Education: The Rational Kernel of the Platonic Corpus

This is part of 1 of a 5 part series of lessons on what is education in Plato and thus, what is education. This is drawn up from the book on this. Most people haven’t read it.

After all, my greatest pleasure comes from philosophical conversation, even if I’m only a listener, whether or not I think it will be to my advantage. All other talk, especially the talk of rich businessmen like you, bores me to tears, and I’m sorry for you and your friends because you think your affairs are important when really they’re totally trivial. Perhaps, [d] in your turn, you think I’m a failure, and, believe me, I think that what you think is true. But as for all of you, I don’t just think you are failures—I know it for a fact.

Lesson 1. Introduction and general overview of the corpus with regard to this question of an education by truths.

In a real sense, the Platonic corpus founds the history of western education; what education might be thought as. At its heart is this division between sophistry (education by opinion) and what is not sophistry (education by truths).

From the first lines of the Apology, where Socrates distinguishes himself from the sophist orators, to the last lines of the Laws, where after a long an interminable discussion they resolve to take up the question of education again, should it be necessary, the working out of this division is central.

As we will see, this centrality is made plain in the Apology where Socrates, on trial for his life is singled out as the only Athenian who does not educate.

All the Athenians, it seems, make the young into fine good men, except me, and I alone corrupt them. Is that what you mean?

[Meletus] That is most definitely what I mean.

This is the key to his trial – he corrupts because he does not educate. It’s clear he does something, which is why he is on trial but the central critical accusation is that he is not an educator.

NOW: This means education is thought by the Athenian gentlemen, his accusers one and all, as existing and being of a particular form. In other words it is known!

The rest of the dialogues trace in reverse so to speak the accusation against Socrates. They re-stage the charges, they retry them. Plato shows a Socratic non-sophistic education at work. Which is to say, a corruption of a corruption.

This is what makes an analysis of Plato contemporary rather than anachronistic or historical. To intervene in the Platonic dialogues is to expose something of the contemporary situation, wherein the struggles over the uses and abuses of education for life simmer underneath the assumed, rarely remarked, knowledge of what it is. The consequences of Plato are for us.

The history of Platonic scholarship, as distinct from the history of philosophy, from the nineteenth century on has wrestled with a series of ‘relations’ prevalent in the dialogues: those between Plato and Socrates; between the Athens that condemned Socrates and the Athens he fought for and whose laws he dutifully followed; between the Republic as ideal city and as blueprint for a Platonic politics; between the sophist and philosopher; between forms and appearance; between the discursive and the poetic; between mathematics and debate; and so on. These relations and their variations have been staples of the last century or so of Plato studies and, as part of the tradition of ‘footnotes to Plato’, have influenced the history of philosophy itself.

In this vein, the contemporary Plato scholar Terence Irwin has noted that the problems generated by these relations are difficult to track because Plato’s work, Irwin claims, is ‘unsystematic’. He considers the dialogues to present a series of questions that go mostly unanswered. He argues that Plato deals only with discrete philosophical problems in one-off conversations: while the same problem may return in another dialogue, it will not necessarily be treated the same way; indeed, if some are to be believed, the orientation to the problem will change entirely. For Irwin, somewhat despairingly, yet at the same time in line with a notion cherished by some, the dialogues are read as questions that provoke only more questions. Irwin claims that, as the dialogues do not constitute a system, they are not philosophy in the sense that one might understand the work of Kant, Hegel and Aristotle.

As we will see, for Plato, as he never tires of arguing, what is at stake in (his) Socratic discourse is not ‘an academic quibble’ but a ‘way of life’. As such, education is fundamental, constitutive and ongoing. However, if it is not by truths, that is to say, ‘tied down’ such that it is in place and for all time, it is like the statues of Daedalus forever shifting position the better to accommodate the demands of perspective (Euthphr. 11b+; Men. 97e+)…

In other words, where the history of Platonic scholarship – as distinct from the history of philosophy – has seen the problems posed in the dialogues in terms of the category of relations and, as such, ultimately irreconcilable without recourse to some form of transcendence, Plato conceives of these problems in terms of division: divisions whose non-relation must be traversed.

