Education Should Aim at God, Not the Job Market

I. A Sketch of Greek Paideia in Three Figures       

An overview of what the Greeks meant by paideia draws us along a path from Homer’s Odysseus, through the Sophoclean Oedipus, all the way to Plato’s Socrates. This perhaps curious genealogy I am sketching links the ancient Greek vision of man in dramatic epics with the heart of Plato’s concerns in re-presenting the philosopher Socrates in The Republic. Our main concern in tugging on this thread of the Greek tapestry is to show that philosophy, which is anything but a modern program, represents a certain perfecting culmination of the Greek vision of man and does so in dramatic form. This brief dramatic history is itself a vision of the nature and aim of education. The famous allegory of the cave thus aptly serves, as Plato himself says, as “an image of our nature in its education and want of education.”[1]

According to Werner Jaeger, there is simply no way around holding literature as one’s chief source for the discovery of Greek ideal. For the Greeks, to educate meant to sculpt or develop a human character in the image of an ideal.

The greatest work of art they had to create was Man. They were the first to recognize that education means deliberately moulding human character in accordance with an ideal . . . Only this type of education deserves the name of culture, the type for which Plato uses the physical metaphor of moulding character. The German word Bildung clearly indicates the essence of education in the Greek, the Platonic sense; for it covers the artist’s act of plastic formation as well as the guiding pattern present to his imagination, the idea or typos.[2]What stands above all else is the ideal man, “the universally valid model of humanity which all individuals are bound to imitate.”[3]

Now, even as recorded by Plato,[4] Homer was considered to be the educator of all of Greece. Homer “is the first and the greatest creator and shaper of Greek life and the Greek character,” whose poetry “does more than show a cross-section of life taken at random. It tells the truth; but it chooses and presents its truth in accordance with a definite ideal.”[5] The bard of Greek culture does more than tell peculiar, fantastical stories; “he praises what is praiseworthy in the world.”[6] Even the characters featured within the Odyssey, for example, “appeal to the myth as a collection of authoritative influences. That is to say: the myth has universal application.”[7]

Because of its tendency toward idealizing, the epic gained and held its decisive educational influence for generations and generations. The specifically Homeric epic owes its prominence to Homer’s own vision, his insight into the deeper meaning of the world. There is an argument to be made about what the work of Homer has in common with the best of Greek philosophy. Though one presents it in the “rational form” and the other shows it in “mythical form,” “both present the structure of reality in its entirety…In Homer the sense of “the position of man in the universe,” which is the classical theme of Greek philosophy, is already present at every moment, and Homer never loses sight of it.”[8] In effect, Homer creates a whole world for the Greeks, and gives to those who come after him a framework by which to measure their lives, an “underlying identity of spirit.” As Jaeger explains in the context of Hellenism as a whole:

Ultimately, it is the Greek spirit, with its native passion for clarity of form, which enables Homer to create a complete and independent cosmos, where changes and chances are always balanced by an element of order and stability . . . That world was the first work of the Panhellenic spirit: it made the Greeks conscious for the first time that they were a nation; and thereby it set an ineffaceable stamp on all later Greek culture.[9]

The progression of Greek paideia then advances from “Archaic Greece” with Homer as the decisive figure toward the drama of the works of Aeschylus, and, after him, to the tragedy of Sophocles. 

For Aeschylus, the state or polis itself was the actual background and setting of all of his drama: “Even in his last words, the superb close of The Eumenides, with its solemn prayer for the prosperity of the Athenian nation and its reaffirmation of belief in the divine government of the world, Aeschylus revealed the essentially political character of his poetry.”[10] Aeschylus also possessed a keen talent for demonstrating the effect of destiny or fate upon the soul of mankind. Thus the adage, “suffering brings knowledge” was made the central motif of his works, and captures well his conception of tragic knowledge, acquired as it is through suffering. All of Aeschylus’ works are built upon this fundamental belief that the highest knowledge can be reached only through suffering, a theme we will see as the core presupposition of Plato’s depiction of Socrates. 

