Individual Freedom in Civics and Education
Published 14 Jun 2017
The major difference between majority rule democracy and republic democracy is how the rights of the minority or the individual are protected. In a majority rule democracy the morals or laws of the majority can be imposed on the few or individual without regard to justice or logic. Whereas, a republic democracy protects the rights and freedoms of individuals and minorities by instituting a system of checks and balances that distribute power over several branches of government, and between many elected official. This system makes it difficult for laws to be imposed on individuals without giving thought to the action. Actions must first go through a system of checks and balances, which prevents rash action based on emotions.
A tyranny of the majority results when the majority follows the emotions of the moment, and thereby imposes on the rights of the minority. A republic democracy protects the freedom of individuals from being taken by a majority. Strict moral guidelines are set up to protect each individual.
A republic democracy encourages individual freedom in much the same way as a liberal education. According to Cronon (1998), there are several qualities that liberally educated people embody. Cronon defines a liberally educated person as one who listens and hears, reads and understands, talks with anyone, is clear and persuasive, value puzzles and problems, seeks truth, practices tolerance, understands how to get things done in the world, nurtures and empowers others, and connects with people (Cronin, 1998, p. 78). These values ensure the practice of creating a government that respects individual freedoms by remaining open to different viewpoints, listening, reading, seeking truth, being tolerant, nurturing and empowering personal freedom, and ultimately connecting with the individuals governed by the system.
The discussion between Euthyphro and Socrates shows both why liberal education and republic democracy are essential to maintaining freedom. The main topic is a challenge to Euthyphro’s idea of pious action. Socrates points out ideas of right and wrong are the main basis for disagreement between individuals. “What subject of difference would make us angry and hostile to each other if we were unable to come to a decision? Perhaps you do not have an answer ready, but examine as I tell you whether these subjects are the just and the unjust, the beautiful and the ugly, the good and the bad” (Plato, 1975, p. 9).
Governments have the task of determining right and wrong, just and unjust. They also are responsible for enforcing the morals of the society. The problem is that each individual has their own morality, so which morals are to be enforced?
Socrates searches for wisdom from Euthyphro because he is to be judged and tried by morals that are not his own. Socrates represents Cronon’s idea of a liberally educated person by seeking wisdom through his connection with Euthyphro.
“Indeed, Euthyphro, this is the reason why I am a defendant in the case, because I find it hard to accept things like that being said about the gods, and it is likely to be the reason why I shall be told I do wrong” (Plato, 1975, p. 8).
Euthyphro justifies his own morality by contending that what he believes is the wishes of the Gods. Thus, appealing to a higher power to justify the imposition of his morality on others. Socrates also challenges Euthyphro on this point.
‘Then according to your argument, my good Euthyphro, different gods consider different things to be just, beautiful, ugly, good, and bad, for they would not be at odds with one another unless they differed about these subjects, would they?” (Plato, 1975, p. 10)
In the end, Euthyphro cannot provide evidence or logic to Socrates for his belief. Thus, it becomes clear that his decision is based on personal feeling and emotions that have not been tested for their wisdom. He presents an idea as a truth that is really only a personal truth. In essence, Euthyphro represents tyranny caused by making rash decisions that are not thought through. His rush to act, and lack of desire to seek wisdom in the matter could have major consequences for his father and himself. Consequences he had not properly thought through because of his lack of foresight to seek wisdom. The fact that he rushes off at the end shows he lacks interest in challenging his own ideals. He is not open to sharing, or allowing other to share.
Liberal education and republic democracy work hand in hand in that they each seek to consider many viewpoints, debate moral ideas, and seek truth before making a decision that may have consequence for personal freedom.
- Cronon, William. (1998). Only connect: The Goals of a Liberal Education. American Scholar, 67 (4), 73-80.
- Plato. (1975). The Trial and Death of Socrates, (G.M.A Grube, Trans.). Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company.