Grandpa, Nicholas and Leaves

“Then education is the craft concerned with doing this very thing, this turning around, and with how the soul can most easily and effectively be made to do it.” Plato, Republic VII

There is a craft of living a good human life. Plato calls it justice.

And there is a craft of fostering growth in justice and wisdom. Plato calls it education: paideia, or child-rearing. A master of the craft himself, he has much he can teach us about it.

In a striking passage in his famous story of ‘the cave,’ Plato considers the noble power of human reason, which he compares to an eye. Education is not about giving vision to the soul; it’s about turning the soul’s gaze in the right direction.

Our sight is always set on something. The question is what. Plato is convinced that the only way we come to see what we should is by someone directing our sight in the right direction. By their turning us around.

This has implications for how we form youth. Whether in a school-room or the dining-room, youth must be the object of an intentional project of gaze-turning. Their gaze, and ours, needs to be turned-onto the truth: especially, the truths that really matter, in the seeing of which we discover the meaning of life. Such turning is most of all upward.

The true educator has confidence in reality, in its power to move the soul. At the same time, he knows that people need help in approaching and finding reality. Lower things can fixate the soul. Turning upward necessarily involves asceticism–a self-restraint and a turning away from the ephemeral.

And this especially when our education system and common daily practices literally point us toward the ephemeral, and turn us inward to selfish desires.

The craft of education–of turning people around–is largely a lost art. But one conviction of Plato’s gives us the key to rediscovering it. The realm of higher things–what is pure, noble, beautiful–is the native land of the human soul. But the soul must be guided to that land, in order to find and recognize its own home. Our constant question should be: how do we bring the youth to taste and see the things that endure. The project demands a daily attention to detail, a consistent discerning, sorting, and cultivating.

In any case we ourselves will need to be gazing—steadily and confidently—in the right direction, so their line of vision can follow ours.

Photo image: One man directing the gaze of one child upward. Lying on the ground, head against the trunk, one has a remarkable, unexpected view of the crown of a tree.

Note: This is the second in a short series on paideia, education in Plato.

Plato (427-347 B.C.), a student of Socrates, and teacher of Aristotle, is considered one of the greatest philosophers of all time. The Republic is one of the most widely read and influential of all books.

Originally posted at Bacon from Acorns

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John A. Cuddeback is a professor and chairman of the Philosophy Department at Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia, where he has taught since 1995. He received a Ph.D. in Philosophy from The Catholic University of America under the direction of F. Russell Hittinger. He has lectured on various topics including virtue, culture, natural law, friendship, and household. His book Friendship: The Art of Happiness was republished in 2010 as True Friendship: Where Virtue Becomes Happiness. His writings have appeared in Nova et Vetera, The Thomist, and The Review of Metaphysics, as well as in several volumes published by the American Maritain Association. Though raised in what he calls an ‘archetypical suburb,’ Columbia, Maryland, he and his wife Sofia consider themselves blessed to be raising their six children in the shadow of the Blue Ridge on the banks of the Shenandoah. At the material center of their homesteading projects are heritage breed pigs, which like the pigs of Eumaeus are fattened on acorns, yielding a bacon that too few people ever enjoy. His website dedicated to the philosophy of family and household is baconfromacorns.com.

1 COMMENT

  1. Plato didn’t teach today’s ignorant apathetic youth, barely literate in Western history, or Eastern history,

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