PHILOSOPHY OF EDUCATION IN PLATO’S PHAEDRUS
I. EDUCATIONAL THEORY AND THE UNITY OF THE PHAEDRUS
II. ESSENTIAL ELEMENTS OF PLATO’S PHILOSOPHY OF EDUCATION
Philosophy and Education
The Goal of Education
III. EFFECTIVE TEACHER-STUDENT RELATIONSHIPS
An Interpretation of the Lover Symbolism
The Relation of Love to Rhetoric
Teachers and Textbooks
The Selection of Students
The Content-Method Controversy
The Modern Teaching of Rhetoric
The Unity of Education in a Unified Goal
We did casually allude to a certain pair of procedures, and it would be very agreeable if we could seize their significance in a scientific fashion. …The first is that in which we bring a dispersed plurality under a single form, seeing it all together: the purpose being to define so-and-so, and this to make plain whatever may be chosen as the topic for exposition. [The second procedure is] the reverse of the other, whereby we are enabled to divide into forms, following the objective articulation. …Believe me, Phaedrus, I am myself a lover of these divisions and collections, that I may gain the power to speak and to think.
Using the language of this well known division of the tasks of philosophy into the analytical and the synthetic this paper is to be understood as an attempt at synthesis. Rather than isolating a particular problem in Plato’s Phaedrus for careful examination, the burden of this paper will be that of looking at the dialogue as a whole. Perhaps logic demands that the task of analysis is the prior one; but psychologically, there is an advantage in having an overview first.
Because of a personal interest in education, I have chosen to view the Phaedrus from the vantage point of educational philosophy. Obviously, a systematic discussion of Plato’s philosophy of education is not in view since the relationship between education and philosophy in Plato’s thought would require such a discussion to give consideration to virtually the whole extant corpus of Plato’s works. Accordingly, I propose to offer a general interpretation of the Phaedrus form the viewpoint of educational philosophy with such references to other works as is deemed necessary.
Of the secondary source materials employed here, the following have been most helpful: Brumbaugh and Lawrence, Philosophers on Education; Crombie, An Examination of Plato’s Doctrines; Jaegar, Paideia; Lodge, Plato’s Theory of Education; Taylor, Plato: The Man and His Work; Wolz, “Plato’s Discourse on Love in the Phaedrus,” from The Personalist (Spring, 1965); and the notes by Professor Hackforth. Because the more than superficial study of Plato’s work is a new experience for the writer, more reference is made to secondary sources than might otherwise seem appropriate. Hopefully, this is not an altogether uncritical dependence.
Plato’s theory of education is developed formally and with some approach to systematic constructiveness in two dialogues only: the Republic and the Laws. In the Republic the ideal outline is clear and distinct, unhampered by the concrete limitations of actual human experience. In the Laws the ideal is still there, but its outline is somewhat blurred by the attempt to apply it to the fluctuating actualities of life as envisioned by the disillusioned experience of Plato’s old age.
Other dialogues that are especially important in this connection are Protagoras, Gorgias, Meno, and Symposium; however, since Plato did not really distinguish education from philosophy, all are relevant.
The broad outline of Plato’s education program is summarized by Crombie as follows:
We gather that the rudiments of the preliminary mathematical disciplines are to be picked up in childhood and that this is to be done, so far as possible, through play. Then, at the age of twenty, after a period of physical training, those who did best in their schooldays study the relations of the various mathematical sciences to each other and to reality. This period of reflection and further theoretical study of mathematics seems to go on for ten years, and then from thirty to thirty-five the best of the students go on to dialectic. …At thirty-five those who survive the dialectic course go away for fifteen years’ military and political service, and then at fifty the best of them are allowed to return to dialectic and are conducted to its culmination, the “vision of goodness.” This being achieved they spend the rest of their days as philosophers.