There is a deep significance in the fact that Aeschylus’ life and his poetic achievement close, in the final scene of the Oresteia, with the picture of cosmos, harmonious order throughout the state, reconciling all oppositions, and itself based upon the eternal cosmos. As it takes its place in this universal order, this new figure of “the tragic man” created by the art of tragedy displays its hidden harmony with the whole of life, and, by reaching new heroic heights of endurance, agony, and strength, rises to a far loftier humanity.[11]

Though insufficient on its own, we can see from our brief overview of the mind of Aeschylus that there is a distinct development in the Greek conception of divinity, the unity of the world, and the way by which man comes to perfect self-knowledge in contemplation; it is an inherently dramatic way of discovery. The Greeks, we might say, didn’t demonstrate interests that were particularly historical; it’s much rather the case that historical themes didn’t really satisfy the meaning of tragedy for them. Instead, the emphasis is on destiny, fate. 

The sense of culture in the tragedies of Sophocles is something totally different from that presented in Homer or in Aeschylus. This difference is only possible, of course, on account of the Greek struggle to discover destiny’s meaning; the shift that occurs is the centering of life around humanity itself. Sophoclean tragedy “assumes the existence of a society whose highest ideal is culture, the formation of perfect human character[.]”[12] It is important to note at this point what exactly is meant, or not meant, by “culture” for the Greeks. For them, culture was “the original creation and original experience of a process of deliberate guidance and formation of human character.”[13] It would be fair to say that in the Greek mind a multitude of different cultures would be basically incomprehensible, as it would require different conceptions of an ideal humanity. A devout belief in something like an ideal human existence therefore necessitates that culture itself bears an objective form to which one must con-form. Put differently, to become an ideal man is to form one’s character in accordance with a cultural ideal. 

Unlike Aeschylus, one does not find in Sophocles the same sort of outline of the original fall among the gods redounding upon the fate of a family and thus establishing a clear paradigm wherein the ways of the gods must be justified to man. Rather for Sophocles the focus is more particular, individualized: “The tragic element in his plays is the inevitability of suffering: the necessity of destiny, seen from the point of view of the individual sufferer.”[14] But the suffering of Sophoclean heroes is not a divine mystery as it was for Aeschylus. Oedipus, for example, “is not condemned to suffer, as if by some supernatural judge, he is through his own noble nature a visible example of the inevitability of the doom into which the gods lead men.”[15] The distinction of Sophocles from Aeschylus is that Sophocles “cries Yes to the fateful question which no mortal mind can solve,” instead of attempting to solve the problem. “His characters are the first who, by suffering by the absolute abandonment of their earthly happiness or of their social and physical life, reach the truest greatness attainable by man.”[16] Sophocles is in accord with Aeschylus in conceiving of drama as the instrument through which men reach knowledge of the highest reality. Their similarity in conceiving of drama as revelatory provides the fertile ground for the further development by Sophocles, which is exemplified best in his portrayal of Oedipus. 

To know oneself is thus for Sophocles to know man’s powerlessness; but it is also to know the indestructible and conquering majesty of suffering humanity . . . He [Sophocles] never forgot what Oedipus was to become. From the first, the tragic king who was to bear the weight of the whole world’s sufferings was an almost symbolic figure. He was suffering humanity personified.[17]

In the second half of this article we will turn to Socrates, the literary portrait of which “is the only true lifelike description of a great and original personality created in classical Greece.”[18]

