The Republic

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Education Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Education Theme Icon
Justice Theme Icon
Specialization Theme Icon
Philosopher-King Theme Icon
Soul Theme Icon
Truth Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Republic, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Education Theme Icon

Socrates believes that the good of the city outweighs the good of the individual. Consequently, the object of his educational system is to produce citizens who are loyal to the city and who best fill the city's needs. The city's educational system identifies particularly talented individuals so they may be trained as auxiliaries (warriors), guardians, or even philosopher-kings. All children are educated identically until the age of eighteen when those destined to be producers (laborers and craftsmen) end their education. The remaining students are trained physically and militarily. Those destined to be warriors are separated from the guardians, the future rulers. The guardians are educated for several more years, until the very best, the most loyal to the city, are given further education as potential philosopher-kings.

The education system is rigidly controlled. Although literature and arts are important parts of education, only moral literature is allowed. Literature must not imitate life or be dramatic because such literature will confuse citizens and make them less useful in their particular roles. Education, especially for the guardians and warriors, is designed to encourage the good of the city as a whole, rather than the good of the family or the individual.

Education ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Education appears in each section of The Republic. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Education Quotes in The Republic

Below you will find the important quotes in The Republic related to the theme of Education.
Book 2 Quotes
Then the first thing will be to establish a censorship of the writers of fiction, and let the censors receive any tale of fiction which is good, and reject the bad; and we will desire mothers and nurses to tell their children the authorized ones only.
Related Characters: Socrates (speaker)
Page Number: 49
Explanation and Analysis:

In order to clarify his definition of justice, Socrates describes the conditions of the ideal city. One aspect of such a city, the so-called “kallipolis," is a harsh restriction of certain forms of art.

This section of The Republic is surprising to many contemporary readers because it not only permits censorship, but actually argues that the practice is necessary in a just city. According to Socrates, fictional stories determine the way that members of the kallipolis will act, for these tales dictate their moral sensibilities and give them behavioral models. He therefore reasons that a just populace must be nourished with fictions that themselves cultivate a sense of justice.

That Socrates fixates on the interactions between mothers and children is worth noting here. He sees art as serving a pedagogical role not only for young kids, but also, presumably, for older members of society. In this way, Socrates is using the children as an analogy for the paternalistic way he conceives of all Greek citizens. Sanctioning censorship is thus predicated on an image of a relatively infantile population—one whose behavior can and should be strictly controlled through certain fictions.

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If we mean our future guardians to regard the habit of quarrelling among themselves as of all things the basest, should any word be said to them of the wars in heaven, and of the plots and fightings of the gods against one another, for they are not true. No, we shall never mention the battles of the giants, or let them be embroidered on garments; and we shall be silent about the innumerable other quarrels of gods and heroes with their friends and relatives. If they would only believe us we would tell them that quarrelling is unholy, and that never up to this time has there been any quarrel between citizens.
Related Characters: Socrates (speaker)
Page Number: 50
Explanation and Analysis:

Socrates continues to discuss the importance of censoring artworks. He explains that excluding stories that recount negative behaviors will prevent Greek citizens from repeating those undesirable actions.

This passage defines a causal relationship between the plot events of a story and the actions of those reading that story. For instance, reading of “plots and fightings of the gods” is presumed to encourage a similar “habit of quarreling” in future generations. From this point, Socrates extrapolates that “we shall never mention the battles of the giants”: He relies on a logical link between reading material and personal action as a rational grounding for the necessity of censorship. Here, we have a sense of the way that he builds up his argument—based on a few moral principles that are extended to justify seemingly severe actions. The key claim here is that there is a correspondence between material read and actions performed—a link that continues to be featured today, in spirited debates about video game and movie censorship.

Socrates is relying, notably, less on an argument of intrinsic morality and more on the effects of a given moral system. That is to say, he is not so much concerned with the inherent ethics of censorship and far more with the pragmatic benefits that censorship could bring to the ideal city. This is an important distinction, as Socrates’ philosophy is generally not thought of in these utilitarian terms. Yet by bringing up the concrete dynamics of the ideal city, he transitions into a relatively pragmatic argumentative style.

God is not the author of all things, but of good only.
Related Characters: Socrates (speaker)
Page Number: 51
Explanation and Analysis:

Socrates furthers his argument that fiction in the ideal city should be censored. He adds that only good artworks could be attributed to God.

This line makes a poignant and contentious theological comment. In denying the fact that a God would be capable of producing negative things, he justifies the idea that certain things—people, objects, fictions, etc.—could be excluded from the ideal city. If Gods were indeed responsible for “all things,” then presumably “all things” would have to be included in the city out of deference to the divine. But if the divine is responsible for “good only,” then bad things are ungodly and can be rejected. This statement is particularly evocative since the Greek Gods were often considered to possess negative characteristics—to themselves embody human follies. Socrates rejects such a model to offer a more idealist image of both Gods and humans.

