Undemocratic Vistas

Martha Nussbaum, "Undemocratic Vistas," review of The Closing of the American Mind, by Allan Bloom, New York Review of Books, 31 March 1988.


1) Philosophical education is practical. It is the rational search for the best human life. Its subject is, above all, the study of moral and social conceptions, and its purpose (as Musonius later makes plain) is, through reflection, the amelioration both of the individual student’s life and, through the choices of educated individuals, of the surrounding society.

2) In philosophical education the pupil is active. It is not the passive reception of external truths, but the following out of paths of rational and critical argument—indeed, the enlivening and developing of the pupil’s rational soul. (For this reason, Musonius later stresses, it must be closely tailored, in each case, to the needs of the particular student, like the prescriptions of a good doctor.)

3) Philosophical education should be broadly distributed. It is appropriate to all who are by nature rational beings, that is, beings capable of practical and ethical reasoning. (Epictetus was a slave when he attended Musonius’ lectures. Later he became a free man and a distinguished philosopher.)