Obviously, this program becomes fiercely selective in its upper echelons. Only those who were innately capable of proceeding were admitted to the higher schools and only that education was provided as was necessary for each individual to function efficiently in the state. For Plato, education is always related to the very practical consideration of the efficiency of the state. “That is why Plato has no discourses ‘On Education.’” The three stages of the educational program outlined above are intended respectively for the three classes of citizens in the Republic—viz., the commoners, the guardians, and the rulers. The first period of general education in “music” and “gymnastic” is available to all free citizens; the advanced study of mathematics, for the guardians and rulers; and the study of dialectic for the potential rulers only. The education of the lower classes was of little importance except to enable them to learn to carry on their assigned tasks. Plato’s personal interest was at the highest level, and the educational implications that we intend to draw from the Phaedrus are to be understood to apply to the “higher education.”
With respect to Plato’s general educational program, it is important to remember that the program applies only in the utopian Republic and that it is quite likely that Plato himself never intended the Republic to be taken seriously as a practical arrangement. As Crombie argues, “It is of course meant to be relevant to practical politics, but relevant after the manner of Utopia, Erewhon, or 1984, not after the manner of a party election manifesto.”
In the Republic, in addition to the outlining of the curriculum, Plato illustrates his educational theory with three figures: the comparison of the “good” with the sun; the divided line; and the myth of the cave. Presumably, the details of these figures are sufficiently well known to make their repetition here unnecessary.
The first observation concerning education in the Phaedrus has to do with the unity of the work. Simply, the problem is that on superficial reading, the dialogue seems to be broken into two quite diverse sections (the three speeches on love, and the subsequent discussion of rhetoric) with no obvious unifying element. Taylor asks:
Is it, as it professes to be, a discussion of the principles upon which “rhetoric” may be made into a “science,” or is its real subject Eros? Is Plato primarily concerned with the question of the use and abuse of sexual passion, or are the speeches Socrates delivers on this topic merely examples of the right and the wrong use of persuasive eloquence?
Regardless of the way in which one seeks to answer this ancient problem, it is true that the unity of the dialogue—if such there be—is not as obvious as could be expected.
Because of the interrelatedness of certain key doctrines in Plato, it is possible to explain the unity of the present dialogue from several different perspectives. These solutions, it seems to me, differ only in perspective—not in essence. The suggestion to be examined in this paper is that an educational interpretation of the dialogue provides an intelligible unifying element between the love speeches and the rhetoric discussion. Specifically, I am suggesting that if we emphasize the well-established analogy between physical love and the educative process the apparent dichotomy in the work as a whole disappears.
This explanation is not different in kind from that of Hackforth who states the prime purpose of the dialogue as the “vindication of philosophy.” The reason for this is the essential identity of the task of philosophy and the educative process in Plato’s thought. The difference is that Hackforth sees the speeches primarily as an illustration of philosophical method and secondarily as a discussion of love, which is virtually equivalent to philosophy; whereas the educational interpretation sees the speeches primarily as symbolic pictures of teacher-student relationships and secondarily as a dialectical analysis of physical love.
Very much the same position is taken by Taylor, who explains the problem in this way:
My own opinion is on the side of those who regard the right use of “rhetoric” as the main topic, for the following simple reason. In Socrates, with whom the “tendence of the soul” was the great business of life, it is quite intelligible that a discussion of the use of rhetoric or anything else should be found to lead up to the great issues of conduct. If the real subject of the Phaedrus were sexual love, it is hard to see how its elaborate discussion of the possibility of applying a scientific psychology of the emotions to the creation of a genuine art of persuasion, or its examination of the defects of Lysias as a writer, can be but the purest irrelevance.
Again, while Taylor does not use the same terminology as the educational interpretation, it is clear that “rhetoric” is quite the same as what we mean by education, since Socrates defines rhetoric as a kind of “influencing the mind by means of words.” (yuxagwgei~n is obviously a compound of yuchv (soul) and the aorist infinitive of a!gw—“to lead.”)
PHILOSOPHY OF EDUCATION
What then can we learn of Plato’s philosophy of education from the Phaedrus itself? By clear implication, if not by direct statement, the Phaedrus contributes to our understanding of Plato’s philosophy of education with respect to (1) the essential identity of philosophy and education, (2) the goal of education, (3) the curriculum, and (4) methodology.
