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6.4: Gifted Students and the Sophists

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    See 491a-497a. Socrates considers the problem posed by what educators nowadays call “gifted and talented” students, young people of great potential who learn with ease what others struggle over. These gifted students, having been identified as children, are flattered to the point of smugness and trained while still young in the arts of persuasion and leadership. Instead of learning to philosophize, they turn to the sophists, to people like Thrasymachus, who in the end teach nothing “other than the convictions that the masses hold when they are gathered together.” Socrates likens this to someone “learning the passions and appetites of a huge, strong beast that he is rearing – how to approach it and handle it, when it is most difficult to deal with or most docile and what makes it so, what sounds it utters in either condition, and what tones of voice soothe or anger it. . . . Knowing nothing in reality about which of these convictions or appetites is fine or shameful, good or bad, just or unjust, he uses all these terms in conformity with the great beast’s beliefs – calling the things it enjoys good and the things that anger it bad.” The result of this sort of education is a person who, though “brimming with pretention and empty, senseless pride,” nevertheless wields political power. What the gifted student needs is a teacher who gently tells him the truth, “that he has no sense, although he needs it, and that it cannot be acquired unless he works like a slave to attain it.” What he needs is philosophy. But he turns away, leaving philosophy “desolate and unwed,” to be claimed by “worthless little men” with “cramped and spoiled” souls and no true love of wisdom. It is no wonder philosophy has a bad reputation.

    • Is what is taught as political science in today’s colleges and universities valuable? If so, for what?

    • What characteristics suit a person well to having his or her attention turned to forms such as beauty or justice?

    • What is a good way to bring to someone’s attention that he or she lacks any real understanding of beauty or of justice?

    • Should gifted students receive an education different in kind from that provided to ordinary students? If so, how?

    This page titled 6.4: Gifted Students and the Sophists is shared under a CC BY license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Douglas Drabkin.

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