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Plato on why culture matters

Updated: Sep 4, 2020

It is a mistake to think we can simply legislate justice. While our laws and justice system may be well-inspired, the way in which they are applied always depends on a society's culture -- what Plato refers to as "the heart and soul of citizens".

The Ancients' obsession with justice in the polis, the community, came from their understanding that an unjust community crushes the human spirit and defeats the very purpose of “living together". Socrates said the good city is a just city.

The great Athenian lawmaker Solon believed that the ideal city is one where all are treated with equal justice, regardless of wealth or social standing. Besides being a lawmaker, Solon was also a poet who spent many days reciting laments about the "heart and soul" of Athenians, calling out greed, envy and ill will as the crimes to the community that they are.

Solon knew better than anyone, that no matter how noble any law, if the community culture is toxic, people will find ways to poison the system, perverting the intent of the laws and the institutions for their self-seeking and unjust aims.

Since the aim of living in community is to bring about eudamonia (Gr.) or human flourishing-- understood today as the the social, economic and environmental well-being of all--then anything that diminishes the well-being of one is an injury to all.

Be just. Inspire others to be just. Sacrifice for justice. Educate for justice. Because injustice breeds division and weakness. Justice fosters peace, social cohesion, wellbeing and resilience.

Over 2500 years ago, Plato established the Western world's first civic academy with this goal in mind--to "educate for justice" and to cultivate the character and the appetite of civic leaders for justice.

There is great truth to the adage, "Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all."


🎓 For more ancient wisdom for modern city builders, register for Resilient Civic Leadership: Compassionate Integrity Training for Civic Leaders.



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