If we survey the course of Plato’s works as a whole, and then turn back to its beginning, we shall see that its ruling idea is to carry the reader along through Socratic conversations which gradually take him deeper and deeper into philosophy, and show him the connexion between its separate problems. In order to devise such a plan, Plato must have felt that philosophical knowledge was best approached as a sort of education. His dialogues are models of it, and propaganda for it.
In the Phaedrus this is clear not only from Socrates’ definition of rhetoric (cited in the Preface, above) but unmistakably in the discussion of rhetoric in which it was agreed that rhetoric as mere formalism apart from an understanding of the truth is not merely worthless, it is pernicious. Hence, “Plato would agree completely with Dewey’s comment that education is the same thing as philosophy itself, broadly interpreted.”
It is clear in the Phaedrus, as elsewhere, that the goal of education or philosophy is an apprehension of the truth—that is to say, of the Forms. And inasmuch as the Forms are united in the Idea of the Good, it is evident that the goal of education is likewise unified. The problem of education, then, in any field, is “that of bringing a latent awareness of ideal Forms—a latent awareness which every man has—to as clear and high a level of realization as one’s talents will permit.” In the Phaedrus, this is taught both by direct assertion in the discussion of rhetoric (260) and in the myth of the soul (particularly in 247-248).
In this connection we recall the story of the cave from the Republic:
This allegory makes it clear that the “ascent” of the line was regarded by Plato as a progress, though this progress is not a continuous and automatic process: it needs effort and mental discipline. Hence his insistence on the great importance of education, whereby the young may be brought gradually to behold eternal and absolute truths and values, and so saved from passing their lives in the shadow-world of error, falsehood, prejudice, sophistical persuasion, and blindness to true values.
A curriculum for the higher levels of education is not spelled out as such—at least not in the way in which the curriculum is outlined for the lower levels in the Republic and Laws. But if the goal of education was a knowledge of the Forms, clearly those considerations most to be desired had to do with arethv—the pursuit of virtue. In a splendid discussion of arethv, Jaeger points out:
The little dialogue with which he began forms an introduction to the central problem of his thought from both sides, that of form and that of content. The central question is: what is the best state? With it Plato connects Socrates’ creed that virtue is knowledge. For if virtue is knowledge, then all our energies must be expended on reconstructing society upon that principle through education.
Of the four cardinal virtues (wisdom, courage, temperance, and justice) the Phaedrus is concerned primarily with temperance in love—temperance consisting in the balance of the spirited and appetitive parts of the soul under the rule of reason.
In Book VII of the Republic, Socrates tells his companions that they do not know what dialectic is, and that they would not be able to follow an account of it. Crombie takes this as an admission of Plato’s part that “he was not clear quite how the upward progress of acquiring insight into the principles of reason by asking Socratic questions was to work.” Be that as it may, we do have some rather definite material regarding Plato’s thinking on education method in general. One such passage is in Phaedrus 276, where Socrates is represented as saying:
The dialectician selects a soul of the right type, and in it he plants and sows his words founded on knowledge, words which can defend both themselves and him who planted them, words which instead of remaining barren contain a seed whence new words grow up in new characters; whereby the seed is vouchsafed immortality, and its possessor the fullest measure of blessedness that man can attain unto.
In general terms, the method of Plato’s higher education was to elicit through questioning the knowledge known but forgotten by the soul.
The function of the educator is to ask such questions and to ask them in the right order, that is, in the order which enables the pupil to piece together the answers to them in such a way that he is left in the end with a coherent account of the subject under discussion. …Whatever is intelligible, Plato believes, is, once you have seen it, obvious. Therefore, when we do not understand, it is because we fail to see what is before our eyes; and the business of the teacher is to attract our attention to it.
In the Phaedrus, the dialectical method is particularly defined in terms of its two branches: collection and division. This is the common division of philosophical endeavor that C. D. Broad called critical and speculative thought. Obviously, the so-called method of the rhetoricians is worthless educationally since they are continually perverting the facts for the sake of pleasing an audience.