II. Socrates and the Republic

One knows of Socrates through the works of his pupils.[19] Their chief aim “was to re-create the incomparable personality of the master who had transformed their lives,” and they were of one conviction that “Socrates’ intellectual and spiritual power as a teacher could not be dissociated from his character as a man.”[20] Socrates is always presented to us as one engaged in dialogue. The form of the Platonic dialogue arises out of the historical fact of Socrates having taught by question and answer. Socrates as a teacher, Jaeger argues, “is the central point in the making of the Greek soul.”[21] Socrates describes his own activity as “philosophy” or “philosophizing,” something that he will not give up as long as he is living.[22] What people found so compelling about Socrates was his summons to men to care for their souls (literally “soul therapy”),[23] and indeed his efforts were taken to be, in many respects, medicinal.[24] This is our window into the heart of Socrates’ sense of his own mission. He “felt that it was educational, and that the work of education was the service of God. It can be properly described as a religious duty, because it is the duty of “caring for the soul.” For, in Socrates’ view, the soul is the divine in man.”[25]

The crucial turning point in the history of paideia vis-à-vis Socrates is the idea of the aim of life. Socrates “threw a new light on the purpose and duty of all education.”[26] Jaeger’s words are worth sharing in full on this point:

Education is not the cultivation of certain abilities; it is not the communication of certain branches of knowledge—at least all that is significant only as a means and a stage in the process of education. The real essence of education is that it enables men to reach the true aim of their lives. It is thus identical with the Socratic effort to attain phronésis, knowledge of the good. This effort cannot be restricted to the few years of what is called higher education. Either it takes a whole lifetime to reach its aim, or its aim can never be reached. Therefore the concept of paideia is essentially altered; and education, in the Socratic sense, becomes the effort to form one’s life along lines which are philosophically understood, and to direct it so as to fulfill the intellectual and moral definition of man. In this sense, man was born for paideia. It is his only real possession.[27]

Thus with Socrates we find Greek arête, virtue, at its pinnacle. We can see Socrates as a figure in line with the heroes of Homeric epic, Aesychlean drama, and Sophoclean tragedy. 

Reflecting on the very opening words of The Republic, the philosopher Eric Voegelin said that:

The kateben opens the vista into the symbolism of depth and descent. It recalls the Heraclitean depth of the soul that cannot be measured by any wandering, as well as the Aeschylean dramatic descent that brings up the decision for Dike. But above all it recalls the Homer who lets his Odysseus tell Penelope of the day when “I went down [kateben] to Hades to inquire about the return of myself and my friends” (Od.23.252–3), and there learned of the measureless toil that still was in store for him and had to be fulfilled to the end (23.249–50).[28]

The central claim of what follows in the Republic, as D.C. Schindler argues, is that the good is the cause of being. This beginning by “going down” is integral to the very point that Plato is striving toward in the dialogue itself. There is therefore “an essential link between Plato’s claim that the good is the cause of being, truth, and the power to know, and the way in which he sought to communicate that claim.”[29] The primary opposition that Socrates faces throughout the Republic in the form of interlocutors is that of the sophists, in other words, the ever-present threat of misology in the surrounding society, but as embodied in particular by the sophists. “The philosopher,” Voegelin claims, “is compactly the man who resists the sophist; the man who attempts to develop right order in his soul through resistance to the diseased soul of the sophist[.]”[30] This disease of the sophist is termed “misology,” and it eats away from within at the very aim of paideia, “Misology . . . appears most perfectly not in the person who rejects reason altogether, but in the person who accepts it . . . most of the time.” Furthermore, “Misology thus represents the most complete ruination of reason precisely because it allows a momentary claim, but always only within a willingness to relativize this claim in the next moment, ‘whenever necessary.’”[31] The danger of misology is exhibited well when one considers its nature: “If reason is in fact in crisis, it will for that very reason not notice.”[32]

