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Dictionary of the History of Ideas

Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas

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We may begin with the word “education.” Through
the Latin it is related both to the notion of bringing
up or rearing and to that of bringing out or leading
forth, but during the centuries its meaning, and that
of its equivalents in other languages, has become even
more complex. In relatively recent times, “education”
has come to stand, as “philosophy” and “psychology”
do, for a discipline or field of studies, once called
“pedagogics,” often set up as a department or school
within a college or university, and thought of as subject
matter to be taught and developed by further research.
One of our tendencies is to make everything just an-
other subject in the educational curriculum, and we
have now done this with education itself.

In some uses, however, “education” stands, as it
always did until recently, not for the discipline just
referred to, but for the enterprise it studies and reflects
on. In this sense, which is the more important one for
the history of ideas, education is not a study or field
of inquiry but an activity or endeavor of a very differ-
ent kind, one that is related to the discipline of educa-
tion and the disciplines supporting it (philosophy, psy-
chology, etc.) in something like the way in which
building bridges and rockets is related to what is done
in engineering schools and science classrooms and
laboratories. This enterprise needs theory and science
to guide it, once it has developed beyond unreflective
practice, and it is the task of the discipline, with the
help of other disciplines, to provide this. But it is itself
a kind of action, not of theory or science. What makes
it interesting for the history of ideas, however, is the
ideas—the concepts and theories—behind it, and espe-
cially the fact that both it and they have involved so
many other fields, including philosophy, that are not
themselves primarily concerned with education.

For, as Moses Hadas says, “... education is man's
most important enterprise” (Old Wine, New Bottles


[1963], p. 3). If we include self-education, then on it
depends “all that makes a man”; everything that raises
man above or puts him ahead of the other animals.
As Kant put it, “Man can only become man by educa-
tion. He is merely what education makes of him”
(Education [1960], p. 3). The example of wolf-children
shows this, though it has always been true. It is only
recently that someone was able to add that education
is also man's biggest business—and, indeed, educators
are beginning to use language borrowed from com-
merce and industry. We even speak now of “interna-
tional education,” and, as noted, have whole schools
and institutes to develop and teach the discipline of
education. The economics of education has become an
important study, and people debate the question
whether education is a profession.

Even if we consider only formal instruction, it is not
too much to say that the enterprise of education either
has come to involve everyone alive or is expected to,
that every other human endeavor of any importance
depends on and is served by it, and that almost every
other such enterprise is stimulated by it and plays a
role with respect to it, either as a source for its prem-
isses and methods, as part of its curriculum, or as one
of its aims. In short, the idea of education behind it,
if there is one, is one of the oldest and most important
energizing and organizing ideas in Western culture—
ranking with those of government, morality, science,
and technology.

The word “idea” may stand either for a concept or
for a doctrine or proposition. Thus, “the idea of
progress” may denote either the concept of a certain
kind of change, i.e., a constant change for the better,
or the belief that history actually embodies a change
of that kind. And “an idea of man” may mean either
a concept of man as a certain kind of animal or being,
e.g., as a rational animal or featherless biped, or a belief
or set of beliefs about such an animal or being, e.g.,
the Christian idea of man. Coming to the phrase “idea
of education,” we find that it has at least four uses:
(1) “the idea of education” may mean either (a) the
concept of education, or (b) the belief or faith in edu-
cation; (2) “an idea of education” may denote either
(a) a concept of education, i.e., a suggested definition
of education, or (b) a belief or set of beliefs about
education, about its aims, forms, means, etc. A large
part of our task is to analyze, perhaps somewhat
roughly but still helpfully, the four categories thus
distinguished. Those referred to in (1a) and (2a) can
be discussed together, for an idea of education that
really proposes a definition of education is simply an
attempt to give an analysis of the idea of education.

