10 modern philosophers and their contribution to education
10 Modern Philosophers and their
Contribution to Education
John Locke and the Tabula Rasa
Locke (1632-1704), an English philosopher and physician, proposed that the
mind was a blank slate or tabula rasa. This states that men are born without innate ideas, and that
knowledge comes from experience and perception, as opposed to predetermined good and evil nature,
as believed by other thinkers.
On his treatise “Some Thoughts Concerning Education”, he emphasized that the knowledge taught during
younger years are more influential than those during maturity because they will be the foundations of the
human mind. Due to this process of associations of ideas, he stressed out that punishments are unhealthy
and educators should teach by examples rather than rules.
This theory on education puts him on a clash with another widely accepted philosophy, backed by another
Immanuel Kant and Idealism
They never lived at the same time, but history always put Locke and Kant on a
A famed German thinker, Kant (1724–1804) was anadvocate of public education and of learning by doing, a
process we call training. As he reasons that these are two vastly different things.
He postulated “Above all things, obedience is an essential feature in the character of a child…”. As opposed to
Locke, he surmises that children should always obey and learn the virtue of duty, because
children’s inclination to earn or do something is something unreliable. And transgressions should always be
dealt with punishment, thus enforcing obedience.
Also, he theorized that man, naturally, has a radical evil in their nature. And learning and duty can erase
Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Emile
Plato said that each individual is born with skills appropriate to different castes,
or functions of society. ThoughRousseau (1712-1778), a Genevan intellect and writer, paid respects to the
ancient philosopher, he rejected this thinking. He believed that there was one developmental procedure
common to man; it was a built-in, natural process which the main behavioral manifestation is curiosity.
On his book, Emile, Rousseau outlines the process of an ideal education through a hypothetical boy of the
titular name, from twelve years of age to the time he marries a woman. Critics said this work of his
foreshadowed most modern system of education we have now.
Mortimer J. Adler and the Educational Perrenialism
Adler (1902- 2001) was an American philosopher and educator, and a
proponent of Educational Perennialism. He believed that one should teach the things that one deems to be
of perpetual importance. He proposed that one should teach principles, not facts, since details of facts
change constantly. And since people are humans, one should teach them about humans also, not about
machines, or theories.
He argues that one should validate the reasoning with the primary descriptions of popular experiments. This
provides students with a human side to the scientific discipline, and demonstrates the reasoning in deed.
William James and Pragmatism
William James (1842-1910), an American psychologist and philosopher, ascribed
to the philosophy of pragmatism. He believed that the value of any truth was utterly dependent upon its
use to the person who held it. He maintained that the world is like a mosaic of different experiences that
can only be interpreted through what he calls as “Radical empiricism”.
This means that no observation is completely objective. As the mind of the observer and the act of
observing will simply just affect the outcome of the observation.
John Dewey and the Progressivism
Dewey (1859-1952), an American philosopher, psychologist and educational reformer, was a proponent of
He held that education is a “participation of the individual in the social consciousness of the race”, and that
it has two sides; the psychological, which forms the basis of the child’s instincts, and the sociological, on
which the instinct will be used to form the basis of what is around him. He postulated that one cannot
learn without motivation.
Nel Noddings and the Ethics of Care
A notable American feminist, educationalist, and philosopher, Noddings (1929-Present) is best known in
her work Ethics of Care .
The Ethic s of Care establishes the obligation, and the sense, to do something right when others address
us. We do so because either we love and respect those that address us or we have significant regard for
them. In that way, the recipients of care must respond in a way that authenticates their caring has been
The same goes for education. As teachers respond to the needs of students, they may design a
differentiated curriculum because as teachers work closely with students, they should respond to the
students’ different needs and interests. This response should not be based on a one time virtuous
decision but an ongoing interest in the student’s welfare.
Jean Piaget and the Genetic Epistemology
Piaget (1896-1980), a Swiss developmental psychologist and philosopher, was
recognized for his epistemologicalstudies with children, and the establishment of Genetic epistemology. It
aims to explain knowledge, on the basis of its history, its sociogenesis, and particularly, the psychological
origins of the notions and operations upon which it is based.