While what we are aiming toward is a deeper look at the allegory of the cave, it serves us well to comment upon a few critical moments throughout the dialogue prior to book VII. The first of these is in Book I, wherein Socrates faces Thrasymachus. At a certain point, Thrasymachus completes an argument he was making, but immediately after, motions to leave. Schindler takes this gesture to be an emblematic expression of “self-contained relativism, both in the inward self-complacency it implies and in the very outward act of separating oneself off from the whole.”[33] We thus see exhibited by Thrasymachus a conception of reason which considers the nature of an idea to be the sort of thing that can simply be imposed on one from above, like a “bath man” who has “poured a great shower of speech into our ears all at once.”[34] In response, Socrates pleads with him to stay, saying: “Thrasymachus, you demonic man, do you toss in such an argument, and have it in mind to go away before teaching us adequately or finding out whether it is so or not? Or do you suppose you are trying to determine a small matter and not a course of life on the basis of which each of us would have the most profitable existence?”[35] Socrates thus demonstrates his own concern for foundations. Socrates is not, at least in terms of priority, asking for Thrasymachus to change his mind about any particular position; he is in fact attempting to persuade Thrasymachus to change his very mode of understanding. “Hence the drama: persuasion cannot occur unless there is a change in both one’s understanding and one’s mode of understanding simultaneously. The most fundamental meanings can be grasped only through the transformation of one’s way of relating to meaning in general.”[36]  What we see represented here, then, are two positions: Thrasymachus embodies relativism and the logic of violence, whereas Socrates presents “not imposition from above but cooperative participation in something else, a larger whole.”[37]

At the beginning of Book II, Socrates concedes that all that has come before was merely a sort of preface or prelude.[38] What this prologue of sorts manages to do, however, is make a claim determinative for the rest of the Republic as a whole, namely, a claim about the nature of goodness. In fact, the dialogue restarts many times as a means of attaining an as it were higher vantage point from which to engage with the question of justice and to treat its central theme with the dignity it accords. The highest point, according to Schindler (among others) is the section stretching from the end of book VI to early in book VII (502d–521b), which contains the famous images of the sun, the divided line, and the culminating image of the good, the allegory of the cave.[39] In all of this discussion of justice, the “good will turn out to be the key to the problem we are addressing because it is what “gives truth to the things known and the power to know to the knower” (508d); in other words, it both establishes the knowability of the thing and offers the way to reach it[.]”[40]

While allowing one to see, Socrates notes that the sun is neither the eye, nor the eye’s vision; instead, it is a tertium quid that couples the object seen with the viewing eye.[41] Being at a distance from both the eye and the object seen, the sun is therefore the specific cause of sight, and in this way “is seen by sight itself.”[42]“ The sun, as the sovereign agent in this act, is simultaneously distinct from and present within the act itself, and this simultaneity is the condition of possibility for the act to take place.”[43] After establishing this point, Socrates makes clear the analogy between the sun thus depicted and the good itself: “as the good is in the intelligible region with respect to intelligence and what is intellected, so the sun is in the visible region with respect to sight and what is seen.”[44] Like the sun, therefore, but paradigmatically so, the good is present within the known and the knower simultaneously while yet remaining distinct from the both of them. Socrates then introduces a wrinkle into the equation, by pointing out the distinction between vision by day and vision by night, the latter of which we call “dim” or “defective” vision. In an analogous manner, then, grasping things in the light of goodness is true intellection, with “dim” vision equating to bare opinion. But then Socrates himself breaks or reverses the analogy; by claiming that opinion is ordered to “coming into being and passing away,”[45] “this means Plato is characterizing physical vision as a “dim” or “derivative” form of intellection.”[46]

Images as such point to a greater reality whose form they possess as an anticipatory sign. But images themselves are only intelligible by way of an ascent of the mind precisely to that greater reality, which in our case is the good itself, that which grounds all else. In order to understand the good by way of ascent, the good itself must grant to the image its intelligibility. This means that, precisely in the moment of the mind’s ascent, the good itself must descend and interrupt the whole process. As Schindler makes clear, “[t]he analogy that Socrates presents to us here is thus not simply a logical structure that traces out the shape of thought in abstraction from the real, but rather a dramatic structure . . . we do not fully understand the beginning until we get to the end, though we cannot get to the end but by working toward it from the beginning.”[47] Thus, Plato’s claim here is that the truth itself possesses a dramatic structure, a combination of ascent and descent that together “form a complex whole in the flash of the paradoxical “moment.”[48] What we are about to see in the allegory of the cave is that the absoluteness or the comprehensiveness of the good means that one cannot hope to grasp it from some sort of outside perspective, a “view from nowhere,” but rather can only grasp the good by being grasped by it. 