We also see, here, the importance of religion to Greek philosophy. It is common, today, to consider these two fields to be separate, or even sharply opposed, but during Socrates’ time they were fully integrated. Philosophical arguments were expected to interweave with the Greek Pantheon—and to apply logical formulations to a pre-existing religious structure. Thus the way that Socrates’ work relies on religious tenets should not be taken as a philosophical weakness — but rather a reflection of Greek society at the time.

Book 3 Quotes
Can any man be courageous who has the fear of death in him?
Related Characters: Socrates (speaker)
Page Number: 56
Explanation and Analysis:

Socrates describes the conditions necessary to form the warrior or guardian class of a city. He explains that they must only hear stories that encourage heroic behavior.

This line furthers Socrates’ earlier claim that the literature a person reads has a direct effect on that person's personality and behavior. He argues that certain stories will cause children to fear death for they will present the afterlife in a negative or frightening way. As a result, those who read these stories will come to fear death more than those who did not — so such stories should be censored from the guardians. Socrates goes further, here, than giving general terms for censorship and instead begins to dictate specific texts that should be read by people of different classes. He thus sees the optimal functioning of society as achieved by a fusion of inherent nature and effective pedagogy: Exposure to certain stories will allow that nature to best manifest.

Instead of relying on pure logic, Socrates opts to use the device of a rhetorical question. This might seem to be a moot point, but this technique shows that his philosophical strategy includes the use of oratorical skills. Excessive emphasis on rhetoric was criticized at Socrates’ time, and Socrates generally cast his philosophy to be purely rational as compared to the more rhetorical Sophists. Here, however, he borrows some of their exact techniques to argue his point, indicating that rational arguments can not be entirely severed from linguistic devices.

And we must beg Homer and the other poets not to be angry if we strike out these and similar passages, not because they are unpoetical, or unattractive to the popular ear, but because the greater the poetical charm in them, the less are they meet for the ears of boys and men who are meant to be free, and who should fear slavery more than death.
Related Characters: Socrates (speaker)
Page Number: 57
Explanation and Analysis:

Socrates continues to delineate which texts that should be read by the warrior class. He notes that even stories of great literary and popular merit will need to be excluded.

This passages demonstrates that Socrates is willing to censor even highly celebrated artworks in order to achieve his ideal city. He does so, through a somewhat circuitous and quite clever way: by asking forgiveness from the (deceased) poets themselves. The reference to Homer is particularly provocative, as Homer's epics were the foundation and center of Greek culture. That Socrates believes that even these works must be removed from the ideal city shows just how radically he wished to break with the sensibilities of his contemporaries. He was not proposing small modifications to the cultural norm but rather a complete revolution of its most central principles.

Yet this passages goes further than simply claiming that the aesthetic value of these texts should not prevent their censorship. In fact, Socrates argues that this is precisely why they must be expelled from the ideal city: Their “poetical charm” will cause undue attraction and obscure the detrimental effects of the text. Socrates thus casts the very artistic devices that bring meaning to literary works as inherent negative: Not only do they not fulfill the pedagogical role he prefers from these works, but they in fact prevent one from focusing on that educational content.

Again, truth should be highly valued; if, as we were saying, a lie is useless to the gods, and useful only as a medicine to men, then the use of such medicines should be restricted to physicians; private individuals have no business with them.
Related Characters: Socrates (speaker)
Page Number: 59
Explanation and Analysis:

While describing why stories should be excluded from the ideal city, Socrates argues that a key drawback is their inclusion of lies. He condemns lying except to certain professions who can make use of mendacity for the general populace.

Once more, Socrates subdivides the citizens into various groups, allotting greater privileges to certain subsets of the population. He revises his earlier condemnation of lying to admit that it could be potentially “useful” in certain situations: That it can be a “medicine to men” means that it can ease the struggles of human nature and make life more palatable. But since Socrates believes that hardship must be administered to many men, he also believes that “medicine” cannot be given out freely.

He uses the analogy of “physicians” here to argue why rulers should be privy to techniques and behaviors that others are not—for they have specialized training based on their inherent qualities. In contrast, he offers the category of “private individuals” who are deemed too inferior to make the proper use of lies. (Despite his general respect for the Greek gods, Socrates notably approves of the use of lies for humans but not for gods—for he deems lies to be “useless” for deities.) Thus Socrates continues to attribute more and more rights to the elect ruling class, here even exempting them from a core tenet of the city: truth.