This is the essence of his concept of participation – the rigorous and formal procedure of establishing the truth of non-relation subject to the conditions of its emergence. In Plato, in philosophy, paraphrasing Badiou, to think the situation is to ‘stage an impossible relation’ and establish it affirmatively ‘as the negation of all relations’. I’ll be coming back to ideas like this.

As such ‘the only education, an education by truths’ is that which proceeds, step by step and formally, from the point of the immanent, existing division or non-relation between that which is and that which is not – the latter, as Plato attests in the Sophist, being no less real than the former.

This is contrary to sophistry, sophistry as inheritor of the poetic tradition. Sophistry Plato shows, and in its own terms, is predicated on relations that are linguistically constructed, whose presence is poetically attested, whose being is not at all tied down, and that accords ultimately with particular interests and that therefore cannot constitute a way of life (R. 600b).

What is lacking in sophistry – a lack certain aspects of Platonic scholarship reproduce – is precisely the decision for such a ‘way of life’. Significantly, sophistry, at all times, prides itself on this very lack and insofar as sophistry, rhetorically, establishes itself as in dissent from traditional authority, it has the appearance or semblance of a radical virtue. Thus, not way of life but ‘life-style’.

This appearance, which signifies precisely its lack of truth, and thus, ultimately, its coincidence with the ‘state’ (Plato is explicit about this) is exactly what prompts Alain Badiou to say – and in the context of education – that ‘when one abdicates universality, one obtains universal horror’ (TS 197).

It is on the presumption of the former, a presumption that is constitutive, that the state works its ‘inclusive’ pedagogical regimes, training the youth in an interest in interest. The clash, to put it at its most basic, is between universalism or the rigorous formalisation of that which is unbound from such pedagogical regimes, and a false universalism which is predicated precisely on the prohibition of un-binding – which is to say, known relations. This can be said as the Republic against the Homeric or, if you like, the break or division against repetition.

The entire problem, then, is not so much an opposition between a non-sophistic and a sophistic education but in establishing the real break between an education for all as the immanent realisation of that which a collective is capable, and the determination, by default, of its impossibility.

Among contemporary Plato scholars Gregory Vlastos continues to hold a pre-eminent position. As Alexander Nehamas and Debra Nails contend, whether contemporary analytic scholars agree or disagree with Vlasto’s findings, they are in a real sense all conditioned by his formulation of what is called the problem of Socrates. Two points coalesce in Vlastos’ work to give his Platonism an ultimately anti-Platonic force: He resolutely separates a ‘Socratic’ from a ‘Platonic’ discourse. Linked to this determination is an equally resolute, though not necessarily conceptually consistent, chronological or developmental ordering of the dialogues such that we have ‘early’, ‘middle’ and ‘late’ works of Plato. The distinguishing measure for Vlastos is, in essence, ‘how much’ Plato is in each, which is to say, what is the discernible influence of the ‘geometric paradigm’?

For Vlastos, the good Plato is the Plato who wrote Socratic dialogues wherein the voice of the master is clearly heard – the last for him or the turning point being the Gorgias; the bad Plato, the one who ushers in a political tyranny, is the Plato who succumbs, as Vlastos puts it, to the ‘seductions of mathematics’. Vlastos is very specific and identifies even the moment – 81d in the Meno.  This is the point at which the axiomatic method, he says, begins to take hold. He is right but for the wrong reasons.

I won’t be going into any of this1 but it does underpin what Plato is able to do – divide the situation, forge another and truly new trajectory oriented by this division. But this ridiculous link between the effect of mathematical discourse and political tyranny, as much as anything else, demonstrates how little Vlastos understands mathematics. By which we mean that ‘mathematics thinks’ (TW, 50), and, moreover, the philosophy established on the basis of its existence as a discourse which is not bound by opinion. Indeed, that mathematics is not opinion (and in a related context, not subject to the a priori laws of logic) is the crux of the problem for Vlastos.

Let’s just note that in history almost every tyrant has been a poet and none, as far as I have seen, have been mathematicians. The doctrine of unfair shares is necessarily foreign to mathematics. So really one of the preeminent Plato scholars must disavow what Plato has brought to bear in philosophy – the interruption of the poem and as such sophistic discourse by mathematics – given the latter is not reducible to linguistics or opinions etc. That it exists as a discourse forces its consideration in these terms. In other words, Vlastos has to be considered a sophist. And there are brilliant sophists.

