In the divine Plato’s dialogues Meno and Phaedo, the theory of innate ideas is offered. Using the example of mathematical truths, Plato indicates that such rules of the mind aren’t something new, but rather they’re eternal ideas that are engraved and buried deep within the depths of the equally eternal soul, which are forgotten when we go through the extremely traumatic event of birth. Because of that, when we come to understand these eternal ideas (e.g., learning how to add, subtract, etc) we go through a process known as anamnesis, or remembering. Though, to truly understand these ideas which have been lost to us, the soul requires true education, or paideia, as a process of anamnesis.
Paideia is based on the religious mos maiorum of Hellenism, and is integral to the conception of culture, as paideia is the civilizing agent of humanity. Paideia encompasses literature, grammar, rhetoric, politics, drama, art, music, cultural practice, tradition, philanthropy, science, philosophy, and religion. Paideia is divine revelation, brought by the Gods, and collectively it reveals salvation and civilization to humanity. Through disciplined education, paideia aims to shape an individual into understanding their true self— the truest and most innate human nature that realizes the eternal and actual self, the soul. Paideia doesn’t merely entail an expertise in merely one or even a few of the many arts; it also involves a healthy disposition, for a professor who thinks one thing and teaches another fails to educate their students. Furthermore, it is a moralizing process, as through paideia we learn virtue.
Paideia begins with the pursuit of the Forms, and ultimately with that the Form of Beauty. From educators, to artists, to philosophers, to priests— the ideal Forms are what all great Hellenes strive towards and try to imitate. From this paideia has a metaphysical importance as it is only delivered through divine inspiration, which makes paideia sacred in character. Its ultimate objective is the perfection of the soul and the achievement of henosis (unity with the divine), which is achieved through the development of oneself intellectually, and eventually, would culminate in the form of theurgic rites; for the recollection of what the soul has forgotten is both the means and the ultimate goal of true knowledge. As such paideia is necessary for the salvation of souls, as education becomes something that serves both the soul and the divine, which means an individual with an ounce of innate virtue who receives paideia becomes a gift of the Gods to mankind. To understand this, we may look to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, where the theurgist, freed from their chains and embracing the sun’s divine light, willingly returns to the cave to attempt freeing those still trapped inside. Likewise, the soul who, through paideia, comes to understand and remember true knowledge, will return and help their fellow man attain true knowledge as well.
Because of all this, paideia, as well as the pursuit of virtue, are the founding blocks of religion. Paideia goes hand in hand with piety, and due to this paideia without the Gods is not only nothing— it is worse than nothing, and as such those who scorn the Gods, the myths and Hellenic understandings of honor and morality have no business teaching others.
DeConick, A. D., Shaw, G., Turner, J. D., & Pearson, B. A. (2013). Practicing Gnosis: Ritual, Magic, Theurgy and Liturgy in Nag Hammadi, Manichaean and Other Ancient Literature. Essays in Honor of Birger A. Pearson. Leiden: Brill.
Flavius Claudius Iulianus Augustus, and Wilmer Cave. Wright. The works of emperor Julian. London: Heinemann etc., 1962.
Grube, G. T. (1974). Platos Republic. INpolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Co, Inc.
Gurley, Jennifer. “Platonic Paideia.” Philosophy and Literature, vol. 23 no. 2, 1999, pp. 351-377. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/phl.1999.0040. https://muse.jhu.edu/article/26998
(n.d.). Innate idea. Retrieved December 21, 2017, from http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Innate_idea
Plato, and Benjamin Jowett. The complete works of Plato. United States?: Akasha Pub., 2008.
Plato, Stanley Lombardo, and Karen Bell. Protagoras. Indianapolis: Hackett Pub. Co., 1992.
Smith, Rowland. Julian’s Gods: Religion and Philosophy in the Thought and Action of Julian the Apostate. London and New York: Routledge, 1995
Tanaseanu-Döbler, Ilinca. Theurgy in Late Antiquity: The Invention of a Ritual Tradition. Göttingen, Niedersachs: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012.