In the Phaedrus, Plato’s philosophy of education is most distinctive in the matter of the teacher-student relationship. This is doubtless the most difficult of the educational implications of the work to unravel, but likewise the most fruitful if it can be properly understood.
The attempt to discover the mind of Plato on this point requires an interpretation of the speeches of Lysias and Socrates. As we have seen, that is a problem of its own. As a basis for drawing some educational implications from this symbolism, I am assuming an interpretation suggested by Henry Wolz. The argument is:
Since the lover referred to in the first discourse is characterized by extreme selfishness, it is natural to expect that the second will deal with a lover who is concerned about the welfare of the beloved. And then the first type of human relationship could be called evil and the second good.
However, Wolz argues that the typical Socratic method would be violated if the solution were that obvious, and prefers to think that Plato leaves the reader to form the proper synthesis by aiming at a precarious mean between the two extremes.
For if the first love is characterized by the shameless use which the lover makes of the beloved, the second is vitiated by the complete subjugation of the lover to the object of his love …it is obvious that if one ought never to use another person as a means to one’s own ends, then one is under obligation never to allow one’s own person to be used merely as a means. A man owes responsibility also to himself.
Thus, Wolz concludes that:
Platonic love then appears as the mutual assistance in the realization of one’s capacities through the pursuance of a common ideal or goal, and one cannot help thinking of Socrates forever urging his companions to become better men by joining him in the pursuit of truth.
The suggestion then is that in the proper view of love there is a balance between passionate love and a Narcissistic sort of love. Rational love is the mean between blind passion and utter subjugation to the loved one. And as applied to education we get a picture of mutual endeavor by teacher and pupil who finally regard each other as equals in the pursuit of truth.
The various relationships in the lovers of the Phaedrus suggest therefore the following possible relationships between teacher and student: (1) an essentialism in which the teacher is an authoritarian dispenser of accumulated tradition which is forced upon a recalcitrant student, (2) a progressivism in which the student is deified and the teacher subjugated, and (3) a relationship of mutual respect in which teacher and student join in a common pursuit of truth.
The relationship of love to education and the educational interpretation of the speeches is possible because of the various objects of love. Love is a desire for beauty that is found perfectly in the Idea of the Good, but not imperfectly in both human physical beauty and the beauty of nature (the physical beauty of the natural setting of the dialogue thus becomes a contributing factor in the argument).
The interpretation for which we have been arguing is strengthened by clarifying the relationship between love and rhetoric.
The point is that Eros has two aspects, as Socrates notes (237). One is an innate desire for pleasure; the other an acquired judgment that aims at what is best.
In the soul that has all but lost the impression of heavenly beauty, the effect of earthly adumbration is to provide “brutal appetite for intercourse with the beautiful body.” But in a soul fresh from deep contemplation of spiritual beauty, the sight of earthly beauty arouses religious awe and worship.
It is when these opposing forces are balanced that the object of physical desire becomes an equal. A responding love is drawn out and the resulting philosophical victory reduces the struggle for incorporeality by 7000 years!
The attitude of Plato toward textbooks as expressed in the Phaedrus is interesting, but calls for little comment in this study. Taylor simply notes that:
This conviction that a man’s personality ought to be greater than his literary “work” and, in particular, that the true philosopher is a great personality whose very deepest thoughts are those he cannot set down “in black and white,” was one that Plato held strongly and retained to the end of his life. It explains why he never attempted to put in writing any of his own profoundest metaphysical speculation. They were the fruit of a “way of life,” and to be understood presupposed the living of the same life on the part of the recipient. To record them for the world at large would have been to court dangerous misunderstandings.