Conceptually speaking, the radical imposture of sophistry is predicated on the conceit regarding the inexistence of the incommensurable or the indiscernible – that two separate elements exist that no knowledge can differentiate.

By contrast and because of what mathematics thinks, for the non-sophistic discourse of Plato, incommensurability, as he demonstrates formally in Meno in concert with the slave boy – another inexistent figure – the sole criterion for thought. Upon this, one must decide and so begin to think – not simply to ‘know’. In the Sophist and the Statesman, this fundamental division which is not ultimately reducible to knowledge is at issue in indiscerning the philosopher from out of sophistry and the statesman from out of politics – the question of the philosopher is tied up closely in the question of being – that what is not being also be, and thus the division in being.

From a Platonic point of view, then, it is necessary to break with sophistry and, in trying to think what is education in Plato and for today, with those aspects of Platonic scholarship which are themselves coincident with such sophistry. Plato’s fundamental claim, a claim that links the entirety of the dialogues, is that ‘non-sophistry is possible’.

Ok I am not going to say anything much about contemporary anti-platonism. Everyone pretty much knows that since Nietzsche, Plato has been in one way or another anathema. This is not to say there are also not all sorts of appropriations as well – but these too hardly do justice to Plato’s corpus.

Following Badiou’s diagnosis we can say there are three predominant ‘philosophical’ tendencies derived from this anti-Platonist collective: (1) the hermeneutic tendency, whose central concept is interpretation; (2) the analytic, whose concept is the ‘rule’; and (3) the postmodern, concerned with the deconstruction of totalities in favour of the diverse and the multiple.

What they have in common is a commitment to language, its capacities, rules and diversity such that language is the ‘great transcendental of our times’ (IT, 46). The obvious consequence is a commitment to the end of metaphysics and thus philosophy since Plato (IT, 45–6). Plato thus marks the point of an inception that must be reversed. Contemporary ‘philosophy’ or anti-Platonism, effectively ‘puts the category of truth on trial’ (IT, 46).

Now this has had consequences across the board – these various philosophical positions – especially the end of the concept of truth and the imposition of language as the measure of all things – and especially so in thinking of education. Truth has been associated with authority and the re-measure of all things with resistance of some sort.  This was the same in Athens of Socrates time, as we will see.

However, the virtue of Plato’s Socrates from the beginning was not to join one side or the other but to propose that both choices might be worse. A consequence of the Socratic intervention is to show that these two opposed positions share more than they know – and this is the primary reason everyone hates Plato. But the key is that he shows us the way out of this straight jacket of knowledge by subtracting from what it does not know.

So, basically, education, as established in and by the Platonic corpus, cannot be in accord with the state of things. That it follows an interventionist, radically subtractive trajectory, one that displaces and a-voids the mere transmission of established knowledge and the repetitious meanderings of the state, and the brutal yet arbitrary determinations its (lack of) knowledge prescribes, supporting instead the invention of a new form of thought.

This is what Plato demonstrates as what is education and what we will cover over the course of these lessons. It’s not a search for ultimate meaning, nor an exercise in definition, comparison and contrast, and not set out to offer an immanent or transcendental critique of the Platonic position set against some other assumption or philosophical enterprise – whether productive or reductive, announced or denied.

Following this, we present the points, movements, spaces, breaks and aporias of the actual subjective trajectory demonstrated in the dialogues: to affirm that which is there, central to the corpus but has hitherto remained at best at the margins of scholarship.

A set of points or questions that the rest of the lectures will take up.

7. What the corpus seeks to establish? In other words, what is the truth of the Platonic corpus?

6. How is this truth of the corpus established and against or without what?

5. What is it in the dialogues that supports the former – the truth of the corpus – and sustains the interruption of, or break with, the latter?

4. What prescriptions, what declarations of principle, orient this process?

3.On what basis are these declarations made and in whose name?

2. To what do these declarations refer? What encounter do they supplement?

1. What within the dialogues marks the possibility for the transformation signalled by the very movement sketched in these questions, from Socratic encounter to the truth of the corpus?

In his last dialogue, the Laws, Plato makes a remark that directly expresses what we contend is at stake for Plato across the entirety of his corpus.

