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1.1     Plato’s Background……………………………..1

1.2     His Works and Chronology……………….....4

1.3     Plato’s Class Distinction……………………..8

1.4     Plato’s Intention for the Distinction ……15



2.1           Aristolte’s view……………………….18

2.2           Karl Marx’s view……………………..20

2.3            Sociological views……………………22

2.4            The tenability of Egalitarianism………...26



3.1     The Notion of Education…………..30

3.2     Ancient Theories …………………...32

3.3     Early Christian Education ………….35

3.4     Medieval Education …………………..37

3.5     Modern/Contemporary Education………....41



4.1      Practical Implications of Plato’s Class Distinction……….....43

4.2      Nature of Contemporary Education ……….47

4.3      Influence of Plato’s Class Distinction on Contemporary Education ………………….....49



5.1    Critical Notes on Plato’s Class Distinction ………. 55

5.2     The defects and Impact of Contemporary Education ……... 59

5.3     Conclusion……………………………....60       

BIBLIOGRAPHY …………………………………63







The integral nature of the human society makes the interaction of one another within the society necessary. Thus, there exist economic, social, religious and political institutions that foster this required integration. The popular John Donne’s phrase that ‘no man is an island’ advocates a complementarity of each other’s capacity for a wholesome society. Aristotle in his Politics asserted that nature intends man to live in a society. “He who is unable to live in society or who has no need because he is sufficient for himself must either be a beast or a god.”[1] It is only in a society therefore that man can develop his potentialities as a human being. The state, which is described as an organized political community, becomes therefore a plat-form for the realization of this natural need for complementarity.


For Plato, the nature of the state requires a division of labour so that the diverse needs of man within the state would be met. The outcome of this division, if followed according to the natural disposition of each to his class, is justice in the state and happiness for the individuals within the state.


The itinerary of Plato’s class distinction within the state as he proposed for the then Athenian state left a significant mark on education. Through out the history of the development of education, some imports of Plato’s political propositions seemed evident especially in contemporary education. In a bid to make this clearer, it is necessary in this introductory part to state the purpose, scope, method and division of this work.



Having stated the nature of the human society and the necessity of the state above, I intend to look at Plato’s view of the ideal state. His propositions on the nature of the ideal state introduce the role of education while answering the questions of ‘who’ occupies ‘which’ class in the three classes of his ideal state.  The end of this would be to explain how his class distinction remains the backdrop of contemporary education.



This work examines Plato’s proposition for an ideal (Athenian) state through his class distinctions in the state. A look at different views on this class distinction gives more explanation to the reality of different classes within a state/society. With an inference of the implications of Plato’s class distinction and a look on the nature of contemporary education, the influence of the former on the latter is easily brought to limelight.



Expository method is employed in explaining Plato’s propositions for an ideal state and the distinctions in class within the state. However, an analytic tone underlies the whole thesis purposely for realizing the philosophical evaluation of the influence of his (Plato’s) class distinction in contemporary education.



Apart from this introductory part, this work comprises five chapters. The first chapter exposes the general background of Plato’s political philosophy, which also treats his idea of the make up of the ideal state. The second explores some views on class distinction, which is concluded with the tenability of egalitarianism. Chapter three traces the historical development of education from the ancient to the contemporary ages of education. Chapter four derives the practical implications of Plato’s class distinction from which the influence of the class distinction on contemporary education is gleaned. Chapter five makes a critical evaluation on Plato’s class distinction and the impact of contemporary education.






                                      CHAPTER ONE

                             GENERAL BACKGROUND

1.1            Plato’s Background.

Plato was born at Athens in 428BC into a distinguished Aristocratic family. His birth coincided with the era of the Periclean democracy when Athens was at its peak in culture and learning. The greatness of Athens before this time dates back to when Athens, under Cleisthenes, defeated the Persians in battle. By the political strength and genius of Cleisthenes, Athens started booming in commerce and social life. This glory was short-lived. The city-state of Sparta, a neighbouring Greek State, out of sheer jealousy and covetousness for Athenian wealth, status and power declared a war, which lasted twenty seven years. Athens was defeated in 404B.C.


This defeat of Athens marked the end of the only democracy in the ancient world. It brought with it a traumatic degeneration in moral ethos and politics of Athens. Plato was a living witness to all these.

