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Idealism and realism are the two main stream philosophical notions of western philosophy especially in pre-modern era namely Greek education and educational theories. These philosophies are very influential from the date of conceptualizing to the date. The pre-modern Greek scholars Plato and Aristotle coined this outstanding notion; Idealism and Realism for analyzing fundamental problems related to human being life and the world. Both of these concepts are still relevant to the present western education and educational theories as its root. Idealism focuses on human spirit, mind, soul and ideas, on the other hand Realism focuses on physical reality of the world as it is. The objectives of this study are: a) to map a clear picture of Plato’s Idealism and Aristotle’s Realism regarding Greek education and educational theories, and b) to compare both concepts and contents regarding Greek education and educational theories. Data for this study has been collected from distinguish secondary sources such as; books, journals, articles, commentaries, published and unpublished thesis etc. This study argues that the contents of both concepts regarding education and educational theories are still relevant and can be used after carefully synthesizing and relating to the present context.

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Published by Hamidur Rahman, 2019-11-25 21:17:37

A Comparative Study of Plato's Idealism and Aristotle's Realism from the Perspective of Western Educational Theories

Idealism and realism are the two main stream philosophical notions of western philosophy especially in pre-modern era namely Greek education and educational theories. These philosophies are very influential from the date of conceptualizing to the date. The pre-modern Greek scholars Plato and Aristotle coined this outstanding notion; Idealism and Realism for analyzing fundamental problems related to human being life and the world. Both of these concepts are still relevant to the present western education and educational theories as its root. Idealism focuses on human spirit, mind, soul and ideas, on the other hand Realism focuses on physical reality of the world as it is. The objectives of this study are: a) to map a clear picture of Plato’s Idealism and Aristotle’s Realism regarding Greek education and educational theories, and b) to compare both concepts and contents regarding Greek education and educational theories. Data for this study has been collected from distinguish secondary sources such as; books, journals, articles, commentaries, published and unpublished thesis etc. This study argues that the contents of both concepts regarding education and educational theories are still relevant and can be used after carefully synthesizing and relating to the present context.

Keywords: Philosophy, Greek education, western education, Idealism, Realism

A Comparative Study of Plato’s idealism and Aristotle’s Realism: From the Perspective
of Western Educational Theory

Hamidur Rahman1

Abstract

Idealism and realism are the two main stream philosophical notions of western philosophy
especially in pre-modern era namely Greek education and educational theories. These
philosophies are very influential from the date of conceptualizing to the date. The pre-modern
Greek scholars Plato and Aristotle coined this outstanding notion; Idealism and Realism for
analyzing fundamental problems related to human being life and the world. Both of these
concepts are still relevant to the present western education and educational theories as its root.
Idealism focuses on human spirit, mind, soul and ideas, on the other hand Realism focuses on
physical reality of the world as it is. The objectives of this study are: a) to map a clear picture
of Plato’s Idealism and Aristotle’s Realism regarding Greek education and educational
theories, and b) to compare both concepts and contents regarding Greek education and
educational theories. Data for this study has been collected from distinguish secondary sources
such as; books, journals, articles, commentaries, published and unpublished thesis etc. This
study argues that the contents of both concepts regarding education and educational theories
are still relevant and can be used after carefully synthesizing and relating to the present context.

Keywords: Philosophy, Greek education, western education, Idealism, Realism

Introduction

Education plays an important role in every sphere of life. There is a common dispute among
philosophers concerning the philosophy, functions, contents, theories and ultimate aim as well
as the system of education from the ancient period to the date. Philosophers has brought various
concepts pertaining education and educational theories and Plato’s Idealism as well as
Aristotle’s Realism are the most influential among them. Plato's (427 BC-347 BC) concept of
education has presented in the Republic and the Laws and practiced at the Academy in Athens,
on the other hand Aristotle’s concept of education has mapped in the Politics and practiced at
the Lyceum in Athens. Their concepts about education still have great influence on education
and educational theories. Plato developed his thinking emphasizing on human spirit, mind, soul
and Ideas. He conceptualised the universal or ideal world and separated the universal ideas
from the material world. In contrast, though Aristotle was the pupil of Plato but he developed
his own understanding and thinking emphasizing on the reality of the physical world. For Plato,
attain knowledge is the aim of education and for Aristotle, to create a sound mind in a sound
body. This study presents the comparative study of both Plato’s and Aristotle ideas regarding
Greek education and educational theories.