He claims that what usually passes for education in any state, the teaching of skills for commercial prowess, technical skills which serve the whims of interest and power, or a training in debate which might ensure the subject a reputable place within the polis, does not ‘deserve the name’ of education.

These ‘teachings’, as Plato cynically refers to them in Protagoras (Prt. 313d), are a training which lacks wisdom or truth. It is not to say these skills have no use in the maintenance of the polis, constituted as it is, but that these teachings establish habit at the expense of decision, and rule at the expense of reason (cf. R. 492–4). Plato in no way considers this sophistic education nothing. Indeed, within the confines of the state it is practically everything. Sophistry, for Plato, and especially insofar as it sometimes realises what he calls ‘right opinion’, is an obstacle to truth that cannot simply be dispensed with, but must be worked through.

Returning to the Laws, then, in non-cynical fashion, Plato continues that whenever we see education traduced in such a manner and reduced to functioning as a servant of state interests, interests for whom truth is an irrelevance to the practicalities of power and pleasure, we must do all we can to (re)establish education’s proper form. In other words, we must establish education’s fundamental constitution.

Consequently, Plato continues, education should nowhere be despised, for when combined with great virtue, it is an asset of incalculable value. If it ever becomes corrupt, but can be put right again, this is a lifelong task which everyone should undertake to the limit of his strength (L. 644a–b).

In Platonic terms, education is only education if it is rigorously non-sophistic: if it is ‘something other than opinion’. Opinion in the extensive sense of ‘known knowledge.’

To this end, the argument we pursue is that Plato’s corpus unfolds from within itself an education by truths, a radical transformation, and that the corpus entire, which we can call the ‘subtractive, inventive institution’ of a non-sophistic discourse, provides this thought with its form.  

To think the corpus this way requires already a bit of a different orientation. The way to do this is to elaborate the trajectory of this thought in terms of its very invention: to read the corpus in terms of its operation rather than coming to it as a fully formed sovereign set of concepts and categories.

In other words we follow Plato as he invents the corpus as the retrial of Socrates and so from the perspective of truth and not opinion. From the trial and death of Socrates the only non-educator, Plato subtracts the life of Socrates as an educator by truths. we literally watch this life of truth take place. So that's the orientation.

For Plato, if what the sophistic situation of Athens presents is not education, even though it dominates the use of this name, we should thereby extend all efforts to realising the (unknown) truth of this name.

So, consistent with the Socratic claim to ignorance – to not know what the sophist knows – we can say that, with this statement, Plato recognises that in the ‘state of the Athenian situation’ there is the lack of a non- sophistic education.

Now, for Plato, this is the universal condition for education in the Athenian situation. Education is therefore: universal in its address and founded on an equal yet, within the sophistic Athenian state, unknown capacity for reason.

By contrast, for the sophist, and this is what Plato calls his ‘conceit’ there is no lack of knowledge. Ultimately, this is because, for the sophistic-state, true knowledge is predicated on interest. All knowledge is therefore in one form or another adequate to one’s interest and – so the great sophistic maxim of relative interests contends – one is never not interested in interest.


Of all things the measure is Man, of the things that are, that they are and of the thing that are not, that they are not’ . (Plato mocks this in Theatetus, saying, ‘why man? why nor pigs or baboons?’)

So across the corpus it is Socrates, the only ‘non-sophist’ who shows no interest in ‘interest’, in the state of Athens (which is to say, for Athens itself, the singular figure of corruption) which marks the point of this ‘lack’. As noted, in the Apology, Socrates is told that he alone does not educate (Ap. 25a). At the very beginning of the same dialogue Socrates points out that he is a sophist but ‘not after their pattern’ and precisely because he speaks the truth (Ap. 17b).

To go a little further, the immanent lack of which Socrates, for ‘sophistic-Athens’, is the name becomes, under the force of the Platonic trajectory, the very ‘local’ mark of the transformative and universal capacity inherent in a ‘non-sophistic education’. It is in this way that the name and the figure of Socrates is the key to Plato’s education and to why the latter holds it must be by truths.

A non-sophistic education is the central goal pursued by Plato across the corpus, and secondly, that this goal is still to be pursued today. After all the Laws ends with the ‘Athenian’ proposing to return to the question of education all over again should it be required (L. 969a). The implication is clear: it is and will be required.


