits; namely “he must be spirited” (375b) and to be gentle as is the “disposition of noble dogs” (375e). However, it is just this combination that is a basis for building not only an intellectual platform of thought but also a moral one. Education through poetry is intended for the moral character and yet the guardians are being trained to begin thinking with reason by “having the right kind of dislikes, he would praise the fine things; and taking pleasure in them and receiving them into his soul, he would be reared on them and become a gentleman” (401e-402a). Those of this gentle nature in turn must be by nature “a philosopher and a lover of learning”(376c). Therefore the early education received by the guardians is significant to their future philosophical character.

According to this philosophical ideal, Cephalus and Thrasymachus are presented as personifying the opposite of the required natures. Since a philosophical nature requires one to be moderate and orderly, Cephalus is both but, on the other hand he is unable to hold his ground in the face of an argument. Although gentle, he is devoid of a philosophical spirit. His feeble mind and body is not what is sought in vigorous young guardians. Tharasymachus’ faults are more obvious in comparison. He can argue enthusiastically, especially when it is to his advantage, but he is also abrasive, hostile and undisciplined. He is exceptionally spirited but is without gentleness. Hence a guardian, in contrast, must be spirited, but not to the extent of crudeness or excess as in the case of Thrasymachus, and gentle but not cripplingly so as Cephalus is seen to be.

This highlights the issue that since both these characters do not possess the standards required for the guardians, then the education they received can be blamed. Traditional myth and poetry is part of Athenian education, as Adeimantus, explains that he and others have had views instilled in them from such sources. However, Socrates is quick to draw out that these tales can have a corrupting influence on the characters of the guardians. So is to be assumed that the fault in Cephalus’ character stems from the poets like Sophocles and Pindar, whom he likes to quote (329b-c, 331a) and the traditional myths he is prone to believe in (330d). In contrast, Thrasymachus does not need the excuse of formal cultural influences. Moreover, in the beginning of Book II, according to the speeches of Glaucon and Adeimantus, it is apparent that they believe that his notions are an extension of a general cultural outlook, for which poets are mainly responsible. Thrasymachus’ views (358b,367c) are to be expanded and defended, and Adeimantus is highly concerned over hoe poetry is invested in garnering such ideas.

The solution which Socrates offers is to banish from literature any information which could inspire such unsuitable characteristics. What Cephalus remembers as his passionate and overpowering desires of his childhood (329b-d), will be eliminated by the proper education proposed for the young (402e-3c). An example of such a modified education would be the disallowance of poets from portraying scenes of divine seduction (390b). However, Cephalus believes that this will not prove an issue because the gods can be appeased through sacrifice (331b), and he is dramatically posed as a sacrifice (328c); Socrates on the other hand, disagrees that they can be persuaded by gifts of any kind (390e). Cephalus has spent his life acquiring wealth, which according to him is equal to virtue and equanimity (330b), but Socrates’ censorship will remove from literature any greed for money (390d) or any mention that a good man is not self-sufficient to a disposition of happiness. Furthermore, Cephalus believes that the myths about the after-life, will instill terror in those who possess a guilty conscience (330d), but Socrates rebukes this claim by saying that this view about Hades only induces unnecessary fear of death and creates “softness”(386a,381d). Cephalus adds that divine punishment is to be feared and avoided(330d) while Socrates goes on to contradict this claim by saying that divine punishment is to be represented as good and beneficial (380b).

Socrates does not explain in detail the underworld myths that Cephalus hints at but just limits his explanation to a general understanding of the misery to be expected in the underworld, which invariably induces a fear of death. Cephalus remains unafraid of death because the poets have given him hope stating that virtue is to be rewarded (331a). Comparatively, Adeimantus complains about the verbal depictions of the gods rewarding the good and punishing the bad in this world and the next- a method used to promote just behavior (363a). Cephalus is virtuous only for the sake of avoiding the consequences. It is this view that Adeimantus tells Socrates to challenge, which Socrates then does.

Thrasymachus, like Cephalus, personifies many of the character traits that Socrates wishes to eradicate out of literature. He too is exceedingly materialistic, refusing to participate in the discussion without payment (337d) and only valuing all that money can buy (343b). Violence, theft and injustice of the tyrant are praised by him (344a,360b-d)-behaviour which is undoubtedly to be censored from tales. (377e). Suprisingly, he does condone sacrilege and temple robbing (344a) but Achilles’ defiance of the gods is not to be included in the Illiad (391a-b), and he is extremely quarrelsome but the quarrels of the gods are to be presented only as bad examples (378b-c). Thrasymachus believes the unjust to be happier than the just, but in an overt reference to this view, Socrates claims that writers should not portray the unjust as happy or the just as unhappy (392a-b). His ideas primarily support a successful tyrant, but in order to inspire virtue in the guardians, Socrates rejects any form of insubordination, for example Achilles’  abuse of Agamemnon in the Illiad (389e). Thrasymachus would obviously approve of the famous warrior’s defiance, and Achille’s insulting tone also supports his own rudeness when he had mocked Socrates of having a “wet nurse (343a). But according to Socrates, Homer’s Achilles, may be a great warrior but he has two great faults; he values money too highly and is arrogant towards gods and men. Thrasymachus too, has acquired these two worst characteristics of a destructive nature.

Cephalus and Thrasymachus both are presented as examples of the adverse effects of an uncensored literary education. Interestingly, they themselves are literary figures of Plato’s devising. He focuses on this by depicting the participants of this discussion as themselves as self-svident makers of myths. Therefore Socrates, Glaucon and Adeimantus are characters as well as creators of a work of fiction. Similar too Plato, they are constructing both human characters and a fictional world like poets and narrators (365c). Hence, the debate over education is synonymous to the activity of those ‘myth-makers’ (376d) whose works are to be censored.

20 Responses to “An Education”

  1. khoneycutt says:

    Interesting thesis to pick out Cephalus and Thrasymachus as key interlocutors (especially Cephalus, who doesn’t stay around long). I think you are right in that they are meant to portray the results of a certain type of education. This happens in the Gorgias, too, as best as I can tell, with the sequence of Gorgias-Polus-Callicles mirroring the spiritual descent of Cephalus-Polemarchus-Thrasymachus in Republic 1.

    So what about Polemarchus in your account? Is he an intermediary figure between the extremes represented by Cephalus and Thrasymachus? Isn’t he the result of an education that could be critiqued? What do you think?

    And these characters are literary figures but they were also real people. In fact, I think basically everyone in the Platonic dialogues is a real person (with two possible exceptions, Diotima in Symposium and Callicles in Gorgias). Plato may of course take literary license with them, and the ones in the Republic are clearly meant to be in there to evoke the Thirty Tyrants (unless I’m mistaken, they are all supporters or victims of the Thirty). But they seem pretty accurate to their historical accounts, for what it’s worth.

    KH

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