Plato and Music

In my Plato Republic course, one topic of discussion was the music that Plato selected for the guardian/warriors.  In particular, there was some debate as to whether the modes he chose were appropriate. 
Briefly, Plato was convinced that listening to music in various modes would form the soul and would cultivate and encourage certain virtues and activities.  Most in the class were willing to sign on to this claim.  The more controversial question was whether Plato had really selected the best modes for the purposes of cultivating bravery in the soul of the guardians.
I am, sadly, musically illiterate and so am not capable of really treating this point with much care.  Fortunately there are some students in the class that know more then enough about music.  Dan is one of those students, and also one who thought Plato’s choice of modes was, shall we say, odd.
To sort this out, Dan has compiled 4 songs, one in each of four modes.  He admits that he stacked the deck a bit here with his choices, but still it is telling that songs like “Scarborough Fair” would be in the same mode as Plato’s warrior music!
By way of reminder, Plato had his warriors listening to the Dorian and Phrygian modes only.
In addition to Dan’s “playlist” below, click here for a website that offers some discussion and some examples.  In fact, there is a sidebar where you can listen to the same made up tune in all the different modes.  Dan’s playlist seems like a know down argument against Plato’s choices, but when I listen to the same tune in the various modes it is not as obvious (at least to my tin ears).

Song 1: Ionian Mode Song 2: Lydian Mode

Song 3: Dorian Mode Song 4: Phrygian Mode

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About Kleiner

Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Utah State University. I teach across the curriculum, but am most interested in continental philosophy, ancient and medieval philosophy as well as Catholic thought, all of which might be summed up as an interest in the ressourcement tradition (returning in order to make progress). I also enjoy spending time thinking about liberal education and its ends.
This entry was posted in Philosophy, Polis (politics, culture). Bookmark the permalink.

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