Distinct from both the image of the sun and the divided line, the allegory of the cave presents in the first place not an image, but an act. The allegory itself depicts the setting free of prisoners from their bondage in a dark, shadowy realm of mere images and their release into the world outside, into the light of the sun, the good. As a final answer to Glaucon’s questions about the nature of the good, one would think, following the ascending path that has been sketched throughout the whole dialogue, that this liberation into the light would be the resting place of the whole drama, the point of arrival. Surprisingly, Socrates instead says in dialogue with Glaucon that the task of the founders of the new republic is:

To compel the best natures to go to the study which we were saying before is the greatest, to see the good and to go up that ascent; and, when they have gone up and seen sufficiently, not to permit them what is now permitted.” “What’s that?” “To remain there,” I said, “and not be willing to go down again among those prisoners or share their labors and honors, whether they be slighter or more serious.”[49]

As with the image of the sun, so too here Plato depicts a reversal. But what is the source or cause of the descent into the cave? “It is nothing at all inside the cave allegory that causes the philosopher to go down. Rather, it is Socrates and his companions who bring it about, when they decide it is necessary for the good of the whole that they go down.”[50] It would be lame of us to assume that here, at the pinnacle of the Republic, Plato means to present an image composed of simply arbitrary elements. Considered more deeply, the reversal here indicates that what Plato is presenting is in fact an effective image of the good: Socrates in the flesh. “Indeed, Socrates is the author of the cave allegory, responsible for the being and essence, and for the intelligible content, of all within. In this respect, Socrates transcends the allegory as a whole in a much more radical way than the image of the sun inside the allegory. He embodies the essence of the good more directly than the sun can.”[51] Notice, as well, that the words that opened the entire dialogue are repeated here at this critical moment, “to go down.” 

Socrates’ relationship to the cave is not merely one of transcendence, but also of breaking in “from above.” “Socrates says that the philosopher must go down, but he in fact is the very philosopher who goes down.[52] What Plato does here is astonishing. As Schindler ably puts the matter,

This maneuver is striking in that it “explodes” the immanent space of the narrative structure, which is itself a rhetorical image of the springing from the cave, or the transcendence of the relativity of perception. The explosion gives the dialogue an immediate reality that surpasses even the dramatist’s art . . . In other words, he appears as the“good man,” as one who makes goodness real by living out its implications. A “two-dimensional” image becomes in this moment a flesh-and-blood reality. When we reach the culmination of the images showing forth the good, we have a reversal that reverses the whole phenomenon of providing images of the good. It is only thus that the actual absoluteness of the good shows itself in the brilliant flash of Plato’s and Socrates’ philosophical genius.[53]

This leads us back to a consideration of the challenge that provoked the dialogue in the first place. In book II, Glaucon seeks to elicit from Socrates his very best argumentation, and so Glaucon takes over for Thrasymachus and articulates the argument against justice, thus proposing for their consideration a man who acquires a ring of power, the ring of Gyges.[54] This proposal ends with a challenge to Socrates to “present a man who is willing to be stripped of all the honors of justice and be left with nothing but the thing itself. In spite of the reality of his justice, he must be regarded by the many as unjust and executed for it. He must in fact prefer to be executed rather than be rewarded and praised for seeming but not being just.”[55] The answer given to Glaucon, we can see clearly now, is Socrates himself. 