Piaget concluded he could test epistemological questions by studying the development of thought and
action in children. Because of this, he created Genetic epistemology with its own approaches and
Allan Bloom and The Closing of the American Mind
American philosopher, classicist, and academic Allan David Bloom (1930-1992)
is notable for his criticism of contemporary American higher education in his bestselling 1987 book, The
Closing of the American Mind.
He stresses how “higher education has failed democracy and impoverished the souls of today’s students.”
For him, this failure of contemporary liberal education lead to impotent social and sexual habits of today’s
students and that commercial pursuits had become more highly regarded than love, the philosophic quest
for truth, or the civilized pursuits of honor and glory.
Rudolf Steiner and the Anthroposophy
Rudolf Joseph Lorenz Steiner (1 861-1925) was an Austrian philosopher and
social reformer, and founder ofAnthroposophy. His philosophy highlights a balanced development of
cognitive, artistic, and practical skills.
He divides education into three developmental stages. Early childhood, where teachers offer practical
activities and a healthy environment. Elementary, which is primarily arts-based, centered on the teacher’s
creative jurisdiction. And Secondary, which seeks to develop the judgment, reasoning, and practical
INFLUENCE OF PHILOSOPHY ON THE CURRICULUM
THE RESPONSIBILTY OF EDUCATING THE YOUTH, OF PREPARING TOMORRWOW‟S
GENERATION OF LEADERS BY INSTILLING IN THEM A LIFE LONG FOR LEARNING IS NOT AN EASY
TASK BUT IT IS THE TASK OF REAL EDUCATOR.
ACCEPTING THIS CHALLENGE, TEACHERS SHOULD GRAPPLE WITH THE FUNDAMENTAL
ISSUE OF CURRICULUM CONTENT AND AIMS AND FUNCTIONS OF SCHOOLING.
IN DEVELOPING A CURRICULUM (WHETHER IN A SPECIFIC SUBJECT AREA, OR MORE
BROADLY AS THE WHOLE RANGE OF OFFERINGS IN AN EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTION) A NUMBER
OF DIFFICULT DECISIONS NEED TO BE MADE. ISSUES SUCH AS THE PROPER SEQUENCING OF
TOPICS IN THE CHOSEN SUBJECT, THE TIME ALLOTMENT FOR EACH TOPIC, THE LABORATORY
WORK OR ISSUES THAT ARE BEST RESOLVED EITHER BY EDUCATIONISTS WITH DEPTH OF
EXPERIENCE WITH THE TARGET AGE GROUP OR BY EXPERTS IN THE PSYCHOLOGY OF
LEARNING. THE VALIDITY OF THE JUSTIFICATIONS THAT HAVE BEEN GIVEN FOR INCLUDING
PARTICULAR SUBJECTS IN THE OFFERINGS OF FORMAL EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTIONS SHOULD
ALSO BE GIVEN SERIOUS CONSIDERATION.
PHILOSOPHERS AND THEIR CONTRIBUTIONS TO PHILOSOPHY OF EDUCATION
PART I. IDEALISM
IDEALISM – REALITY IS A WORLD WITHIN A PERSONS MIND.
TRUTH IS IN THE CONSISTENCY OF IDEAS.
GOODNESS IS AN IDEAL STATE TO STRIVE TO ATTAIN.
PLATO – VIEWED LEARNING AS THE SOUL‟S REDISCOVERY OF PREVIOUSLY HELD KNOWLEDGE.
IDEAS CONSTITUTE THE REAL WORLD
OPENED HIS OWN SCHOOL KNOWN AS ACADEMY(ACADEMIA)
MOST FAMOUS WORKS ARE THE REPUBLIC AND THE DIALOGUE
THE ULTIMATE AIM OF EDUCATION IS THE HAPPINESS OF THE INDIVIDUAL AND WELFARE OF THE
ARISTOTLE – PEOPLE LEARNS BY APPLYING REASON AND OBSERVATION TO THE NATURAL
WORLD AROUND THEM. HIS BEST KNOWN CONTRIBUTION TO EPISTEMOLOGY WAS THE
DEVELOPMENT OF SYLLOGISM. THE PURPOSE OF EDUCATION IS TO LIBERATE THE MALE MIND
THROUGH RATIONAL UNDERSTANDING OF THE WORLD.