1 PhD student, KOED, IIUM

Plato’s Idealism and Concept of Education

Plato (427 BC-347 BC) was the pupil of Socrates and teacher of Aristotle. He was the first
great educator and founder of educational thought (Cooney, Cross, and Trunk, 1993). He
established the Academy in Athens. Plato developed his idea focusing on human mind, sprit
and ideas. He conceptualised the universal or ideal world and separated the universal ideas
from the material world which is familiar as Plato’s idealism. According to Plato’s idealism
eternal truth only exists in the realm of ideas not in the physical or observable world. Plato
believes that the sensory or tangible knowledge is faulty in nature and a mere shadow or
representation of the eternal true knowledge, which he has explained by the Allegory of the
Cave. According to Plato, every form that can be found on the earth such as love, man, tree,
cat, bird, beauty, justice and so on have the correspondence with its eternal form/idea and these
are the mere reflection or representation or shadow of them. In short whatever we see or gain
as a knowledge by our sensory organs is the mere reflection of its ultimate or original idea
that’s why truth for Plato is not WYSIWYG (acronym WYSIWYG: what you see is what you
get). According to the concepts of Plato’s idealism our knowledge is inherent that just needs to
be recalled or remembered or awaken such as we have the idea of cat and when we see cat it
immediately corresponds with the eternal idea/form of cat.

For Plato knowledge is virtue and it can be attained through education. ‘Plato concludes that
virtue can be obtained through three stages of development of knowledge: knowledge of one's
own job, self-knowledge, and knowledge of the Idea of the Good (Lee: 1994).’ In Republic
Plato presented his notion of an ideal state and to ensure justice in his ideal state Plato
introduced stage based and controlled education system to get philosopher king. According to
Plato's education system state (government) is responsible to ensure education for its citizens,
it should be compulsory and for all both male and female to balance growth of body and mind.
As Jean-Jacques Rousseau said in his book Emile: Or, On Education ‘To get a good idea of
public education, read Plato’s Republic. It is not a political treatise, as those who merely judge
books by their title think, but it is the finest, most beautiful work on education ever written.’

According to Plato, the goal of education is “to produce adults who may successfully contribute
to the happiness of the whole community, which themselves enjoying happiness within that
community” (Barrow: 1975). Plato focused on science, geometry, astronomy, health, music,
gymnastic, history and philosophy in his concept of education. He presents general guidelines
about education as well as gymnastic and music in his great work the Republic:

-“What is the education? Isn’t difficult to find a better one that discovered over a great expanse
of time? It is, of course, gymnastic for bodies and music for the soul.”

-“Yes, it is.”

-“Won’t we begin educating in music before gymnastic?”

-“Of course” (Plato: 1991)

In Laws Plato says ‘Education is the first and the fairest thing that the best of men can ever
have’. He says about compulsory education especially for the primary level.

In his Republic Plato presents a stage based education system such as:

a) 1st stage: 7-17 years: physical education, music, mathematics, history and sciences will
be taught.

b) 2nd stage: 17-20 years: Gymnastics, literature, music elementary mathematics will be
taught.

c) 3rd stage: 20-25 years: physical and military training as well as have to bring them to
the battle field to for the real life experiences.

d) 4th stage: 25-30 years: training of mathematical calculation and
e) 5th stage: 30-35 years: Dialect and ultimate principle of the reality.
f) 6th stage: 35-50 years: after the completion of this stage individual will return in his

practical life and will be philosopher or ruler. He will get position where he will be fit.
His focus will be on philosophy and will take the command in the war and will
participate in politics for the welfare of the individual as well as for the society.

Plato presents censorship for the contents of education as he explains that there are two kinds
of literature, true or false; it is with the latter and that education must begin, for the literature
which we read to children consists of myths, and myths, speaking generally, are false though
they contain elements of truths as well (Plato: 1991). According to McClintock (1968) “if they
(ideas) really vital to human life and character he (teacher) would have retained them, trusting
to the child’s mind to assimilate what was valuable, the later education to preserve or to rectify
its sense of historical truth.”

From the above discussion we can say that the aim of Plato’s education is to ensure justice in
society by ensuring equal education for all and his concepts of education is a lifelong process
to get a philosopher king.

Aristotle’s Realism and Concept of Education

Aristotle (384-322BC) was one of the pupils of Plato. He enrolled at Plato’s Academy in his
early 17. Unlike Plato, he finds the truth in to the real or physical world instead of human mind
or spirit or soul. His notion is familiar as realism as he emphasizes on rational approaches rather
than spiritual approaches to find the truth in the real world, He presents the thought of prime
mover as an immaterial being instead of God. Realism emphasizes on the real world especially
regarding the truth and knowledge. According to Aristotle truth is WYSIWYG (What you see
is what you get). The truth is the correspondence with the physical world not with the idea of
original form. This notion believes that truth is empiric and measurable and can attain trough
sensory organs. Aristotle is one of the pioneer of this concept.

Basically we have only the scarps of Aristotle’s work on education. He presents his concepts
of education in book 7 and 8 of the Politics and practiced at his Lyceum in Athens. Unlike
Plato, Aristotle presents his discussions about education in explicit way. As a philosophy of
education realism emphasizes knowledge which develops from using one’s own senses. For
this philosophy there is a real and physical world and this world is not constructed by human
mind. So the knowledge is around us not in the transcendental world.

