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The Republic by Plato - Barron's Booknotes
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BOOK VII

HIGHER EDUCATION (521c-531c)

For Plato educational experiences must be connected in a sequence moving from the concrete to the abstract, from the objects of sense to highest principles and generalizations. The basic education of the young guardians, as you saw in Book III, is music and gymnastics. When the guardians get to be twenty years old, however, their education must be aimed toward drawing their souls "away from the world of becoming to the world of being." In other words, knowledge of the objects of the world, which are merely a continual stream of the generation and the passing away of appearances, must grow into knowledge of the eternal, unchanging forms. The guardians must learn to think abstractly. What kinds of studies have the power to teach people to think abstractly, to think well? Socrates believes that studies in mathematics and philosophy are the catalysts for intellectual growth. Thus, his educational program for future philosopher kings includes ten years of mathematics followed by five years of philosophy.

Socrates proposes five sequential courses in mathematics in which each preceding course is a reflection of the successive one-a solid foundation in arithmetic is necessary for an understanding of geometry, and so on.



First, the guardians will pursue arithmetic, the study of abstract numbers, because it awakens thought. Plane geometry, the study the eternally existing axioms and self-evident truths, will be their second course because it leads the soul closer to an understanding of the idea of the good. Third, they will explore solid geometry, the study of the third dimension, because it is a necessary prerequisite for understanding physics and astronomy. Next, astronomy, the study of solids in motion which includes the study of physics, will be investigated because the heavenly bodies exhibit such mathematical notions as speed, mass, and energy. And finally, harmonics, the study of musical harmony, will be pursued for an understanding of the mathematical relations found in beautiful sounds. (This latter study was advanced by the Pythagoreans, a mystery cult that greatly influenced Plato's thought and the group that first investigated the connection between music and mathematics.)

After ten years of mathematics, the scholars and future kings will immerse themselves in dialectic, the one true science, the search for wisdom-philosophy. Socrates says that all of the years of mathematical studies were merely preparation for this, the greatest of all intellectual pursuits. Socrates defines dialectic as the "inquiry that attempts systematically and in all cases to determine what each thing really is." It is the art that enables people "to ask and answer questions in the most scientific manner." In other words, it is Socrates' particular art. As you see in The Republic, one of Socrates' principal goals is to exhibit the art of creating conceptual harmony by unifying ideas that seem to conflict. Dialectic is the pursuit of an ordered, harmonious intelligence.

While discussing the guardians' course of study, Socrates connects higher education to the image of the Divided Line. The five mathematical disciplines belong to the third level- understanding; and dialectic belongs to the fourth-reason itself. Also, throughout this discussion, Socrates refers to the Allegory of the Cave, to the need to bring people out of darkness into light, which is the primary goal of higher education.

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