Comments on Matthew Arnold's "Philistinism in England and America" In his essay, "Philistinism in England and America," Matthew Arnold examines the ancient ideas of Plato in the context of a twentieth century, capitalist society. As he agrees with almost all of what Plato had to say, he also admits that he is outdated, and that some of his teachings cannot be applied to us, living in an industrial superpower such as the United States. Still, though, Arnold defends the ancient philosopher. Education as a route to mental and physical righteousness is always a good idea, whether it is in modern America or Ancient Greece. I disagree with this, and it is here that I must contest the writings of Plato, as well as the essay by Arnold, for he is definitely a strong backer of the ancient ideals.
In Plato's mind, the value of an education is to clear one's mind of impure thought, bring it to a higher lever than at the start, and attain a certain level of righteousness.
This may have been a good idea 2300 years ago, but today, I see it as very limiting and impractical. In his time, only the rich aristocrats went to school. It's purpose was not for the students to learn skills or ideas that would help them later in life, but to expand their minds, thus making them into 'better people.' There was no need for them to learn any job skills. Back then, if you came from a rich family, you were rich. Working at simple jobs was for the peasants and slaves. Today, life is different. Our society is completely unlike that of the ancient Greeks. We have no caste system limiting the wealth and prominence of any citizen, we have no slavery to handle all the manual labor, our army is proportionately smaller and much less honored, and religion is a part of one's private life, not a dominating public force as it was to the Ancient Greeks. Most people today have a regular, day to day job, whether it be in an office, store, factory, or anywhere else. We have to earn our wealth by working, not inheritance. That is why most people go to school today.
I am attending NYU so that I can get a job later in life. I study chemistry and engineering, in the hopes that I can become a chemical engineer. According to Plato, this is wrong, and I'm corrupting my mind. At this point in my life, I should be reading history and literature, enhancing my mind, and not worrying about developing a skill. To me, that is an unrealistic goal. As I get older, I want to have a job that pays well, so that I can support a family, and be free to do whatever I want in my spare time. I don't want to have to deal with restrictions in my life caused by a lack of money. If I lived and was educated in the way that Plato suggests, my life would probably turn out differently from that, and that is why I dislike his ideas.
In the fourth century BC, when Plato was alive and writing, society was different. His writings on education relate to that time, when modern capitalism was over two thousand years away. He had no idea what life would be like today, so it is ridiculous to base one's life on what he said so long ago. Arnold refuses to admit this. He does say that Plato's ideas are outdated, but adds that the basis for his thoughts could still be applied today, for the betterment of society and the people that live in it. If that's the way he feels, I'm fine with it, but for me, learning a skill that will make me some money when I'm older is more important than purifying my mind.