Education, history of philosophy of

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-N014-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved September 23, 2021, from

Article Summary

The philosophy of education may be considered a branch of practical philosophy, aimed ultimately at the guidance of an important aspect of human affairs. Its questions thus arise more or less directly from the features of educational practice and the role of education in the promotion of individual and social wellbeing, however much its answers may be conditioned by the larger philosophical and historical settings in which they are posed. Philosophers have concerned themselves with what the aims of education should be, and through what forms of instruction, inquiry and practice those aims might be attained. This demands attention to the contents of instruction and who shall have authority over it. It demands attention to the nature of instruction itself, its epistemic dimensions and what is entailed by its reliance on language; the nature of learning and human development, both moral and intellectual; and how all of these are interrelated. The philosophy of education thus stands at the intersection of moral and political philosophy, epistemology, and the philosophy of mind and language, as they bear on the foundations of educational practice.

The philosophy of education began in classical antiquity with the challenges posed by Socrates to the educational claims of the sophists. Plato and Aristotle developed systematic theories of education guided by an ethic of justice and self-restraint, and by the goal of promoting social harmony and the happiness or wellbeing of all citizens. The Stoic descendants of Socrates were expelled from Rome and the oratorical model of higher education given official sanction, but Augustine re-established the philosophical model through a synthesis of Platonism and Christianity, and in his mature educational thought brought elements of the oratorical and Platonic models together in his account of the Christian teacher’s training.

The religious wars of the Reformation inspired several philosophical stances toward the relationships of Church, state, school and conscience. Hobbes argued for a consolidation of ecclesiastical and civil authority, with full sovereign authority over education; Locke for liberty, religious toleration, and private education aiming at self-governance in accordance with reason; and Rousseau not just for the free development and exercise of the full array of human faculties, but for the establishment of a civic religion limited to the core of shared Christian beliefs which Enlightenment figures from Descartes onward had thought evident to natural reason.

The Enlightenment’s embrace of science and reason yielded efforts towards the development of a science of learning and pedagogy in the nineteenth century, but Rousseau’s romantic reaction to it and defence of democracy were also powerful influences. In the twentieth century, Dewey produced a new synthesis of Enlightenment and Rousseauian themes, drawing on Hegel, the experimentalism of Mill, evolutionary theory and psychology, and aspects of the substance and intent of Rousseau’s pedagogy.

    Citing this article:
    Curren, Randall R.. Education, history of philosophy of, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-N014-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
    Copyright © 1998-2021 Routledge.

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