So I just want to mark how this principled division insists at the heart of the philosophical tradition and give the quickest description possible of how this division operates within several influential figures in the tradition – the diversity of their approach highlights what is at stake for us in Plato – who first opens up this division for thought.

Aristotle, despite his rejection of Plato’s concept of Form – a rejection whose influence on scholasticism Descartes will in turn reject – recognises nevertheless that truths are in ‘immanent rivalry’ to the state. Any state, that is, where truth has no place. Aristotle argues that, even as education is known to be what supports the perseverance of any regime, correct or incorrect, good or bad (i.e. in accord or discord with ‘nature’), any education by truths, in Aristotle’s sense, requires a state which accords truth (happiness) its highest achievement, and any such state is the realisation of a truthful procedure – the realisation through practical reason of the truth of one’s nature.

Augustine’s own re-education is predicated on a break with the education that led him to a position in the state. After his ‘event style’ awakening, he formally articulates the division as between ‘rhetorical splendour’ and ‘what is actually said’. In this way, education presented itself to Augustine as a philosophical problem in its own right. It became a question of transformation and not merely of transmission – from belief to understanding. Augustine not only comes to think education non-sophistically, he embodies its movement – literally and textually.2

Descartes, not dissimilarly, establishes a deductive and meditative method whose consequences demonstrate that a real break with Aristotelian logicism – disputatio, ‘the schoolmen’ – has taken place. The ‘logic of the schools’, for Descartes, is ‘nothing but a dialectic which teaches ways of expounding to others what one already knows or even of holding forth without judgement about things one does not know’. In rejecting all forms of the authority of the senses, all that one already presumes to know (and pretends to) –adequately, experientially – Descartes also rejects all that he has learned hitherto. To doubt again the entirety of what one is taught is to break with the ‘dubiousness of the whole superstructure’ and begin again ‘from the very foundations’.

Even Hobbes, steeped as he is in the dominant form of education of his day (he is a pedagogue and teacher of rhetoric to rich youth), nevertheless contends that the Socratic-cum-Pauline ideal of subtractive, subjective enquiry (‘a free education freely given and freely taken’) is education. As such, an education predicated on the immanent distinction between free enquiry – something unseen in the contemporary university, he claimed, controlled as it was by ‘the heathen politician and the deceiving priests alike’ – and common opinion. That is, free enquiry into common opinion. Thus, if opinion is the discourse on what is common, it is not the ‘truth of commonality’. The latter is the critical factor in Hobbes’ ‘social contract’.3

For Spinoza, joy is the word for right education and is to be understood in terms of a movement of a body from a lesser to a greater activity – from imagination to intellect. This ‘transformation’ is not predicated on a particular knowledge. On the contrary, for Spinoza, there is no knowledge a priori of that which a body is capable. Its capabilities will have been realised in regard to what such a body encounters. What is lacking in any individual is not capacity but precisely the encounter that breaks with the established limits of knowledge and that offers the real possibility of transformation, a transformation whereby the fictive currency of day-to-day living is stripped of its representational power.4

Leibniz is paradigmatic for this debate, for in a real sense he embodies the sophist/non-sophist division. On the one hand, he is ‘faithful’ to the Platonic notion of the intelligible, its link to the universal and its dialectical relation to the apparent or ‘manifest particular’, thus rationally comprehending the distinction between two educative regimes. On the other, he is a courtier par excellence, assuming the political state of things as they are, attempting with all his skill to make his way within this state, and, as an educator himself, seeking to bring enlightenment to those who rule rather than to have rule itself subject to enlightenment. Nevertheless, Leibniz philosophically – and this is where his true educational effect lay – understood that the truth of the subject lay in its capacity for thought. For Leibniz, the subject is the site of the dialectical passage between politics (the state and its functions), on the one hand, and caritas on the other. Education is what circulates between them, via this subject who comes into being as such through this dialectic. The truly educated subject is enlightened by reason, Leibniz claims, only insofar as the expression of this reason takes the form of caritas – or giving without ‘interest’ (Grace, in Pauline terms). For Leibniz (despite his personal interests of course), education, after the Platonic fashion, was only ‘by truths’ and thus ‘for all’.