It may be argued at once that there is no such thing
as the idea or concept of education that underlies or
defines the educational enterprise, that there are only
ideas of education such as are referred to in (2a) and
(2b), for example, President Garfield's idea of education
as a log with a student on one end and Mark Hopkins
on the other. In fact, this is virtually what T. S. Eliot
contends, coming to the conclusion that “education
does not appear to be definable” (To Criticize the Critic,
and other Writings
[1965], p. 120). Actually, he is closer
to the truth when he says, somewhat in passing, that
we all mean by education some training of the mind
or body (p. 75). It is true that the term “education”
is ambiguous and vague, or “wobbly” as Eliot so nicely
puts it, but its uses do have more clarity and unity
than he recognizes. The enterprise of education, as his
own passing remark suggests, consists in all forms and
places of activity in which some individual or group
fosters or seeks to foster in some individual or group
some ability, belief, knowledge, habit, skill, trait of
character, or “value,” and does so by the use of certain
methods. There is always someone doing the educating,
someone being educated, something being fostered in
the second by the first, by some method or combination
of methods.

Thus we can and do think of education in different
but related ways: (1) as the activity of the one doing
the educating, the act or process of educating or teach-
engaged in by the educator, (2) as the process or
experience of being educated or learning that goes on
in the one being educated, and (3) as the result pro-
duced in the one being educated by the double process
of educating and being educated, i.e., the combination
of abilities, etc., that are produced in him or that are
possessed by him when he has been educated. In these
three uses of “education” we are referring to the en-
terprise of education in one way or another, but we
also think of education in a fourth way, namely, (4)
as the discipline or study discussed earlier.

Two comments are in order. (a) The individual or
group doing the educating and the one being educated
may be the same, as they are in any process of self-
education. (b) Education in sense (4) can be defined
as the study of (1), (2), and (3); education in sense (3)
as the result of (1) and (2); and education in sense (2)
as the reverse side of (1). Thus, though the four senses
are distinct, there is a nice kind of unity among them.

It will be convenient to use the word “disposition”
to denote all of the abilities, beliefs, habits, knowledges,
skills, traits, or “values” that education may seek to
foster by activities of the kinds just indicated, as Dewey
sometimes does, though he elsewhere prefers the term
“habit.” This is a somewhat extended and unusual use
of the word “disposition,” since it means designating
as dispositions not only things like cheerfulness, but
also things like an ability to act, a knowledge of


physics, or a belief in God or education. But we need
some single term here and any ordinary word we
choose must be extended to cover the very varied
things under discussion.

We may say, then, that the idea of education is the
idea of someone fostering dispositions in someone by
activities of certain sorts. More formally, the idea of
education may be at least partly explicated as follows:

X educates Y only if X fosters disposition W in Y
by method Z. Strictly, of course, this is an explication
only of education in sense (1), but we have already
seen that education in the other three senses can be
defined in terms of this one. To this extent the formula
just given does represent a concept that may be called
the idea of education. However, we do not yet have
a complete analysis of this concept; to achieve this we
must know something more, something about the
ranges of the variables involved. May we put just
anything in the places of X and Y, any disposition in
the place of W, and any method in the place of Z,
and still say that education is going on? Rousseau
(writing in 1762) talks as if we may when he says that
education comes to us from three sources, from nature,
from men, and from things, since they all do something
for us (Émile [1962], p. 11). It should be observed that
our question here is not normative but conceptual. For
example, we are not asking, as if education were al-
ready defined, what dispositions it should cultivate or
what methods it should use; we are still defining it and
are asking whether any restrictions on the dispositions
that might be cultivated or the means that might be
employed are to be built into the very concept of
education (i.e., put into our definition).

In reply R. S. Peters has argued very cogently that,
unless we extend the term education as Rousseau does,
we would not say that X is educating Y if he is fostering
undesirable and morally objectionable dispositions or
using undesirable and morally objectionable methods;
for example, if he is helping Y to form bad habits and
false beliefs, or if he is using harmful drugs, brain-
washing, or hypnotic suggestion (Concept of Education
[1967], pp. 1-6). This seems to be correct. It is true
we may say that what X is doing then is “bad educa-
tion,” but we would be more likely to say it is not
education at all. Education is, normally at least, a
laudatory term and its laudatoriness seems to be built
into it. If one says that X is educating Y, one must
be thinking that X is cultivating desirable and morally
unobjectionable dispositions (excellences) by similar
means. Education must foster dispositions and use
methods that are desirable and morally unobjection-
able, or at least regarded as such, otherwise it is not

