Xenophon’s theory of moral education
Xenophon the Athenian, who is well known as a historian and a witness of Socratic philosophy but is usually excluded from the list of classical writers on education, actually developed his own systematic thought on moral education from a social and mainly political perspective in his extant works. His discourse on moral education presents for us the view of an unusual historical figure, an innovative thinker as well as a man of action, a mercenary general and a world citizen in his age; and is therefore different from that of contemporary pure philosophers, such as Plato and Aristotle. Furthermore, as a prolific author respected in both the classical world and the early modern era, Xenophon’s doctrine on moral education greatly influences the later development of European cultural history. This thesis explores the background and content of Xenophon’s thought on moral education, as well as its application in his other literary works, which are not directly on the same topic but are indirectly influenced by it. Part 1 discusses the background which produces Xenophon’s thought on moral education. As a historian of his own age, Xenophon’s negative view of the world he lived in is fully expressed in his Hellenica; and his idea of social education organised by a competent political leader serves as a proposal to transform the disordered Greek world in his time. As a follower of Socrates, Xenophon adopts his teacher’s approach of focusing on the study of moral issues and leadership; and the need to make apology for Socrates helps to shape many heroes in Xenophon’s works into extremely pious men and beneficial moral teachers. Part 2 analyses the content of Xenophon’s thought on moral education. This idea is systematically explained in his Cyropaedia and advocated in a rhetorical and persuasive manner in his Hiero. By modern ethical standards, Xenophon’s moral education is supported by dark art of government and cannot always be justified; but this dark side is tolerable in Xenophon’s view as long as it ultimately serves for good purpose. In his Poroi and Oeconomicus, Xenophon makes a further development of his thought by confirming that the art of accumulating and using wealth is also an indispensable skill for organisers of social education. Part 3 presents the application of Xenophon’s theory of moral education in his epoch-making literary composition. His Agesilaus, which serves as a prototype for later biographies, depicts a historical figure living and acting according to the ethical principles which Xenophon sets for ideal political leaders; while his Oeconomicus, which influenced Hellenistic and Roman agricultural works greatly, attempts to bring the experience of public education into the domestic sphere. The analysis of these themes confirms that Xenophon actually established a theory of moral education, which is social, highly political but also philosophical, in his extant corpus. On the one hand, Xenophon’s theory is less profound than that of Plato or Aristotle and is sometimes superficial and occasionally self-contradictory; on the other hand, the theory is original, innovative and influential in the history of classical literature, and therefore deserves our respect and serious treatment.