On the face of it, Nietzsche is no disciple of Plato. Nevertheless, he situates an education by truths in the division of the philosophical act. For Nietzsche, what a true educator does is to liberate. Rather than this being revealed as some form of narcissistic self-realisation, for Nietzsche it was something one came to, something set higher over and above the situation which one inhabited at the day-to-day level – the self as subject we might say. Nietzsche explicitly affirms education against what he sees passing for education under direction of the state. The state, he says, is ‘a mystagogue of culture, and while it advances its purposes, it compels each of its servants to appear before it only with the torch of universal state education in their hands: in whose restless light they are supposed to recognise again it itself as the highest goal, as the reward of all their educational exertions.’ What the state requires is ‘a speedy education so that one may quickly become a money earning being’. By contrast, Nietzsche contends:

your true educators and formative teachers reveal to you that the true, original meaning and basic stuff of your nature is something completely incapable of being educated or formed and is in any case difficult of access, bound and paralysed.

Thus education is the realisation of an immanent and unknown capacity. For Nietzsche (who on this point is gladly a sophist), this pertains to the individual against the state, while for Plato, for whom, constitutionally, the individual and the collective coincide in the Idea, what is unbound from the state is ‘for all’.5

Concerning Lacan, an avowed ‘anti-philosopher’ it suffices for our purposes to note his contention that the ‘university discourse’ is the contemporary pretender to the ‘discourse of the master’. In Lacan’s articulation of the ‘four discourses’ – Master, University, Hysteric and Analyst – the University discourse dominates when ‘knowledge’ occupies the place of power or when knowledge, its ‘construction’ and ‘transmission’ determine the form of the social bond.

Whereas in the Master’s discourse the master struggles to appropriate the surplus (value and/or jouissance) inherent to the work of the slave – the slave having been put to work as slave by the master – in the University discourse ‘neutral’ or ‘objective’ knowledge signifi es both the direction of the subject – subject to this social bond (the subject of such knowledge is divided between the knower and the ‘student’) – and, in turn, the necessity of appropriating all new knowledge to its ‘hegemonic’ discursive control. Its field is the ‘encyclopaedia’, the rationalisation of all knowledge. Ultimately, this is done for the sake of the master. In classical (and dare we say) philosophical form, Lacan reaffirms and reinvigorates, the constitutive division between truth – impotent, yet existent, as that which will have interrupted the ‘social bond’ – and knowledge. Knowledge, as such, is not all there is.

Given the ubiquity of this division in the history of philosophy, these names are essentially arbitrary. We know, for example, that Kant, with his concern for the faculties, was constrained by this; Schopenhauer was explicit in his contention that the modern academician was a sophistic character chastened to pursue reward – victory in Plato’s sense – over truth; Hegel argued that the very possibility of speculative philosophy was at stake in such division. The same refrain runs through the history of philosophical enquiry, German, French and English, continental and analytic.

What we see, then, in all of the aforementioned thinkers is, despite their extraordinary differences, a just as extraordinary conviction that a true education must go beyond what is best for the state.

And this true education is not a reconciliation either but the insistence of this division.

Plato founds his philosophical institution, the Republic, by this division. Since Kant, perhaps, this division has been reproduced within the Academy qua faculties but only for the purposes of avowing its lack. Secondly, we should note that, as philosophy already had no place within the Athenian sophistic state, Plato founded the Academy outside the city walls. Again, the post-Academy Academy has hitherto found itself well within the state walls even as it carries within it this foundational division.

It becomes possible to suggest that education is the foundational theme of the corpus, in that every problem tackled in the dialogues, each conversation, each intervention by Plato in the predominantly sophistic terrain of politics, art, being or love is directed towards the problem of an education by truths. We can then demonstrate that despite the variations of Plato’s approach in the different dialogues – variations that give rise to anti-Platonic hopes – the goal is always the same: to undo the sophistic matrix which the Athenian state presents of itself and to insist on the primacy of truth over victory, of knowledge over opinion and of the courage to go on in pursuit of these aims rather than subordinate oneself to a way of life ruled by the sophistic character of the state.

The Platonic corpus is nothing less than ‘an education by truths’, and as a body of thought conditioned by its Socratic encounter with ‘sophistics’ in all its imitative manifestations, it reflects the immanent trajectory of ‘thought’ established singularly and over again in each dialogue.