Does the concept of education impose any further
restrictions on the dispositions and methods to be
pursued? May or should we build anything more about
them into the definition of education? It is sometimes
assumed that education is by definition concerned only
to promote knowledge and intellectual excellences.
Thus, R. M. Hutchins writes, “Education implies
teaching. Teaching implies knowledge” (The Higher
[1962], p. 66). And again, “Education deals
with the development of the intellectual powers of
men. Their moral and spiritual powers are the sphere
of the family and the church” (Conflict in Education
[1953], p. 69).

One can, of course, so define education, but it is a
rather arbitrary limitation of the concept, since we do
ordinarily include moral and religious education within
it. If one says that such cultivation of moral and spirit-
ual powers is not education, but something else, how-
ever desirable it may be, one not only rejects our usual
way of speaking; one forces us to look for some other
term that covers the whole idea we have throughout
history been using “education” and its equivalents to

Peters has also sought to build further criteria into
the concept of education. He argues that education
is going on only if X is initiating Y into some form
of activity, some body of knowledge or mode of con-
duct that is governed by public standards enshrined
in a public language to which both teacher and learner
must give allegiance. Education “consists in initiating
others into activities, modes of conduct and thought
which have standards written into them by reference
to which it is possible to act, think, and feel with
varying degrees of skill, relevance, and taste” (Educa-
tion as Initiation
[1964], p. 41).

Peters contends, furthermore, that education implies
that the teacher and learner both know what they are
doing, at least in an embryonic way, and care about
it; that, though education does include the cultivation
of moral and spiritual powers as well as intellectual
ones, it always entails some kind of cognitive or intel-
lectual development, some kind of “knowing-that” as
well as “knowing-how”; and that the methods it uses
must be appropriate to the dispositions involved in the
kind of initiation described, as well as compatible with
the learner's knowing what he is doing and caring
about it. This is a more adequate view than that of
Hutchins, and one is tempted to accept it, at least if
it can be made to cover the cultivation of bodily skills,
manual training, aesthetic education, and vocational
preparation, all of which we ordinarily cover by the
word “education.”

On the other hand, it is not entirely clear that Peters'
definition will cover all of these things. Moreover, he
appears to be thinking that the forms of activity and


thought into which X is to initiate Y must have been
developed in the past and in some public way, and
so, though he does try to provide for the teaching of
critical thinking, he seems to exclude from education
the possibility that X might initiate Y into some new
mode of activity or thought with standards not yet
publicly accepted—or possibly into some “form of
Life” that involves no standards at all or only those
Y comes to regard as his “own thing” or commits
himself to by some act of “choice” or “decision.” Such
possibilities seem to be envisaged by those who are
presently advocating a “new” or “free” education, and
it does seem a bit arbitrary to say that what they are
envisaging just is not a form of education, even if it
turns out to be desirable and morally unobjectionable
(as it very well may not).

The much-discussed question of the relation of in-
doctrination to education is relevant here. Indoc-
trination appears to be one way in which the young
might be made to acquire at least some of the disposi-
tions Peters has in mind, though he may be meaning
to rule out its use in education by his criterion that
the learner must see, if only as a child, what he is doing
and why it is desirable. What seems crucial in the
debate about it, however, is not whether indoctrination
passes this criterion but whether its use is desirable
and morally unobjectionable. Those who think it is
never so tend to deny that indoctrination is a form
of education, while those who think it sometimes is
so tend to hold that indoctrination is a kind of educa-
tion, even if they limit its use. This suggests that we
rule indoctrination and other doubtful methods out of
education by definition, if and only if we regarde them
as undesirable or morally objectionable. Should we rule
them out of education on any other grounds? To say
no here has the disadvantage that, if we find promoting
good dispositions by drug, pill, electrode, or hypnotism
to be feasible and unobjectionable, then we must rec-
ognize such methods as properly educational, which
many are admittedly reluctant to do. On the other
hand, perhaps we are reluctant to recognize them as
educational only because we are certain that they are
morally or otherwise objectionable—or simply so
incapable of producing desirable dispositions as not to
deserve consideration at all.

