Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Plato's Republic and Types of Colleges

In Plato's Republic Book 8 and following, Plato describes the five types of cities and souls:

The Aristocracy: the rule of goodness
The Timocracy: the rule of honor
The Oligarchy: the rule of wealth
The Democracy: the rule of the masses
The Tyrrany: the rule of the tyrant

We think that American Universities and Colleges can fit into these type as well.

The Aristocratic university is literally one that is ruled by Goodness itself, as Plato puts it, when we see the Good, it "is also inferred to be the universal author of all things beautiful and right, parent of light and of the lord of light in this visible world, and the immediate source of reason and truth in the intellectual; and that this is the power upon which he who would act rationally either in public or private life must have his eye fixed."

We at San Elijo College believe that our students can see the Good! And that seeing the Good enables true success in every endeavor in life, private and public. Our graduates can even put that on their resumes! e.g. Skills: Able to see the Good and act rationally.

Are there any Aristocratic universities left? We believe that there are a few, and San Elijo College stands with them on this.

The second type of school is a Timocratic one. This school values honor. Honor is a real value, but it is not the sole value, and as Lewis puts it in the Abolition of Man, when you isolate one value from all the others within the natural law, you can swell it to madness in its isolation. Publications, research grants, presentations at academic conferences, tenure, great football or basketball teams, fancy buildings, a good reputation, high rankings in US News and World report; all of these things are honorable. But the cannot be the sole values for a college. Without objectivity of value, these things are hollow.

The third type of college is a Oligarchic one. This school values money. It encourages its students, as Plato puts it to make "reason and spirit sit down on the ground obediently on either side of their sovereign, and [teaches] them to know their place, he compels the one to think only of how lesser sums may be turned into larger ones, and will not allow the other to worship and admire anything but riches and rich men, or to be ambitious of anything so much as the acquisition of wealth and the means of acquiring it." These colleges emphasize only the acquisition of wealth and focus their energies solely on their student's ability to do so.

The fourth type of college is the Democratic one. This school values, well everything equally. Relativists U! Plato says, "if anyone says to him that some pleasures are the satisfactions of good and noble desires, and others of evil desires, and that he ought to use and honor some, and chastise and master the others -- whenever this is repeated to him he shakes his head and says that they are all alike, and that one is as good as another ... life has neither law nor order; and this distracted existence he terms joy and bliss and freedom." This is reflected in the curricular irrationality of the majority of American universities and in most dormitories on a typical weekend. Colleges have always been places for the young to be young, but only the recent moral relativism in higher education allows for the approbation of all conduct and thought as equally praiseworthy.

The final type of college is the Tyrannical one. The Tyranny is of course, for Plato with respect to the city the rule of one from the masses at the expense of all others, e.g. Kim Jung Il. We are not sure if there are any tyrannical colleges today; individual departments at schools, maybe, but we have not slid this far down in higher ed today. We seem to have mostly oligarchic and democratic schools today. Plato, however, seems to think that the slide from democracy to tyranny is an easy, wide and natural downhill road.

San Elijo College seeks to stem this drift by focusing the minds of our faculty and students on the Good, the True and the Beautiful.

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