Access to the full content is only available to members of institutions that have purchased access. If you belong to such an institution, please log in or find out more about how to order.




Education, history of philosophy of

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-N014-2
Version: v2,  Published online: 2018
Retrieved July 17, 2024, 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 circumstances, manner, 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 contentions surrounding the democratization of primary education in Athens and the competing claims of philosophers, sophists, and orators to provide the best higher education. Plato and Aristotle developed systematic theories of education guided by a Socratic ethic of fidelity to reason, and by related aspirations to promote social harmony, political stability, and a just distribution of opportunities to live well. The Stoic descendants of Socrates were expelled from Rome and the oratorical model of higher education deriving from Isocrates was 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 religious toleration and private education suitable to producing virtuous, useful, and civic-minded gentlemen; 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 that Enlightenment figures from Descartes onward had thought evident to natural reason. Wollstonecraft challenged patriarchal aspects of education, advancing a revolutionary defense of gender equality and a national system of day-schools in which all children would be educated together.

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 also a romantic counter-movement. The industrial revolution, democratic and socialist egalitarian movements, and emergence of state-sponsored schooling prompted new questions that were answered in radically different ways by Nietzsche in the late nineteenth century and Dewey in the early twentieth century.

Citing this article:
Curren, Randall R.. Education, history of philosophy of, 2018, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-N014-2. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

Related Articles