This is the contention and it is the position that, given the contemporary conjuncture, such a thinking of the dialogues, wherein education can only be by truths and consequently cannot be the support of the state.

To put this in the form of a maxim: ‘Education consists in establishing the effects of an encounter as a transformation’.

We will see in these lessons that education is the site for this encounter; its effects are established via the Platonic intervention at this site; and the transformation of the situation in its ‘entirety’ is registered in the corpus as the ideal non-state, the Republic.


The book contains a chapter devoted to GV.


More extensively, Augustine’s re-education, amounted to a retreat from (or revolt against) the offices and recognitions of the state – important posts in Milan, the impending marriage to a well connected woman. In the Confessions he recounts how this conversion is the effect of an encounter: tellingly, with both text and child. While under the spell of Saint Anthony’s account of his time in the desert he heard a child singing ‘tolle lege,’ ‘take up and read’. He picked up the first text he saw, opened it, and read Paul’s Epistle to the Romans 13:13-14: ‘let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.’ In arguing against Emperor Julian’s edict that ‘classical education belonged to the pagans’ Augustine remarks that education like ‘the gold the Israelites took from the Egyptians’ belongs ‘not to the pagans’ (or the state we might prefer), thus did not support a particular interest, ‘but to the source of its value’.


Hobbes spent a good part of his life as a pedagogue in the service of the Earl of Devonshire, England’s richest man. He taught the scions of the Earl the ‘subversive arts’, the techniques of rhetoric ‘essential’ for young men who were going, ‘by accident of birth’, to play a major role in the councils of the kingdom’. Tuck reports in praiseworthy terms the fact that English universities – Oxford and Cambridge – were ‘educating’ ‘one in fifty’ of the English male youth by 1630. This can of course be taken in several ways depending on one’s assumptions regarding what education is: One can, as Tuck does, consider it worthy of surprise and praise; as lamentable in that it was too few in number or, as barely relevant except insofar as it reconfirms the form of the social bond education helps to cement, where right education leads to ‘influence’ in the state.


Spinoza’s own biography as a ‘renegade’ is well known. As a philosophical figure he conforms – if this is what it is – to the Socratic prescription of the Phaedo: to wit, the operation particular to the philosopher is essentially that of separation (‘the desire to free the soul from the body is only found among the philosophers’) (Phd, 67d). In this dialogue Socrates explicitly instructs his followers that to pursue philosophy is to take ones leave from the interests of the city. It is not that one decides to take ones leave from the city but that in deciding for philosophy one leaves the interests of the city step by step as it were. Spinoza’s own early encounter with the Cartesian and Atheist philosopher Frans van den Enden, a man forbidden to propagate his teachings in the city, is suggestive in this context. Thus the mind for Spinoza, that which ‘experiences’ the joy of its bodily movement is in turn the very idea of the ‘imaginative’ body – an  idea of an  idea in fact. Spinoza’s subtle variation on the classical theme is that it is not the imagination per se which limits the intellect and thus that which the intellect must oppose, but it is the limits of the imagination itself which cause the failure of true intellection. For Spinoza, these limits carry over into language and therein take representational form. Yet the latter cannot yield a rational form (hence the return to geometry). Spinoza says that those unable to form ‘rational fictions’ (‘truths’ in essence) beyond these limits, which is to say, those captured by representation alone are not wise but ignorant. Echoing Plato, Spinoza says the ignorant are those who receive their ‘fictions’ from others. Cf. ‘Could anything show a more shameful lack of education than to have so little justice in oneself that one must get it from others, who thus become masters and judges over one?’ (R. 405a).


Nietzsche goes on to connect this subordination of all education to the state to Hegelian philosophy; ‘yea, it would perhaps be no exaggeration to say that, in the subordination of all strivings after education to reasons of State, Prussia has appropriated, with success, the principle and the useful heirloom of the Hegelian philosophy, whose apotheosis of the State in this subordination certainly reaches its height.’ Nietzsche, for once echoing Rousseau, is explicit in saying that it is not only the manufactured desire of individuals but also the greed of the state which demands that all energies be directed toward serving the interests of the existing institutions. To put it bluntly, what the state educated for, Nietzsche said, was against life.