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Plato and the Invention of Political Science


Compare and Contrast the contribution to the study of education made by Plato and Jean Jacque Rousseau.


In most societies of the world, the responsibility of children’s education is always collective. Parents, the extended family and the close community actively participate in education of children. Plato (423 -348 BC) and Rousseau (1712/1779) had their thoughts on education and advocated for active government involvement and control in state education programs. This is surprisingly the only topic they shared same sentiments, since the two had totally different ways of thinking. Plato was an idealist while Rousseau placed emotions above reason. However both realized the importance of education and called for reforms in the educational structures of their era. They called for shift from the traditional practices in education system which they considered outdated. They suggested that the responsibility of the family in education be transferred to the government. They therefore wished for some form of a totalitarian government (Lines 40).

Plato’s study on education is found in his works of ‘The Republican’ and ‘The Laws’. Plato’s aspects of education closely resembled those that had been adopted by the constitutional democracies. He suggested that education is a basic need that should be afforded by everyone despite their status in society. He therefore advocated for free education that was also compulsory. He saw the need for the state to actively participate in education of its citizens through practicing public control and support to educational institutions. Education must also be accessible without gender bias. He was however against the practice of cramming and memorization which he had witnessed in his days and suggested military service for students who were of age (Lines 42).

Plato differed with the set constitution where he was against private education; whether it was homeschooling, library studies, on the streets or in private schools. He insisted that education be made compulsory for all; children should not be left to choose. They were government assets first and their parents came second. In his curriculum, Plato thought population control was necessary and only men between the ages of 25 and 55 should be allowed to sire or marry. Only through this would the government ensure that children were sired by responsible men who could go through the pains of child education. To the elite group, Plato suggested that they be not allowed to marry in order to avoid the distractions that come with a family and intimate relationships. His curriculum favored the government as his ideal education system would lead to law-abiding citizens. His curriculum also comprised physical exercises and music. He thought that music would enhance character and mood in learners. Plato did not however give an allowance for children with special needs; instead he wanted them to be treated in an equal measure with the rest. Plato thought of education as a virtue that must be embraced by the state for better citizens (Chandler).

Rousseau’s’ take on education was as strict as Plato’s despite his liberal nature. He suggested the total control of children’s education. Since learning is an experience, Rousseau thought that the learning experience must be controlled by teachers in order to have a manipulative effect on the learning experience of the child (Lines 48).

He was however criticized of showing too many contradictions in his study. He however told his critics that he was better of being known as a man of paradox than prejudice. He employed hyperbole and so his theories needed much scrutiny in order to arrive at his thoughts. Rousseau, like Plato wished for the creation of a perfect citizen through education. However, unlike Plato, he wished for these ideal citizens to participate in democracy of the state.

Rousseau’s’ works of ‘Considerations on the Government of Poland’ and ‘A Discourse on Political Economy’ bring out his views on how the government should participate in education. In ‘Considerations on the Government of Poland’, Rousseau shows his support for an education system that was free and universal. He also prefers that the government should ensure public schooling for all for the sake of physical exercises. Like Plato, Rousseau advocates for physical exercises as they socialize children at an early age to conform to set rules and regulations. In ‘A Discourse on Political Economy’, Rousseau implies that the state has got the first priority in education of children and not parents. This sentiment is shared with Plato. Unlike Plato, Rousseau had a preference for boy-education rather than equity for both genders.

In his work ‘Emile’, Rousseau lets his emotions take over his reason. He suggested that since man’s main goal in life is to pursue goodness, education should never deter this goodness from man. He opposes formal instructions and comes out too as opposing moral lessons in children. ‘Emile’ was full of contradictions on how the child should be brought up and educated. Good education should however be designed in a way that individuals are not narrowed down in self absorption, rather, it should make their horizons wide (Jack).

In conclusion, both philosophers believed that education can serve to develop the different gifts endowed on humans and lead to an ideal state. They also put restrictions on their kind of education where the parents are not considered main players in their children’s education. However, they saw the reality of never achieving the ideal state they envisioned. It however remains a wonder why these two thinkers who never shared same thinking and beliefs should develop similar education systems that centered on total control.













Works cited



Martin, Jack. “Self Research in Educational Psychology: A Cautionary Tale of Positive

Psychology in Action.” The Journal of psychology 140.4 (2006): 307-16. ABI/INFORM

Complete. Web. 5 Oct. 2012.


Patricia M. Lines. “Shackling the Imagination: Education for virtue in Plato and Rousseau”.

National Humanities Institute. Vol XXII. Nos.1 and 2, 2009



Ralph, Clark Chandler. “Plato and the Invention of Political Science.” International Journal of

Organization Theory and Behavior 6.1 (2003): 28-89. ABI/INFORM Complete. Web. 5

Oct. 2012.





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