Letter: Socratic road to political wisdom

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The Independent Online
Socratic road to political wisdom

Sir: Further to the suggestion that philosophy should be taught in schools, and to Nicolas Walter's response (letter, 5 May) that such education would reduce participation in the democratic process, a distinction needs to be drawn between possible approaches to the teaching of philosophy.

It is true that presenting to students the self-defeating scepticism of much modern philosophy would lead to the cynicism which is increasingly apparent in voting statistics. But if teachers were to return to the ancient philosophers, the effect would be the reverse: for the great philosophers of antiquity such as Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus and Porphyry thought that their task was to address the perennial problems which beset human beings in their attempt to live the just life and to obtain happiness.

In Plato's Republic it is pointed out that the attractions of the life of the mind would discourage true philosophers from participating in political affairs. But Socrates has shown that a fine will be levied upon all those who have approached wisdom and will not enter politics - the fine of being ruled by ignorant men - and that will ensure that philosophers will indeed fulfil their political duty for their country.

The greatest good we could offer our school children is the confidence and encouragement to pursue wisdom.


Frome, Somerset