Democracy Liberal Education

The Balancing Act of a Whole Person

Tonight, all our Freshmen will read and discuss the final book, Book X, of Plato’s Republic. Way back in Book III, Socrates and his companions kicked out poets from their idealized city on the grounds that they tell falsehoods about the gods and about other important things. Now Socrates worries that might have been hasty. He admits that poets might be allowed back—if only they can show their positive contribution to the life of the city.

Centuries later, the German poet, historian, playwright, and philosopher Friedrich Schiller took on this challenge. In his Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man, he tried to show that human beings exist in a constant state of tension between Reason and Sensation, Thought and Feeling, Logic and Intuition.

Without poets and artists, he argued, to keep us in touch with our receptive, sensitive, and imaginative side, we run the risk of becoming unfeeling logic-choppers, always looking to the bottom line of our deductive calculations. This makes us one-sided and partial.

We need both Thought and Feeling to be whole. On the bark of human aspiration, Imagination is the captain; Reason is the pilot. Both have to work together in cooperative tension if we are going to get anywhere worth going. This is the balancing act of a whole person.

So every city absolutely needs poets, artists, and imagineers, because they show us how to reach higher, helping us to become better human beings—and thus better citizens of all the republics in which we live.