Literature Study GuidesPoliticsBook 8 Chapters 1 7 Summary

Politics | Study Guide

Aristotle

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The Politics | Book 8, Chapters 1–7 | Summary

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Summary

Book 8, Chapter 1

Everyone should be required to educate their youth. Youth should be educated in the character of the regime, and education should be the same for all because each citizen is an important part of the city.

Book 8, Chapter 2

Cities should enact legislation ensuring consistent education. Anyone who has a child should pay particular attention to virtue. Parents may train their children in different ways, depending on their own ideas about virtue, but subsequent education should emphasize the importance of commonality. Aristotle notes, "Since there is but one aim for the entire state, it follows that education must be one and the same for all, and that the responsibility for it must be a public one, not the private affair which it now is, each man looking after his own children and teaching them privately whatever private curriculum he thinks they ought to study." All tasks should center on pursuing virtue; vulgar tasks make humans useless. Those who have skills can continue past proficiency; others should focus on proficiency. For instance, those who discover they are very skilled as philosophers should continue their education. But those who are merely adequate at philosophy should not proceed beyond the basics.

Book 8, Chapter 3

There are four general categories of education: letters, gymnastics, music, and drawing. Music may be the least important of these because it can be merely pleasurable, but there is a time and place for play and relaxation in society. Some subjects should be taught not because they are useful but because they can lead to other skills or pursuits. This is why education in arts and poetry is so important. Mastering the habits of learning must precede education focused on reason.

Book 8, Chapter 4

Some parents force their children to be too athletic, which can damage their bodies. Some train their children to kill; this is not human virtue but rather animal behavior. People should not be lax when raising children. Until children reach puberty, they should perform lighter exercises; after puberty their capacity grows. Children should not exert mind and body at the same time.

Book 8, Chapter 5

As discussed earlier, people have many opinions about music. Is it a virtue or a vice? Aristotle believes music instruction is worthwhile. Music is not a leisure pursuit but a skill. Many people think of it as a leisure pursuit because it is pleasant. Children should be educated in music because it is not a vice even though it brings pleasure. Music can inspire, build courage, and lift the soul. Students should study only art that is moral. Some types of music soften minds. Students shouldn't focus on this music; instead they should study music that improves character.

Book 8, Chapter 6

Children should learn to perform and share their knowledge so they can later serve as judges. Some critique music because they believe it makes people vulgar, but Aristotle points out that anything can become vulgar; high-quality teaching prevents this. Flutes should not be used in education, nor should other similarly professional instruments; instead, students should learn basics. Even when cities have more leisure time for such pursuits, virtuous cities find ways to remain virtuous.

Book 8, Chapter 7

Harmonies and rhythms can be an important part of education. Tunes reflect different characteristics; only moral tunes should be used. Some harmonies teach children about organizing and finding order, and all harmonies reflect the importance of relaxation. Certain tunes are used only in the theater and are not useful in education. Theater audiences include both the educated and uneducated; viewers derive various pleasures, depending on their background. Individuals should do only what is appropriate for them and their standing in society.

Analysis

In Aristotle's view, the child is as an immature being with the capacity to become a mature adult; thus, educators must provide the support children need to follow their normal course. Aristotle's ideas contrast with the modern view of childhood as a series of stages, a view particularly embraced by Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget (1896–1980). However, Aristotle's views held sway for centuries, and his belief that education should be legislators' "object above all" has remained relevant.

In his study, Aristotle focuses on those allowed to be educated at the time: males who are non-slaves. Because he believes citizens belong to the city, he considers education in terms of how it can foster good citizenship. To his mind, education is vital to developing noble citizens and future leaders. Education can instill the importance of virtue and develop standards for virtue. It can also instill critical thinking and cooperation—valuable skills for the good citizen.

Aristotle focuses on the main subjects taught in his time: letters (reading and writing), gymnastics, music, and drawing. He suggests an order for introducing these skills; for instance, gymnastics should be taught to very young children because it will instill good habits. Students may not excel at all subjects, but their education should be well rounded so they learn all necessary skills.

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