Contained within the allegory of the cave, we also find a path back to one of our main concerns: education. After all, Socrates has gone on at length to describe the philosophical education of his guardians, and the allegory of the cave is a partial description of the task he sets out for the guardians. Socrates affirms that the capacity for the good is in every soul from the beginning, and that there would therefore “be an art of this turning around, concerning with the way in which this power can most easily and efficiently be turned around, not an art of producing sight in it.”[56]

Therefore the essence of philosophical education is “conversion,” which literally means “turning round.” “Conversion” is a specific term of Platonic paideia, and indeed an epoch-making one. It means more specifically the wheeling round of the “whole soul” towards the light of the Idea of Good, the divine origin of the universe.[57]

Through this question of education, we return also to a consideration of the nature of reason itself. Thrasymachus conceived of reason as just so far a matter of persuasion; it seems that Socrates’ persuasive response was to show that the nature of reason, and the task of philosophy, was to give witness to goodness with one’s whole life. When the philosopher returns to the cave, his task is to “share the labors and honors” of those imprisoned.[58] “The returning philosopher does not destroy the puppets or banish the puppeteers or become a puppeteer himself . . . Instead, he takes his place next to the prisoners.”[59]

III. A Conclusion: True Paideia

Arriving now at a Greek (Platonic) conception of education, we see clearly the primacy of the Good. Any educator worth his salt would operate first and foremost from a stance of profound love for, and therefore a desire for union with, the Good, the True, and the Beautiful. Like Socrates, one shows forth the meaning of Goodness—educates!—by taking on the form and likeness of the Good, a sort of kenotic, descending love. This Platonic conception of education is nearly sacramental; the educator is simultaneously a sign, symbol, participant, and mediator of the reality toward which he points and which he, in some mysterious sense, also is most deeply. In other words, the best teachers are good people. There are plenty of hints in Plato’s work that themselves gesture toward the mystery of the Incarnation and the necessity of our desire for theosis. The strength of the philosopher, who is the truest educator for Plato, lies in the fact that his knowledge is rooted in objective reality. It is from here that all virtue flows.

The philosophical virtue, phronésis, is the one comprehensive virtue which Socrates sought for throughout his life. It belongs to “a more divine part of us,” a part which is always present, but which cannot be opened up unless the soul is made to face in the proper direction and turn round to the Good. Philosophical culture and the philosophical virtue corresponding to it are higher degrees of ordinary culture and ordinary virtue, because they are a higher degree of reality. If, as the soul strives to mould itself by striving towards wisdom, there is any progress toward a higher level of being and therewith to higher perfection, then that progress is, as Plato says in Theaetetus, “becoming like God.”[60]

The educator’s task is, then, a sacred one. The Church knows this, as Ex Corde Ecclesiae says at its outset: “A Catholic University's privileged task is ‘to unite existentially by intellectual effort two orders of reality that too frequently tend to be placed in opposition as though they were antithetical: the search for truth, and the certainty of already knowing the fount of truth’” (3). Education was therefore not a program for the Greeks. It was, more basically, the work one must do in order to live fully. For us today it must be the same, lest we fail to educate at all. Insofar as we lose sight of this, we are just so far cut loose from our roots, in Greece and in Rome.

Education is integrally linked to the concept and meaning of “tradition.” Traditio also carries with it a meaning of “handing on,” “handing over.” The burden of an educator is precisely this: to ensure the transmission of tradition. That is exactly what education is in the first place – to hand on a vision of man, his destiny, and the world he lives in. A culture that fails to recognize the merit of handing on a definite body of knowledge, or even a concept of human nature, fails to educate properly. 

In a letter from 2008 addressing the “problem of education,”[61] PopeBenedict XVI calls our attention to something he calls an “educational emergency.” He identifies that there has been a certain failure to transmit “certainties and values,” a clue into what he might mean with respect to an “emergency.” Education is integrally linked to the concept and meaning of “tradition.” Traditio also carries with it a meaning of “handing on,” “handing over.”[62] The burden of an educator is precisely this: to ensure the transmission of tradition. That is exactly what education is in the first place – to hand on a vision of man, his destiny, and the world he lives in. A culture that fails to recognize the merit of handing on a definite body of knowledge, or even a concept of human nature, fails to educate properly. 