Plato’s father was Ariston and his mother, Perictione. His mother was a sister of Charmides and niece of Critias, who were both ringing figures in the oligarchy of 404BC. He had two brothers: Adeimantus and Glaucon, who were both represented in the Republic. He had Patone as his sister. Plato’s real name was Aristocles but was later called Plato due to his broad physique.

His actual name was Aristocles but nature has invested him with a powerful structure and very soon everybody was calling him Plato literally, the broad-shouldered one. [2]


In 403B.C. when Plato was only twenty-four, the Periclean democracy had been overthrown and replaced by a dictatorship of the thirty oligarchs who were incidentally Plato’s relatives. Plato, who has always had a flair for a political career, was urged to enter into politics by these oligarchs. The oligarch however embarked on a rule of violence and attempted to lure Socrates into their crimes.[3] Plato was totally disgusted with the oligarchy, which was eventually done away with and democracy reinstituted.


The restored democracy did not fair better either. It was a rule characterized by ineptitude and wanton indiscipline, a mob rule where practically every citizen went to the house of assembly to air his/her views and record his/her vote. This era turned out to be an era of great political decadence especially in Athens. Plato was inspired to seek for a remedy for his disorganised society given the trial, conviction and death of Socrates, Plato’s friend and master, on unjust charges of impiety, corruption of the minds of the youth and for establishing new gods. Plato, shattered and dismayed by this atrocious brutality towards Socrates, resolved to abandon home politics permanently. He withdrew to Megara and took shelter with the Philosopher Euclid.


To find a cure for the ills of society as well as to forget his sorrows regarding the death of Socrates, he preoccupied himself with much learning and contemplation. This took him to Sicily, Italy and Egypt. As he observes in one of his works, “…we are not only to look to our own country for examples, but seek in the world at large for specimens of the highest, divine order of men, who though rare, might from time to time be found under every form of government and no perfect civilization can be attained without this means of observation and improvement.”[4] It is not clear how long Plato sojourned in Egypt but the more important point is that there are evident traces of information collected in Egypt through his writings and so far, it cannot be doubted that this visit had its influence on the character of his philosophy.[5]


On his return to Athens, Plato established his Academy in 386B.C. near the sanctuary of the hero, Academies. The Academy may rightly be described as the first European university; for the studies there were not confined to Philosophy only but extended over a wide range of auxiliary sciences such as Mathematics, Astronomy, Geometry, Gymnastics, Biology and the physical sciences. Again, admission was not restricted to Athenian citizens; youths came also from abroad. The curriculum of the Academy was designed to train and nurture a new species of politicians who would eventually become Philosopher-kings. For the rest of his life, he presided over the Academy making it the intellectual centre of Greek life. Its only rivalry was the school of Isocrates. After his failed attempts to make Dionysius II a Philosopher king and his city and Syracuse an ideal state, he remained in Athens devoting all his powers of thought to Philosophizing, teaching and writing at the Academy. He died at the age of 80 in the year 348B.C.


1.2            His Works and Chronology.

Apart from lectures delivered at the Academy and the letters he wrote to his associates, Plato left so many valuable writings for posterity. They are collectively called The Dialogues. It is hard to distinguish Socraticism from Platonism in the Dialogues because Socrates, the chief interlocutor appears to be the mouthpiece of Plato’s opinions. The non-existence of any separate work by Socrates himself in which he expressed his own ideas also compounded the issue.

A convenient chronology has been worked out over the years regarding the Dialogues of Plato. The chronology of his works discloses the development of Plato’s thoughts, how it changed - if it did change, what modifications were introduced in the course of time and what fresh ideas were introduced. These trends in his works follow the events and course of time and thus, like other Philosophers’ writings, to understand Plato’s thought the chronology of his works is very important.


The list is categorised into Socratic period – when it is supposed that the influence of the Socratic intellectual determination is still with Plato. The Transitional period – here it is assumed that Plato is moving towards originality in thought and writing. The period of Maturity – depicting original thoughts of Plato and The Period of Old Age – a period of noticeable perfection in thought due mainly to experiences and convictions.

A.   Socratic Period:

Apology:     Socrates’ defence at his trial.