Beauty of style and harmony and grace and good rhythm depend on simplicity – I mean the true simplicity of a rightly and nobly ordered mind and character, not that other simplicity which is only a euphemism for folly.
Related Characters: Socrates (speaker)
Page Number: 72
Explanation and Analysis:

Having described the general types of stories that are useful to have circulating in the ideal city, Socrates begins to identify specific desirable features. He argues that beneficial stories are simple and unadorned.

This passage makes a very specific claim on what type of artworks are desirable for Socrates: He contrasts the ornate, lyrical styles of Homer and other poets with “true simplicity.” Whereas the first can distract a reader from the pedagogical value of a text, the second allows a text's ethical meaning to ring through without disruption. Socrates seems to revise his earlier harsh sanctions on all literature to admit that “beauty of style” is indeed desirable in certain cases. Aesthetic merit is thus not inherently negative but only becomes so when it is paired with and thus hides the presence of undesirable content. Indeed, Socrates shows himself to be heavily invested in the specific aesthetics that make a fiction desirable or not, to the extent that he dictates the need for formal simplicity.

Though valuing simplicity might seem to select for texts of an unintellectual or reductive nature, Socrates subdivides the types of simplicity into two categories: False simplicity is just another term for “folly” or idiocy, whereas valuable simplicity actually reflects balance and harmony. Notably, Socrates sees the distinction as steming not from the artwork but rather from the “mind and character” of the person who creates it. He thus believes that good stories will be created by inherently good people—and will reflect their natural character.

Book 4 Quotes
Wealth is the parent of luxury and indolence, and poverty of meanness and viciousness, and both of discontent.
Related Characters: Socrates (speaker)
Page Number: 91
Explanation and Analysis:

While specifying the types of behaviors permitted by the guardian and warrior classes, Socrates touches on financial matters. He notes that the rulers are responsible for ensuring citizens stay in a state of economic well-being.

This passage once again argues that certain people in the idea city should engage in behaviors limited only to them. Instead of permitting free economic control, as would have been typical of the contemporary Greek polis, Socrates argues that financial matters should be tightly controlled. Indeed, people of certain subgroups, such as the guardians, should not even be permitted to handle currency, such that their economic status will always remain unchanged. Two extremes are possible—both “wealth” and “poverty” are condemned in a quick phrase—and thus optimizing one’s existence demands a careful calibration between those two poles.

That calibration reaffirms the importance of harmony and balance to Socrates’ ideal world. Much like an artwork is supposed to be simple, or a soul should hold its three parts in equal measure—financial status should remain centered. Optimization, in the kallipolis, is not a question of reaching a pinnacle or extreme, but rather of ensuring that the citizens remain in a constant equilibrium.

The direction in which education starts a man will determine his future life.
Related Characters: Socrates (speaker)
Page Number: 94
Explanation and Analysis:

In delineating the duties of the guardians, Socrates touches on how they must manage education for the populace. He believes that school has an immense effect on one’s personal development.

This model of education confirms that Socrates believes life in the ideal city should be firmly controlled. The stakes, he explains, are that the education someone receives “will determine his future life”—or entirely dictate someone’s destiny. For Socrates, “Education” refers both to the specific schooling one receives and also more broadly to the types of stories and ethics that a child encounters as he matures. Socrates justifies his highly censored world and tightly controlled education based on the idea that negative content will lead to a negative “direction.” A deterministic model of human development, in which a citizen's character depends largely on what that person experiences, thus requires an equally deterministic social system that strongly controls exactly those experiences. Thus the pivotal role of education is used to justify the need for tight control of pedagogy by the guardian class.

Book 7 Quotes
Bodily exercise, when compulsory, does no harm to the body; but knowledge which is acquired under compulsion obtains no hold on the mind.
Related Characters: Socrates (speaker)
Page Number: 198
Explanation and Analysis:

After outlining the allegory of the cave, Socrates reaffirms the importance of education. He contrasts the benefits of forced physical endeavors with the drawbacks of a similarly strict pedagogy.

This comparison responds to the potential criticism that Socrates’ model of education is limiting and authoritarian. He argues, instead, that “compulsion” is only beneficial to certain classes and that it will have detrimental effects on those seeking real truth. Beginning with the point that “bodily exercise” benefits someone even when it is forced upon them, Socrates extrapolates that a similar exercise of the mind will not aid the person educated. In particular, that it “obtains no hold on the mind” implies that an overly tyrannical pedagogy will not allow knowledge to be fixed in the learner’s mind.

Socrates seeks to mediate, then, between two educational models. On one hand, he desires a strict and specified curriculum that only makes use of certain texts and ideas. While at the same time, he believes that “compulsion” will not best cultivate the minds of the philosopher kings. He thus differentiates once more between the types of existences desirable for members of various subsets of the population, further granting freedom of inquiry only to the philosopher kings.