At the expense of a negative critique, which would also be in order, I would like to conclude this study by pointing up some positive contributions that I find especially forceful. Educational philosophers delight to make reference to Plato, and this is certainly justified; but there remains a great deal that we have to learn from him—at least, there are many helpful insights that could be profitably employed in contemporary education systems. A few that have been most apparent to me during this study are:
The Platonic theory of education involved a careful, progressive screening of the students to be admitted to each higher level of educational experience. This stands in marked contrast to the interpretation that American educators have given to democracy. We seem to have overlooked the distinction between equality of persons in certain legal and political respects and equality of ability. For the first time in history we now have a climate of expectation in America that everyone will receive twelve years of essentially equal education, and the expectation continues to rise. It seems to me that we have forgotten to our detriment an important Platonic lesson.
One of the great issues in educational discussion today is the extent to which prospective teachers ought to study teaching methods. Is it to be assumed that any person who has thoroughly mastered the subject matter of a given discipline will be able to teach the same effectively; or, at the other extreme, is it reasonable to suppose that a methods expert will be able to teach any subject well, regardless of his ignorance of the field? What should be the balance between these types of training in our teachers colleges and education departments? Presumably, we are currently seeing a slight recovery from the recent exaggeration on methods training, but Plato’s insistence on the absolute priority of a knowledge of the truth is certainly timely and relevant.
Modern college courses in composition and public speaking do not quite parallel the “rhetoric” of Plato’s day—certainly not the “rhetoric” of the later Trivium; but there is a strong connection between these courses and the sophistry which Plato so thoroughly condemned. It seems to me that the great lesson that we have yet to learn from Plato in this area is the futility—no, the positive evil—in any attempt to instruct students in persuasive form apart from a high knowledge and regard for the truth to be thus formally expressed.
Beck, Frederick A. G. Greek Education. New York: Barnes and Noble, Inc., 1964.
Brumbaugh, Robert S. and Nathaniel M. Lawrence. Philosophers on Education: Six Essays on the Foundations of Western Thought. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1963.
Copleston, Frederick. A History of Philosophy. Vol. I, Greece and Rome. New York: Doubleday and Co., Inc., 1962.
Crombie, I. M. An Examination of Plato’s Doctrines. Vol. I, Plato on Man and Society. New York: The Humanities Press, 1962.
Dialogues of Plato, The. Trans. Benjamin Jowett. Vol. 7 of Great Books of the Western World. Ed. Robert M. Hutchins. Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 1952.
Dobson, J. F. Ancient Education and its Meaning to Us. New York: Cooper Square Publishers, Inc., 1963.
Fuller, B. A. G. History of Greek Philosophy. New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1931.
Hackforth, R. Plato’s Phaedrus. New York: The Bobbs-Merrill Co., Inc., 1952.
Hudson-Williams, H. L. Three Systems of Education: Some Reflections on the Implications of Plato’s Phaedrus. Oxford, 1954.
Jaegar, Werner. Paideia: The Ideals of Greek Culture. New York: Oxford University Press, 1943.
Lodge, R. C. Plato’s Theory of Education. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner and Co., Ltd., 1947.
Masterpieces of World Philosophy in Summary Form. Ed. Frank N. Magill. New York: Salem Press, 1961.
Plato. Phaedrus. Trans. W. C. Helmbold and U. G. Rabinowitz. New York: The Bobbs-Merrill Co., Inc., 1956.
Shorey, Paul. What Plato Said. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1965.
Stumpf, Samuel Enoch. Socrates to Sartre. New York: McGraw Hill Book Co., 1966.
Taylor, A. E. Plato: The Man and His Work. New York: The Dial Press, Inc., 1927.
Wolz, Henry G. “Plato’s Discourse on Love in the Phaedrus,” The Personalist (Spring, 1965) XLVI, 2, pp. 157-170.
Zeller, Eduard. Outlines of the History of Greek Philosophy. Rev. Wilhelm Nestle. Trans. L. R. Palmer. New York: The World Publishing Co., 1955.
 Plato. Phaedrus 265-266.
 R. C. Lodge, Plato’s Theory of Education (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner and Co., Ltd., 1947), p. 1.