RENE DESCARTES – HIS PHILOSOPHY WAS KNOWN AS THE CARTESSIAN PHILOSOPHY.
HIS BASIC PROPOSITION WAS (COGNITO ERGO SUM) I THINK THEREFORE I AM
THE WORLD CONSITED OT TWO KINDS OF SUBSTANCES: THINKING SUBSTANCE(MIND) AND
FATHER OF DUALISM; DIVIDED BRAIN AND MIND INTO SEPARATE BUT EQUAL PARTS
COMPARED THE BRAIN TO A MACHINE.
BENEDICT DE SPINOZA – HELD THAT PEOPLE‟S HIGHEST HAPPINESS CONSISTS IN COMING TO
UNDERSTAND AND APPRECIATE THE TRUTH THAT THEY ARE TINY PARTS OF AN ALL- INCLUSIVE,
GOTTFRIED WILHELM VON LEIBNIZ – INTRODUCED THE CONCEPT OF MONADISM.
GEORGE BERKELEY – WROTE THE PRINCIPLES OF HUMAN KNOWLEDGE
TO BE IS TO BE PERCEIVED.
THINGS EXIST EVEN WHEN NOBODY PERCEIVES THEM BECAUSE THEY ARE BEING THOUGHT
ABOUT BY GOD.
IMMANUEL KANT – THERE ARE UNIVERSAL MORAL LAWS, THE IMMORALITY OF THE SOUL.
GEORG HEGEL – THE WORD “DIALECTTIC” BEST FITS HIS LOGIC.
HEGELIAN TRIAD – THESIS(THE IDEAS); ANTHITHESIS(OTHERNESS OF THE IDEAS; SYNTHESIS –
MIND OR SPIRIT.
PHILOSOPHERS AND THEIR CONTRIBUTIONS TO PHILOSOPHY OF EDUCATION
PART II. NATURALISM
NATURALISM – TRUTH CAN BE DISCOVERED ONLY THROUGH NATURE.
THALES – POSTULATED WATER AS THE COSMIC STUFF COMPRISING THE UNIVERSE.
ANAXIMENES – POSTULATED AIR AS THE FUNDAMENTAL SUBSTANCE SINCE AIR IS THEE MOST
MOBILE OF ALL ELEMENTS.
DEMOCRITUS AND LEUCIPPUS – EXPLAINED THE WORLD USING THE COMMON SENSE APPROACH
OF REDUCING NATURE INTO TWO SIMPLE THINGS: EMPTY SPACE AND ATOMS
EPICURUS – BELIEVED IN THE ENJOYMENT OF THE SIMPLE RHYTHM EXISTING IN THE LIFE OF
MAN AND NATURE.
LUCRETIUS – POSTULATED AN EVOLUTIONARY DEVELOPMENT WHICH FOLLOWED THE HURLING
TOGETHER OF ATOMS TO FORM THE EARTH AND OTHER PLANETS.
MONTAIGNE - FORERUNNER OF NATURALISM IN EDUCATION,
JOHN LOCKE – THEORIST OF NATURALISM
BASEDOW – BROUGHT NATURALISM INTO THE SCHOOL.
EXPONENTS OF NATURALISM
JEAN JACQUES ROUSSEAU – MAIN EXPONENT OF ROMANTIC NATURALISM
HIS BOOKS EMILE HE EMPHASIZED THAT EVERYTHING IS GOOD AS IT COMES IN THE HAND OF
REALISM – BELIEVES THAT EDUCATION SHOULD TRANSMIT CULTURE, DEVELOP, HUMAN NATURE,
AND PROVIDE MAN WITH THE BASIC EDUCATION NEEDED FOR HIS SURVIVAL.
