Aristotle’s Views On EducationOctober 9, 2018
Education serves as a foundation for not only pursuing the political life, but also for any type of trade or profession.
Aristotle charges each polis with the responsibility of educating the children because “every state has a single aim [and] there must also be one and the same education for all citizens”. If the citizens of the polis deliberate about certain affairs that may or may not happen within the community, then having an equal and common education for all will help them in achieving a shared conception of morality.
Consequently, it is the responsibility of the polis to educate its children. In fact, Aristotle admonishes polities that fail to educate its upcoming citizens, arguing that “it is the lawgiver most of all who should attend to the education of the young; for if this is not done in states, their governments are harmed”. In other words, Aristotle argues that governments who do not educate their young weaken the structure of the government.
A citizen “should regard himself as belonging not to himself but to the state”, so a government that does not educate the young fails to preserve the status of the polis. In order for the citizens to share a common mindset, education must prevail. Thus the ruler of the polis ought to ensure that the upcoming citizens receive such an education.
Moreover, it is important for a government to be made up of citizens who have appropriate characters because those individuals are responsible for preserving that polis. A polis composed of citizens who do not have an education would last a short amount of time because its citizens would not agree on matters which concern the polis.
This reveals another side of the polis that needs to be unified, that there should be a common education for all. Aristotle considers education as an integral part of the polis because the education should be public, accessible to all citizens, and the education is “one and the same education for all citizens”.
What does Aristotle say about education in a polis? Aristotle highlights four essential categories that education should focus on. These subjects include reading and writing, drawing, gymnastics, and music. In general, education is helpful in the goal of pursuing a virtuous life, but how?
The acquired skills of reading and writing enable children to pursue other types of learning (engineering, mathematics, science, etc.) but education has practical purposes as well. Reading and writing is used in “money-making and household management and learning things and in many political actions”; so these skills are imperative for someone to develop these skills in order to partake in political matters. Children who learn to draw become more appreciative of beauty and “avoid [making mistakes] in purchasing things or being deceived in buying or selling articles”; learning to draw “makes us better judges of the works of artists”, and this provides citizens with the right kinds of pleasures and the ability to recognize the right kinds of objects.
Participating in exercise and good dieting habits encourages children to maintain their health and beauty, which is related to gymnastics. Tessitore digs deeper into the kind of education Aristotle discusses when Tessitore argues that “a healthy political education does not overbreed the citizens in the regime’s specific character, but instead fosters moderation, nourishing both civility and a decent way of living”. Here Tessitore recognizes virtues (decent way of living) as coexisting with political ideas.
Music is the fourth educational category that Aristotle discusses. However, some rulers in political societies think less of music and do not believe it belongs to the common education system. Aristotle argues that music affords both pleasure and relaxation that enthuses our souls. He reasons that “since music happens to give us pleasure, and since virtue is concerned with being delighted and loving and hating in the right manner, it is clear that there should be no greater concern than that of learning and acquiring habits which make us judge rightly”.
Education and living the virtuous life are key themes for Aristotle, but is one more important than the other? Aristotle does not see the learning of good habits (virtues) as training that is above this education, which is why he concludes with this point about good character when he says that “it is evident that the education of [good] habits in children should precede the education of their reason”.
In this sense, the citizens of a polis must agree on a common conception of the virtuous actions and good characteristics that all children will be expected to acquire and maintain for the sake of the polis. The reason for that is because “a young man is not a proper student of [lectures on] politics; for he is inexperienced in actions concerned with human life, and discussions proceed from [premises concerning those actions] and deal with [those actions]”.
A child must acquire these essential habits not only to engage properly in politics, but for the child’s education as a whole. However, the common education that Aristotle discusses applies only to citizens. To engage properly in political thought, a person needs to be grounded first in the virtues, followed by education. In the next section, I will talk about the groups that Aristotle does not recognize as citizens, his reasons, and why he believes these groups are still important to an ideal polis.