Aristotle and Ancient Educational Ideals, Thomas Davidson
Aristotle and Ancient Educational Ideals
Thomas Davidson
7:41 h Ideas Lvl 10.21
Thomas Davidson (1840 – 1900) was a Scottish-American philosopher and lecturer. He preferred to identify his philosophy as apeirotheism, an appellation he defined as "a theory of Gods infinite in number." The theory was indebted to Aristotle's pluralism and his concepts of the soul and Nous. Aristotle's "soul" is the rational, living aspect of a living substance and cannot exist apart from the body because it is not a substance, but rather an essence; Nous is rational thought and understanding. Davidson argued that Aristotle's Nous identified God with rational thought, and that God could not exist apart from the world just as the Aristotlean soul could not exist apart from the body. Thus Davidson grounded an immanent Emersonian World Soul in a sophisticated Aristotelian metaphysics. "Aristotle and Ancient Educational Ideals" was published in 1892.

Ancient Educational Ideals

Thomas Davidson


In undertaking to treat of Aristotle as the expounder of ancienteducational ideas, I might, with Kapp’s Aristoteles’ Staatspaedagogikbefore me, have made my task an easy one. I might simply have presentedin an orderly way and with a little commentary, what is to be found onthe subject of education in his various works — Politics, Ethics,Rhetoric, Poetics, etc. I had two reasons, however, for not adoptingthis course: (1) that this work had been done, better than I could doit, in the treatise referred to, and (2) that a mere restatement of whatAristotle says on education would hardly have shown his relation toancient pedagogy as a whole. I therefore judged it better, by tracingbriefly the whole history of Greek education up to Aristotle and downfrom Aristotle, to show the past which conditioned his theories and thefuture which was conditioned by them. Only thus, it seemed to me, couldhis teachings be seen in their proper light. And I have found that thismethod has many advantages, of which I may mention one. It has enabledme to show the close connection that existed at all times between Greekeducation and Greek social and political life, and to present the oneas the reflection of the other. And this is no small advantage, since itis just from its relation to the whole of life that Greek educationderives its chief interest for us. We can never, indeed, return to thepurely political education of the Greeks; they themselves had to abandonthat, and, since then,

A boundless hope has passed across the earth —

a hope which gives our education a meaning and a scope far wider thanany that the State aims at; but in these days, when the State and theinstitution which embodies that hope are contending for the right toeducate, it cannot but aid us in settling their respective claims, tofollow the process by which they came to have distinct claims at all,and to see just what these mean. This process, the method which I havefollowed has, I hope, enabled me, in some degree, to bring intoclearness. This, at all events, has been one of my chief aims.

In treating of the details of Greek educational practice, I have beenguided by a desire to present only, or mainly, those which contribute tomake up the complete picture. For this reason I have omitted allreference to the training for the Olympic and other games, this (so itseems to me) being no essential part of the system.

It would have been easy for me to give my book a learned appearance, bycheckering its pages with references to ancient authors, or quotations,in the original, from them; but this has seemed to me both unnecessaryand unprofitable in a work intended for the general public. I have,therefore, preferred to place at the heads of the different chapters,in English mostly, such quotations as seemed to express, in the moststriking way, the spirit of the different periods and theories of Greekeducation. Taken together, I believe these quotations will be found topresent a fairly definite outline of the whole subject.

In conclusion, I would say that, though I have used a few modern works,such as those of Kapp and Grasberger, I have done so almost solely forthe sake of finding references. In regard to every point I believe Ihave turned to the original sources. If, therefore, my conclusions oncertain points differ from those of writers of note who have precededme, I can only say that I have tried to do my best with the originalmaterials before me. I am far from flattering myself that I have reachedthe truth in every case, and shall be very grateful for corrections, inwhatever spirit they may be offered; but I trust that I have been ableto present in their essential features, the “ancient ideals ofeducation.”


Keene, Essex Co., N.Y.
October, 1891.

Book I


Chapter I
Character And Ideal Of Greek Education

Nothing in excess! — Solon.

No citizen has a right to consider himself as belonging to himself;but all ought to regard themselves as belonging to the State,inasmuch as each is a part of the State; and care for the partnaturally looks to care for the whole. — Aristotle.

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