 I. M. Crombie, An Examination of Plato’s Doctrines, Vol. I, Plato on Man and Society (New York: The Humanities Press, 1962), p. 131.
 Frederick A. G. Beck, Greek Education (New York: Barnes and Noble, Inc., 1964), p. 199.
 J. F. Dobson, Ancient Education and its Meaning to Us (New York: Cooper Square Publishers, Inc., 1963), p. 61.
 Crombie, op. cit., p. 92.
 A. E. Taylor, Plato: The Man and His Work (New York: The Dial Press, Inc., 1927), p. 299.
 R. Hackforth, Plato’s Phaedrus (New York: The Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1952), p. 9.
 Ibid., pp. 10, 136.
 Taylor, op. cit., p. 130.
 Phaedrus 261a.
 Werner Jaeger, Paideia: The Ideals of Greek Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1943), p. 105.
 Robert S. Brumbaugh and Nathaniel M. Lawrence, Philosophers on Education: Six Essays on the Foundations of Western Thought (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1963), p. 19.
 Frederick Copleston, A History of Philosophy, Vol. I, Greece and Rome (New York: Doubleday and Co., Inc., 1962), Pt. 1, p. 186.
 ἀρετή, [ᾰ], ἡ, goodness, excellence, of any kind, in Hom. esp. of manly qualities, ποδῶν ἀρετὴν ἀναφαίνων Il.20.411; ἀμείνων παντοίας ἀρετὰς ἠμὲν πόδας ἠδὲ μάχεσθαι καὶ νόον 15.642; so of the gods, τῶν περ καὶ μείζων ἀ. τιμή τε βίη τε 9.498; also of women, Od.2.206; ἀ. εἵνεκα for valour, Hdt.8.92: pl., ἀ. ἀπεδείκνυντο displayed brave deeds, Id.1.176, 9.40.
b. later, of the gods, chiefly in pl., glorious deeds, wonders, miracles, SIG1172, Str.17.1.17; ζῶσαι ἀ. IG14.966, cf. 1Ep.Pet.2.9: also in sg., ὄψιν ἰδοῦσα ἀρετὴν τῆς θεοῦ IG2.1426b, cf. Isyll.62, BSA21.169,180.
2. generally, excellence, ἡ ἀ. τελείωσίςτις Arist.Metaph.1021b20, cf.EN1106a15, etc.; of persons, ἄνδρα πὺξ ἀρετὰν εὑ-ρόντα Pi.O.7.89, cf.P.4.187, B.9.13, etc.; τὸ φρονεῖν ἀ. μεγίστη Heraclit.112: in pl., forms of excellence, μυρίαι ἀνδρῶν ἀ. B.13.8, cf. Gorg.Fr.8, etc.; δικαστοῦ αὕτη ἀ. Pl.Ap.18a; esp. moral virtue, Democr.179,263, al., Gorg.Fr.6; opp. κακία, X.Mem.2.1.21, cf. Pl.R.500d, Lg.963a, c. sq., D.60.17, Arist.EN1102a6, Pol.1295a37, etc.; good nature, kindness, etc., E.Fr.163.
FROM: Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, Henry Stuart Jones and Roderick McKenzie, A Greek-English Lexicon, "With a Revised Supplement, 1996.", Rev. and augm. throughout (Oxford; New York: Clarendon Press; Oxford University Press, 1996), 238.
 Jaeger, op. cit., p. 105.
 Copleston, op. cit., pp. 246-247.
 Crombie, op. cit., p. 131.
 Ibid., p. 201.
 This is a reference to a seminar discussion in a session immediately preceding the one in which this paper was presented.
 Henry G. Wolz, “Plato’s Discourse on Love in the Phaedrus,” The Personalist, XLVI, 2 (Spring, 1965), p. 159
 Ibid., pp. 163-164.
 Ibid., p. 167.
 This seems to be supported by the picture of sublimated passion and its result in the myth of the soul. Phaedrus, esp. 251-252.
 Taylor, op. cit., p. 308.
 Ibid., p. 317.
 General Education in a Free Society (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1945), p. 39.