Crito:          Socrates is exhibited as the good citizen, who in spite of his unjust condemnation is willing to give up his life in obedience to the laws of the State. Escape is suggested by Crito and others and money is provided to pay through his escape but Socrates declares that he will not escape the laws but will abide by his principles.

Euthyphron:         Socrates awaits his trial for impiety.

Laches:       On courage.

Ion:             Against the Poets and rhapsodists.

Protagoras: Virtue is knowledge and can be thought.

Charmides: On temperance.

Lysis:           On friendship.

Republic:    Bk.I on Justice.

B.   Transitional Period.

Gorgias:     The practical politician, or the rights of the stronger versus the Philosopher, or justice at all costs.

Meno:         Teachability of virtue corrected in view of ideal theory.

Euthydemus: Against logical fallacies of later sophists.

Hippias I:    On the Beautiful.

Hippias II:  Is it better to do wrong voluntarily or involuntarily.

Cratylus:     On the theory of language.

Menexenus: A parody on rhetoric.

C.   Period of Maturity.

Symposium: Earthly beauty is but a shadow of true Beauty.

Phaedo:      Ideas and Immortality.

Rebublic:    The State, Dualism strongly emphasized.

Phaedrus:   Nature of love; possibility of philosophic rhetoric, tripartition of the soul as in Republic.

D.   Works of Old Age.

Theactetus:  Knowledge is not sense perception.

Parmenides:         On the defence of the ideal theory against criticism.

Sophistes:    Theory of ideas considered again.

Politicus:     The true ruler is the knower. The legal status is a make-shift.

Philebus:     Relation of pleasure to good.

Timaeus:     Natural science, the doctrine of demiurges

Critias:        Ideal agrarian state contrasted with imperialistic sea power ‘Atlantis.’

Laws and Epinomis: He makes concessions to real life, modifying the utopic face of the Republic.

Letters 7 & 8:  Must have been written after the death of Dion in 353BC. It should be noted that Plato never published a complete and nicely rounded off Philosophical system. The reason was that:

                   His thoughts continued to develop as fresh problems other difficulties to be discussed,…certain modifications to be introduced occurred to his mind.[6]



1.3            Plato’s Class Distinction.

Plato’s political thoughts like the rest of his thoughts and other philosophers’ sweep from his historical environment and the socio-political conditions that prevailed in Greece (especially in Athens and Sparta) at that time. The Polis or City-State was for centuries the context for Greek life and thought. It was regarded as the ideal social organism for the proper realization of good life. There were three legally and distinct classes: First was the body of citizens who were entitled to take part in its social life – they attended town meetings and were eligible to a range of public offices. They also participated in public debates and elections. This class was a privilege attained by birth. The second main group was made up of the resident foreigners. Athens was a predominantly commercial city and so harboured a good number of foreigners. This group has no part in the political life of the city but were socially influential and they had freedom of movement. The third group were the slaves. They formed one – third of the total population of the city state. The slave like the foreigner lived happily especially during the time of war when his service is needed by the state. There were two kinds of slavery: the unskilled slavery of the mines and the skilled slavery of the pottery and domestic life. Barker described the situation thus:

…the position of slaves at Athens was on the whole good. Majority of the slaves were skilled workers …and they could be made to give the best of their skill only by good treatment… In social life, slaves were treated as equals and in dress, they were often indistinguishable from freemen.[7]


Plato could not understand this freedom and so he blamed it somewhere on the principle of unlimited liberty characteristic of a radical democracy like in Athens:

The last extreme of popular liberty is when the slave bought with money, whether male or female is just as free as his or her purchaser. [8]

This is in brief a general condition of life in the city state with which most of Plato’s political thought was occupied and to which it adjusted its conclusions. Given the three distinct classes of the City-state of Athens, Plato recognised the faulty and diseased state of Athenian politics. He therefore sought to deal radically with the problem by constructing the ideal state. He links the relation between the individual and the state. The state for Plato is man writ large.[9] The state is a natural institution, natural because it reflects the structure of the human nature. He institutes three classes in the state as analogous to the three parts of the human soul. He explains that the human soul is divided into three parts: the rational element, the spirited element and the appetitive element.


