Philosophy of Education

Culture and Education
Education is a key component of cultural processes. Every process of acculturation can indeed be regarded as a process within which an individual, or a group, is educated to act or behave in a given manner. Although education is often thought in relation to the school system, by no means educational processes are restricted to what is imparted in a school setting. For instance, primary caregivers provide emotional and nutritional education, among others; sport coaches provide education within a specific discipline; friends and lovers cane educate to cherish those forms of human bonding in an appropriate way.

Education and Human Nature
The chief question addressed by philosophers of education concerns the most proper tools by means of which a human being should be imparted a given piece of culture. Clearly, depending on the type of skill or ability to be taught, a different strategy may be devised. Most importantly, the educator's conception of human nature will be at the root of the specific strategy that is endorsed. For instance, if you hold that women are fundamentally different than men in their learning capacities, you will devise two separate educational paths for women and men. Analogous considerations apply to individuals with cognitive or motor skills disabilities: should they be kept in the same learning environment as those individuals that have no such disabilities?

Along the history Western philosophy, the specific conception of human nature has depended on the ideas of nature and of the relationship between nature and culture.

Philosophy of Education: Central Figures
Because of its importance for the proper functioning of a society, philosophy of education has been bestowed the attention of some of the most prominent philosophers. Among the central figures of Ancient Greek Philosophy , Plato discusses the topic at some length in The Republic.

In the seventh book, right after the famous allegory of the cave, we find one of the best passages illustrating Plato's view of education. This does not consist in imparting information into one's soul, but rather in turning the soul of a person in a new direction. Someone's education, in other words, shall not be measured in terms of the amount of data that a person has been provided with; rather with the attitude that the person takes on the subject.

Plato's lesson is even truer - I dare say - with respect to today's society: computers provide us with plenty of data, which far surpass the most exercised memory; and yet, to be educated means to know how to navigate the data, how to use them for the specific purposes we come to them.

Other central figures in the history of the philosophy of education include French Enlightenment philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau as well as American pragmatist John Dewey. While the former saw education as a process in direct opposition to human nature, Dewey stressed the continuity between nature and culture.

Philosophy of Education Today
Philosophy of education continues to be an important branch in philosophy to these days, to which contribute not only philosophers but also committed teachers and scholars in the field of education.

The numerous societies devoted to the branch, some of which are listed below, are a good starting point for further research on the topic.

Further Online and Bibliographical Resources


Steven M. Cahn, Classic and Contemporary Readings in the Philosophy of Education, McGraw-Hill, 1997

Randall Curren (ed.), A Companion to the Philosophy of Education, Wiley-Blackwell, 2006

Nigel Blake, Paul Smeyers, Richard Smith, and Paul Standish (eds.), The Blackwell Guide to the Philosophy of Education, 2003

Nel Noddings, Philosophy of Education, Westview Press, 1995