ARISTOTLE – IN HIS PHYSICS, HE STATED THE “NATURE IS THE STARTING POINT FOR
PHILOSOPHIZING AND DOES NOT NEED TO HAVE ITS OWN EXISTENCE PROVEN.”
ST. THOMAS AQUINAS – BELIEVED IN THE REALITY OF MATTER AS DESCRIBED IN HIS SUMMA
THE PHYSICAL WORLD IS REAL.
JOHN AMOS COMENIUS – THE MIND OF MAN IS „LIKE A SPHERICAL MIRROR SUSPENDED IN AROOM
WHICH REFLECTS IMAGES OF ALL THINGS AROUND IT.”
BARUCH SPINOZA – THERE IS A SUBSTANCE WHICH EXISTS ETERNALLY AND INFINITELY, IS
ESTENDED IN TIME AND SPACE AND THERE IS NO THOUGHT APART FROM IT.
JOHN LOCKE - AT BIRTH,THE MIND MAY BE COMPARED TO A BLANK SHEET OF PAPER UPONEDS
TO WHICH THE WORLD THEN PROCEEDS TO WRITE ITS IMPRESSIONS (TABULA RASA)
IMMANUEL KANT – BELIEVED THAT OUR SENSORY EXPERIENCES AND PERCEPTIONS ARE
REPRESENTATIONS OF THE EXTERNAL WORLD AND NOT DIRECT PRESENTATIONS OF IT.
JOHANN FRIEDRICH HERBART – MIND IS NOT AN ACTIVE AGENT WHICH PRODUCES CHANGES IN
THE WORLD SURROUNDING IT.
WILLIAM JAMES – A PLURALIST, HE BELIEVED THAT THERE ARE ALL KINDS OF QUALITIES
SUBSTANCES OR ESSENCES WHICH EXIST IN TIME AND SPACE.
PRAGMATISM – ALL LEARNING BEGINS IN EXPERIENCE. EDUCATION IS A MEANS WHICH SOCIETY
JOHN DEWEY – HIS PHILOSOPHY HAS BEEN LABELED PRAGMATIC BECAUSE IT S HOLDS THAT
THE CRITERION OF THE TRUTH AND GOODNESS OF A THING IS ITS WORKABILITY ACCORDING TO
A GIVEN PURPOSE.
EDUCATION IS LIFE
EDUCATION IS GROWTH
EDUCATION IS A SOCIAL PROCESS
EDUCATION IS A RECONSTRUCTION OF HUMAN EXPERIENCES.
FOUR MAJOR PHILOSOPHIES
FORMS OF NATURALISM
IDEALISM – TRUTH OR REALITY EXIST IN IDEAS OR IN THE SPIRIT OR IN THE MIND.
FOUR FACTORS IN THE IDEALIST INSPIRED EDUCATION
INTEREST, EFFORT DISCIPLINE,
FOUR FORMS OF REALISM
HUMANISTIC OR LITERARY REALISM
DR. BROUDY DESCRIBES THE LEARNER BY ELLABORATINGFOUR PRINCIPLES WHICH COMPRISE
THE ESSENCE OF HUMAN SELF:
PRINCIPLE OF SELF DETERMINATION
PRINCIPLE OF SELF-REALIZATION
PRINCIPLE OF SELF-INTEGRATION
MUST APPROACH EDUCATION AS A SOCIAL PHENOMENON.
IS AN EQUALLY NEW APPROACH TO THE PHILOSOPHY OF EDUCATION LIKE PRAGMATISM, IT
CLAIMS THAT THE CHILD‟S GROWTH AND DEVELOPMENT AS AN INDIVIDUAL DEPEND ON HIS
EXPERIENCES AND SELF ACTIVITY.
PRINCIPLES OF CURRICULUM DEVELOPMENT
DRAWS FROM A WEALTH OF PROVEN RESEARCH AND CONCEPTS FROM EARLY CHILDHOOD
HANDS ON, CONCRETE MANIPULATIVE
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Philosophy of Education is a label applied to the study of
the purpose, process, nature and ideals of education. It can be considered a branch
of both philosophy and education. Education can be defined as
the teaching and learning of specificskills, and the imparting
of knowledge, judgment and wisdom, and is something broader than the societal
institution of education we often speak of.