The craftsmen or artisans as a class, represent the lowest part of the soul – the appetites. The guardians embody the spirited element and the highest class, the rulers, represent the rational element.[10] Thus, the ideal state would be composed of three classes: the rulers to administer it, guardians or soldiers to defend it and the artisans to provide the essentials of life. The ideal state would be one in which the three classes like the three parts of the soul function harmoniously. The Platonic state therefore is a community marked by a division of labour among the three classes: the rulers or perfect guardians, the soldiers at first called guardians and afterwards, auxiliaries, and the producing class, whom he called the farmers.[11]


The first class, the rulers, according to Plato, are specially trained group of intellectuals who should rule the state. He gave careful directions for choosing the rulers and for making sure that once chosen, they do not work for their advantage. The ruler, said Plato, should be the one who has been fully educated; one who has come to understand the difference between the visible world and the intelligible world; between the realm of opinion and the realm of knowledge; between appearance and reality.[12] Rulers are basically to be distinguished through education. Plato’s institution of this class also drives from the unjust condemnation of his master, Socrates. To avert such irrational control of the state, rulers should be philosophers; educated. The philosopher-king by analogy should be the captain of the ship as he knows the art of navigation. The rulers though selected amidst the guardians through thorough education, are meant to calm the rest of the classes to be content with their class through the noble lie. The noble lie would say that the god who fashioned all people mixed gold in the composition of those who were to rule, put silver in the guardians and iron and brass in the farmers and craftsmen.[13] This would imply that all by nature were destined for their respective classes. Though Plato recognises the defect of lying, he made it exclusively for the rulers:

Then if anyone should have the privilege of lying, the rulers

of the state should be the persons.[14]


He prohibits others from lying saying:

But nobody else should meddle with anything of the kind… if then the rulers catch anybody beside himself lying in the state, he will punish him for introducing a practice, which is equally subversive and destructive of the ship of the state.[15]


As such, philosopher-kings are given absolute power to rule. Plato insists however, that all children be raised communally by the state until they are about eighteen. At that time they will be made to undergo three types of tests to determine prospective rulers from those who are to become warriors and artisans.


The second class, the soldiers, who defend the state, manifest the virtue of courage. They are given special training and are selected as they manifest this virtue necessary for the safeguard of the state. The first class, the rulers, come from this group because they need this virtue of courage but are individuals that are distinguished intellectually to meet the interests of the state. For the guardians to be really good and noble guardians of the state, they are to require philosophy and spirit, swiftness and strength. They are to be educated to distinguish between enemies and friends.[16] The soldiers, according to Plato’s educational curriculum, are watched from their youths upwards to be placed in this class:

We must watch them from their youths upward and make them perform actions in which they are most likely to forget or to be deceived and he who remembers and is not deceived is selected.[17]


As such, Plato designates the qualities of the soldier that necessitate their position in the class:

Perhaps, the word guardian in the fullest sense ought to be applied to this higher class only who preserve us against foreign enemies and maintain peace among our citizens at home…[18]


They are to guard the state and go to war when the need arises. He designates them as auxiliaries to the extent they support the principles of the rulers. Thus, the class of soldiers are distinguished within the educational curriculum in physical training, which involves athletics and gymnastics. He recommends that training for the soldiers be more exerting and sophisticated in order to make them as wakeful as well-bred watch-dogs. Besides,

…if they are to be courageous, must they not learn other lessons than these as will take away the fear of death?[19]


He thus recommends suitable lessons for the soldiers especially those that expunge fears. In line with these, he strikes out some of Homer’s and Hesiod’s poems that he considers unsuitable for their training:

I do not say that these horrible stories may not have use of some kind but there is a danger that the nerves of our guardians may be rendered to excitable and effeminate by them.[20]

The third class, the artisans, represent the lowest part of the soul, the appetite. They are made up of farmers, traders and craftsmen. In well ordered states, Plato says:

…they are commonly those who are the weakest in bodily strength and therefore of little use for any other purpose; their duty is to be in the market and to give money in exchange for goods to those who desire to sell and to take money from those who desire to buy.[21]


Thus, artisans, as Plato would wish to recognise them, are incapable of learning philosophy. They are the class that intellectually rest on the level of opinion and do not have knowledge. They are only best placed at the crafts as artisans and farmers. This group according to the noble lie are naturally made of iron and brass.


