posted on July 23, 2013 08:32
There is much agreement about the importance of education in a society. One can find passages from Plato, Aristotle, Clement, Augustine, John Adams, Ben Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson, along with many others on the subject. Many, such as Plato, even stated that it was the most important activity of all. There is even much agreement on the goal of education. It is to inculcate in students the need for virtue. In sum it is the examination of experiences, either your own or others, and is not simply the acceptance of present customs, laws, or philosophies. This examination is done in both backward and forwarding looking ways. First, by examining classical texts which serve to illustrate both models and anti-models of behavior. Second, it instilled in a student the means to understand what might happen as a result of their own choices through courses such as logic and rhetoric.
So what is virtue? At its heart, it is simply goodness or righteousness. Therefore acquiring virtue is learning how to become good. Aristotle believed that the truly virtuous man would not be in need of law. Also that virtue was necessary in order to be a good citizen. Plato believed that a good education created good men, and that good men would be successful. That education led to victory, but that victory had the potential to lead to the loss of education through pride and other forms of vice. The presence of virtue was an inhibitor to vice. In reading some of the more recent translations of Aristotle and Plato’s works, I noticed that virtue is often translated now as excellence. This is a poor word choice. What was originally referred to as virtue is the creation of good, and virtue’s opposite is vice. However, excellence merely refers to doing something well, and can be found in the performance of either good or evil. The terms do not represent exactly the same thing.
So why does education, and its goal of virtue, matter? First, Aristotle believed that education was the means by which a state is united and made into a community; to make them into a people. The Roman general and statesman Scipio defined a people as ‘a multitude bound together by a mutual recognition of rights and a mutual co-operation for the common good.’ Being a people depended on the presence of virtue; for if there were no virtue there would be no justice, and without justice there can be no people. Second, virtue was the unity of both reason and emotion, the proper ordering of both the head and heart – or the mind and the soul.
So far there is much agreement between the collective and individual notions on the importance of education, but here is where the collective thread represented by those such as Plato and Aristotle ends. They simply believed that education is the means by which the state is perpetuated. This is true. However, those advocating the individualistic thread such as Clement, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and our Founding Fathers saw something additional which to them was much greater. That through education, the acquisition of virtue, and becoming good, we become like our Creator to the extant we can – who is the Good. This process of becoming good fulfills our individual purpose, and in the process benefits others within society. It enables the creation of a society where progress is possible, and it can only happen in the presence of free will – freedom – where individuals are not coerced into making choices. That is where we will start next time.