But there is a further wrinkle to the question: Education and the transmission of tradition happen no matter what;[63] the real question is rather what is being handed on – which vision of humanity? Thus as Benedict XVI said, “In fact, it is not only the personal responsibilities of adults or young people, which nonetheless exist and must not be concealed, that are called into question, but also a widespread atmosphere, a mindset and form of culture that induce one to have doubt about the value of the human person, about the very meaning of truth and good, and ultimately about the goodness of life.”[64] In other words, part of the emergency with respect to education we find ourselves dealing with has to do with, not only the content of what’s being handed on, but about the worthwhileness of handing anything on in the first place: “It then becomes difficult to pass on from one generation to the next something that is valid and certain, rules of conduct, credible objectives around which to build life itself.”[65] He goes on to emphasize the point: “Not even the greatest values of the past can simply be inherited; they must be claimed by us and renewed through an often anguishing personal option.”[66]

Responding to the present state of affairs, Benedict XVI sketches a few requirements for an “authentic education.” First, “that closeness and trust that are born of love.”[67] The obedience required to truly receive an education is thus best understood as a participation in a love that draws one forward into fullness. Second, an authentic education will be aimed at uncovering and knowing more deeply what is true. It will not ignore the authentic questions born of the human heart. It would be a failure to educate if that desire for knowledge were not acknowledge, fostered, and deepened. But this seeking requires also that we might suffer for it. Which carries an important corollary: the truth is worthy of our suffering. Benedict’s conclusion ties together freedom and discipline.The task of education consists also of finding the right balance between freedom and discipline. Freedom’s primary meaning is not that you are free from some external threat. Freedom, in the first place, is made for truth. You are free for the sake of coming to know and love what is true and good and beautiful. Thus freedom and discipline go hand in hand – there is an order to coming to know things. There is a hierarchy of discovery. G.K. Chesterton says this piquantly in his book Orthodoxy: “Art is limitation: the essence of every picture is the frame. If you draw a giraffe, you must draw him with a long neck. If in your bold creative way you hold yourself free to draw a giraffe with a short neck, you will really find that you are not free to draw a giraffe.”[68]

Understood in these terms as a certain unity of love, freedom, and discipline, education is not primarily a program to be exacted, or a problematic requiring calculation. It is instead a basic human activity. At its heart, education is contemplative, endeavoring to affirm the meaning of reality in its integrity, a priori of any technological or mechanistic planning with respect to its potential “usefulness.” When rightly ordered, education as contemplation organically manifests as action, bearing its fruit in integrated human beings who bear no patience for a body-soul dualism, or its concomitant separation of love from knowledge, freedom from discipline. The task of coming to know things is of a piece with the Christian task of profound love for that which God loves. The formation of one’s soul, an ordering of one’s desires, and a deepening of one’s love: education is a life-form before it is a program.

[1]The Republic of Plato, trans. Alan Bloom, 2nd ed. (Basic Books, 1968). All citations from the Republic, my own as well as Schindler’s, are from Bloom’s translation of the text. Here, Rep. VII, 514a

[2]Jaeger, I, xxii–xxiii. 

[3]Jaeger, I, xxiv. 

[4]Cf. Rep. X, 606e.

[5]Jaeger, I, 36. 

[6]Jaeger, I, 41. 


[8]Jaeger, I, fn. 34, p. 429. 

[9]Jaeger, I, 55–56. 

[10]Jaeger, I, 239. 

[11]Jaeger, I, 267. 

[12]Jaeger, I, 273–74. 

[13]Jaeger, I, 274.

[14]Jaeger, I, 281. 

[15]Jaeger, I, 283. 


[17]Jaeger, I, 284. 

[18]Werner Jaeger, Paideia: The Ideals of Greek Culture, Volume II: In Search of the Divine Centre, p. 18. Hereafter, Jaeger, II.