Aristotle believes the purpose of education are to develop and exercise student's potential for
reasoning, forming ethical character, and proving skills as well as knowledge. In his concept

of education he focuses on ethics and politics. He stresses on good or right rather than merely
correct. He emphasizes on all around and balanced development of man.

In his educational concept Aristotle includes play, physical training, music, debate, study of
science, and philosophy as important to form of body, mind and soul. According to him, the
aim of education is not common for all but varies for individual to individual.

For Aristotle concept of education is the part of 'Politics'. According to him, politics is a
practical science which consists of three disciplines: theoretical science, productive science,
and practical science. Theoretical science is concerned with physics, theology and
mathematics, and practical science is concerned with human action and productive science is
concerned with the craft or making things useful. Aristotle believes ‘politics also produces
happiness in the state, which is known to be highest of all goods. Therefore, Politics must be
contributory to education.’ Aristotle’s emphasizes on practical doings as he says ‘anything that
we have to learn to do we learn by the actual doing of it… We become just by doing just acts,
temperate by doing temperate ones, brave by doing brave ones.’ (Niconachean Ethics, Book II)’

Aristotle believes that reading and writing, gymnastics, music and drawing should be taught in
education. According to him, reading and writing 'the highest utility for the practical', drawing
to make him able to see the bodily beauty and gymnastics to promote courage and music for
own peace not for professional amusement.

Aristotle divided schooling as

a) Primary: 7-14 years and will be taught reading and writing, gymnastics, music and
drawing,

b) Secondary: 14-21 years and will study literature, poetry, drama, music and dancing and
in this stage students will go through the military training such as drill, tactics and war
strategies,

c) Higher education: from 21 year to be continued as long as he is able and interested but
it will be only for man not for women, according to Aristotle women are not capable of
such multifaceted studies.

Ultimate target of Aristotle’s philosophy is the ‘happy man’ and only through the education it
can be attained.

‘The idea of a happy mean is developed in the Nicomachean Ethics. There human
conduct is held to consist of two kinds of virtues, moral and intellectual; moral virtues
are learned by habit, while intellectual virtues are learned through teaching.’

Comparative Study of Plato’s Idealism and Aristotle’s Realism

From the above discussion we see a clear picture of Plato and Aristotle’s concept about
education. It is true that both of them brought their idea about education concerning the welfare
of the state and later they presents education as one of the most important tools for achieving
their goal a dream state. If we analyze both notion we get Plato as an Idealistic and Aristotle as
a Realistic thinker concerning educational thought.

For Plato, our knowledge is the copy of the original form of it and he finds truth in human mind
as human mind has inherently get ideas as ideas of cat, tree, and cave so on. Simply says

WYSIWYG is not truth for Plato. On the other hand truth for Aristotle is WYSIWYG. Aristotle
as a realist believes in the reality of the world and finds truth in the physical world.

For them there are some similarities in thinking but not same, as both of them emphasize on
age based education and subjects to be taught. Where Aristotle divided the age into three main
categories and Plato divided them into six categories. Though both of them focuses on early
childhood education, gymnastics, war strategies, mathematics, philosophy and music. Both of
them education and learning is a lifelong process though the goal of education for Plato a
philosopher king and for Aristotle ‘happy man’.

Unlike Plato, higher education is not for all in Aristotle’s concept. He believes that women are
not suitable for such complex higher education so it is only for men. Plato believes in an equal
system of education where women also can get as same as men and can attain the position
through education. We clearly find gender discrimination in Aristotle’s concept of education.
Though both of them strongly agree in public education system where government is the
responsible agent to ensure it for the citizens.

‘Aristotle insisted that states should be responsible for educating their citizens. In
the Politics, Book 8, he makes four arguments for public education: (1) from
constitutional requirements; (2) from the origins of virtue; (3) from a common end to
be sought by all citizens; and (4) from the inseparability of the individual and the
community. In most states in the Greek world before Aristotle's time, private education
had prevailed.’

Both of them was very aware concerning the war and the security of their ‘utopian’ state that
is why they focus on gymnastics education, even they emphasize on practical military training
for their citizens in a certain age in their education system.

Conclusion

Plato’s and Aristotle’s concept of education still relevant for the contemporary education and
theory of education as its root. Both of them emphasize on justice, morality, virtues, and ethics
and believe that through education all of these can be ensure and attain. Actually based on their
concepts philosophes has brought various concepts and theories for education. To evaluate
Plato and his work Jean-Jacques Rousseau said in his book Emile: Or, On Education ‘To get a
good idea of public education, read Plato’s Republic. It is not a political treatise, as those who
merely judge books by their title think, but it is the finest, most beautiful work on education
ever written.’ On the other hand to evaluate Aristotle’s contribution Jonathan Barnes (1982)
says ‘No man before him had contributed so much as to learning. No man after could hope to
rival his achievement.’

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