Many educationalists consider it a weak and woolly field, too far removed from
the practical applications of the real world to be useful. But philosophers dating back
to Plato and the Ancient Greeks have given the area much thought and emphasis, and
there is little doubt that their work has helped shape the practice of education over the
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Plato is the earliest important educational thinker, and education is an essential
element in "The Republic" (his most important work on philosophy and political theory,
written around 360 B.C.). In it, he advocates some rather extreme methods: removing
children from their mothers' care and raising them as wards of the state,
and differentiating children suitable to the variouscastes, the highest receiving the
most education, so that they could act as guardians of the city and care for the less
able. He believed that education should be holistic, including facts, skills, physical
discipline, music and art. Plato believed that talentand intelligence is not distributed
genetically and thus is be found in children born to all classes, although his proposed
system of selective public education for an educated minority of the population does
not really follow a democratic model.
Aristotle considered human nature, habit and reason to be equally important forces to
be cultivated in education, the ultimate aim of which should be to produce good and
virtuous citizens. He proposed that teachers lead their students systematically, and
that repetition be used as a key tool to develop good habits, unlike Socrates' emphasis
on questioning his listeners to bring out their own ideas. He emphasized the balancing
of the theoretical and practical aspects of subjects taught, among which he explicitly
mentions reading, writing, mathematics, music, physical education, literature, history,
and a wide range of sciences, as well as play, which he also considered important.
During the Medieval period, the idea of Perennialism was first formulated by St.
Thomas Aquinas in his work "De Magistro". Perennialism holds that one should teach
those things deemed to be of everlasting importance to all people everywhere,
namely principles and reasoning, not just facts (which are apt to change over time),
and that one should teach first aboutpeople, not machines or techniques. It was
originally religious in nature, and it was only much later that a theory of secular
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During the Renaissance, the French skeptic Michel de Montaigne (1533 - 1592) was
one of the first to critically look at education. Unusually for his time, Montaigne was
willing to question the conventional wisdom of the period, calling into question the
whole edifice of the educational system, and the implicit assumption that universityeducated philosophers were necessarily wiser than uneducated farm workers, for
In the late 17th Century, John Locke produced his influential "Some Thoughts
Concerning Education", in which he claimed that a child's mind is a tabula rasa (or
"blank slate") and does not contain any innate ideas. According to Locke, the mind is to
be educated by a three-pronged approach: the development of a healthy body; the
formation of a virtuous character; and the choice of an appropriate academic
curriculum. He maintained that a person is to a large extent a product of his
education, and also pointed out that knowledge and attitudes acquired in a child's
early formative years are disproportionately influential and have important
and lasting consequences.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in the 18th Century, held that there is one developmental
process, common to all humans, driven by natural curiosity which drives the child to
learn and adapt to its surroundings. He believed that all children are born ready to
learn from their surroundings so as to grow into virtuous adults, but due to the malign
influence of corrupt society, they often fail to do so. To counter this, he
advocated removing the child from society during education. He also believed that
human nature could be infinitely developed through a well-thought pedagogy.
John Dewey was an important progressive educational reformer in the early part of
the 20th Century. For Dewey, it was vitally important that education should not be the
teaching of mere dead fact, but that the skills and knowledge which students learn
beintegrated fully into their lives as persons, citizens and human beings, hence his
advocacy of "learning-by-doing" and the incorporation of the student's past
experiences into the classroom.
Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) was another very influential educational reformer, and
his Waldorf Education model emphasizes a balance of developing the intellect (or
head), feeling and artistic life (or heart) and practical skills (or hands), with a view to
producing free individuals who would in turn bring about a new, freer social order.
Other important philosophers of education during the 20th Century include the
Italian Maria Montessori (1870 - 1952), the SwissJean Piaget (1896 - 1980) and the
American Neil Postman (1931 - 2003).