[19]This group includes Plato’s dialogues, Xenophon’s dialogues, Xenophon’s Memoirs of Socrates, and the fragments remaining from Antisthenes and Aeschines of Sphettus.

[20]Jaeger, II, 17–18. 

[21]Jaeger, II, 27.

[22]Cf. Apology, 29d. 

[23]Cf. Apol. 29d, 30b. 

[24]Cf. Jaeger, II, 32.

[25]Jaeger, II, 39. 

[26]Jaeger, II, 69.

[27]Jaeger, II, 69–70. 

[28]Eric Voegelin, Order and History, vol. 3: Plato and Aristotle (Louisiana State University Press, 1957), 53.

[29]D.C. Schindler, Plato’s Critique of Impure Reason: On Goodness and Truth in the Republic (Washington, DC: CUA Press, 2008), 34. Hereafter, Schindler, Plato’s Critique

[30]Voegelin, Plato and Aristotle, 69. 

[31]Schindler, Plato’s Critique, 12. 

[32]Schindler, Plato’s Critique, 15. 

[33]Schindler, Plato’s Critique, 75. 

[34]Rep.I, 344d.

[35]Rep. I, 344d–e. 

[36]Schindler, Plato’s Critique, 79. 

[37]Schindler, Plato’s Critique, 81. 

[38]Cf. Rep. II, 357a.

[39]Jaeger sees these images as one single metaphor: “The image of the sun and the image of the cave (which, as we have pointed out, are linked into a unity by the simile of the divided line) are one single metaphorical expression of the nature of paideia. Every book on Greek philosophy discusses these images, saying that they are impressive symbols of Plato’s vision of the universe. But very few pay attention to the first sentence of the seventh book, which leads into the image of the cave. There Plato actually states that it is an image of paideia: or, more exactly, that it represents the nature of man, and its relation to culture and “unculture,” paideia and apaideusia.” Jaeger, II, 294. 

[40]Schindler, Plato’s Critique, 105. 

[41]Cf. Rep. VI, 508a–b. 

[42]Rep. VI, 508b. 

[43]Schindler, Plato’s Critique, 146. 

[44]Rep. VI, 508b–c.

[45]Rep.VI, 508d. 

[46]Schindler, Plato’s Critique, 147. 

[47]Schindler, Plato’s Critique, 149. 

[48]Schindler, Plato’s Critique, 150. 

[49]Rep. VII, 519c–d. 

[50]Schindler, Plato’s Critique, 162. 

[51]Schindler, Plato’s Critique, 163. 

[52]Schindler, Plato’s Critique, 168.

[53]Schindler, Plato’s Critique, 164. 

[54]Rep. II, 359c–d. 

[55]Schindler, Plato’s Critique, 169. 

[56]Rep. VII, 518c–d. 

[57]Jaeger, II, 295. 

[58]Cf. Rep. VII, 519d. 

[59]Schindler, Plato’s Critique, 210. 

[60]Jaeger, II, 296. 

[61]Benedict XVI. Letter of His Holiness Benedict XVI to the Faithful of the Diocese and City of Rome on the Urgent Task of Educating Young People21 January, 2008. Hereafter, BXVI, “The Urgent Task of Education.” 

[62]One can then reflect upon the “original” act of Tradition, the eternal birth of the Son from the Father. What’s at stake in understanding tradition and the burden of education rightly is in fact nothing less than the Father’s original gift of himself to the Son before all ages.

[63]G.K. Chesterton argues as much in his seminal What’s Wrong with the World?

[64]BXVI, “The Urgent Task of Education.”




[68]G.K. Chesterton, The Collected Works, vol. I (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 243.

Featured Image: Parc de Versailles, Rond-Point des Philosophes. Isocrate, Pierre Granier; Coyau / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0.


Daniel Drain

Daniel Drain is a Ph.D. Candidate at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in Washington, He works full-time as a Director of Religious Education in Doylestown, PA, and teaches courses as an adjunct in the Department of Philosophy and Theology at DeSales University.

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