1.4            Plato’s Intention for the Class Distinction.

One of the major incidents that led to Plato’s political philosophy was the death of Socrates. He saw traces of the inability of Athenian democracy to produce great leaders in the way it treated Socrates, one of its greatest citizens.[22] He could not understand how a man like Socrates, such an excellent Philosopher, a good man and moralist could be put to death by Athenian authorities.[23] Consequently, future politicians were to receive a sound education in Philosophy for he believes that only philosophers could be good rulers.

Moreover, Plato holds that the state is a reflection of people’s economic needs because no individual is self-sufficing.[24] Thus, the need for a division of labour within the state:

…as we have many wants, and many persons are needed to supply them, one takes a helper for one purpose and another for another and when these partners and helpers are gathered together in one habitation, the body of inhabitants is termed a state.[25]


Plato maintains that our needs require many skills and no one possesses all the skills needed to produce food, shelter and clothing. There must be a division of labour amidst the classes we saw earlier: Rulers, Guardians and Artisans. Within the state, Plato’s political philosophy sought to proffer an ideal state. What makes this state ideally just according to Plato, is the dedication of each of its component parts to the task for which it is naturally suited and specially trained. [26]


More significant here is Plato’s conception of Justice in the state. He saw the harmonious working of these classes as a ground for justice in the state. He aimed at achieving justice which he likened to the harmony of the three parts of the soul. Justice in the state exists when the artisans, soldiers and philosopher-king exhibit the virtues of temperance, courage and wisdom respectively.

Plato was aware that it would not be simple to convince people to accept this system of classes in the state, particularly if they found themselves in a class that might not be the one they would choose if they had the chance.[27] This formed the backdrop of the noble lie. In all, Plato aimed at a division of labour to meet the needs of the state where one occupies a class one has been naturally disposed to fill. He aimed at justice for the state as a natural institution which reflects the structure of the human nature.


In the ideal state, it should be noted, Plato emphasized his concern over the ruling class, by maintaining that the philosopher-king is most suitable to rule. He intends that the ruler be educated to learn the real art of governance. He is convinced that the state in the hands of the philosopher-king is rationally governed. This is why he emphasized the education of the ruling class. With the complementary functions of the soldiers and artisans, Plato’s ideal state is achieved.


[1] Aristotle, Politics, Bk I, Chapter 2

[2] A. E. Meyer, An Educational History of the Western World (New York: McGraw Hill Inc. 1965), p. 29-30

[3] I. Edman, The Works of Plato (New York: Modern Library Inc., 1956) p. 78


[4] R. D. Hampden, The Fathers of Greek Philosophy (Edinburgh, Adam & Charles Black, 1882), p. 179

[5] Ibid, p.182.

[6] F. Copleston, A Histoy of Philosophy Vol I (New York: Image Books 1962) p. 65.

[7] E. Barker, Greek Political Theory, Plato and His Predecessors (Britain, Menthuen and Co Ltd, 1960)        p. 36-37.


[8] Plato, The Republic,563B , Quoted in E. Baker, Op Cit,  p. 37.

[9] S.E. Stumpf, Philosophy History and Problems, 5thEd.(McGraw Hill Inc., 1994),  p. 70

[10] Ibid, p. 71.

[11] E. Barker, Op. Cit., p. 198.

[12] S.E. Stumpf, Op. Cit.., p. 72.

[13] Ibid. p. 71.

[14] Plato, The Republic,Bk. III, Jowett Translation (New York, Vintage Books), 1991,  p. 86.

[15] Ibid, p. 87.

[16] Ibid, p. 70.

[17] Ibid, p. 123.

[18] Loc. Cit.

[19] Ibid, p. 82.


[20] Ibid, p. 84.

[21] Ibid, p. 63.

[22] S.E. Stumpf, Op. Cit., p.48


[23] J. Omoregbe, Knowing Philosophy (Lagos, Nigeria, Joja Press Ltd 1990), p.95

[24] Plato, Op.Cit., p. 60.

[25] Loc. Cit.

[26] R. Audi (Ed), The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, 2nd Ed (USA, Cambridge Uni. Press, 1999) 

 p. 710.

[27] S.E. Stumpf, Op. Cit., p. 71. 

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