So far as the ranges of W and Z go, then, it is not
clear that we should build into the definition of educa-
tion anything more than the requirement that the
dispositions sought and the means employed must be
desirable on some ground or other and morally unob-
jectionable. As for the conceptual question about the
ranges of X and Y, it seems fairly clear that we would
think that X is educating Y only if X and Y both have
minds of a human level. It is true that Rousseau says
we are educated by nature and things as well as by
men, and that his way of speaking is not entirely
unnatural. Still he is stretching the range of X too far.
It is only when “exempt from public haunts” that we
find “tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,”
and “sermons in stones.” We do, of course, “learn” from
our experience with things, but to call them our
“teachers” is surely some kind of metonymy at best;
if there is a teacher here it is ourselves. What Heidi's
grandfather learned from the eagle he taught himself.
As for Rousseau's talk about education by nature—this
is simply a mistake. By it he means the fruition of
innate dispositions that would take place in our lives
if it were not for the action of men and things on us.
But automatic realization of dispositions when no one
is doing anything to bring it about, not even oneself,
is not education but something else. Rousseau's philos-
ophy of education is a philosophy of education only
because he thinks that we have to do something to
prevent unnatural dispositions from being formed
through our experience of men and things. This pre-
vention is a kind of educational activity. But the natu-
ral evolution of innate dispositions as such is not, even
if they are desirable, as Rousseau assumes.

Some would say that X may be a superhuman being;
in The Idea of Christian Education (1957, pp. 255-65),
S. F. Bayne says that the basic idea of Christian educa-
tion is that God is our teacher. Now, if God really
does, by some special act on his part (and not just
through our own use of our natural faculties), “reveal”
things to us, then He can be said to teach us. If X
reveals to Y the way to set up a tent he is teaching
Y something. Thus the Psalmist writes, “Teach me thy
way, O Lord; I will walk in thy truth...,” and, again,
“Teach me good judgment and knowledge....” One
may then say that God educates man, if one chooses,
and if one believes that such special divine revelation
is available to us. It seems better, however, to follow
Plato's Meno in limiting the term “educating” to
human activities like practicing and instructing, and
to think of God's acts of revelation and regeneration
as “gifts,” as Christianity itself usually does—as some
kind of divine aid to education rather than as education
itself. This would, among other things, accord with
Aquinas' doctrine that faith, hope, and love are not
acquired by teaching but by divine infusion. One can
still argue then, as religious people often have, that
education is important only because it is necessary or
at least helpful as a preparation for God's act of grace;
because it enables one to understand His revelation,
or because it equips one to do His work in the world.

If what has been said is accepted, then it follows
that the concept of education is a normative concept
that is open-textured at two points, since it restricts


the ranges of W and Z to what is desirable and morally
unobjectionable or judged to be so, but imposes no
other restrictions upon them. It also follows that all
education is, strictly speaking, “education of men”—of
and by, if not necessarily for, men—that the idea of
education is the idea of a distinctively human activity
or enterprise of forming desirable dispositions or
excellences by morally unobjectionable means.

Whatever may be thought of this discussion of the
conceptual ranges of X, Y, W, and Z, it remains true
that the idea of education is the idea of an enterprise
in which someone fosters certain dispositions in some-
one by methods of certain sorts. We may now observe
that anyone who consciously embarks upon this enter-
prise must not only have this concept, he must also
have certain beliefs or postulates—a certain minimal
philosophy, if you will. This is made clear by the
discussion in Plato's Meno. These presuppositions are:
(a) that some set of dispositions is desirable, (b) that
they are not innate or just naturally or automatically
acquired (as Rousseau thought they might be), (c) that
they are not all acquired wholly by luck or by divine
gift, (d) that they may (some of them perhaps wholly,
others at least in part) be acquired or passed on by
humanly instituted activities of an educational kind,
e.g., by practice or instruction, though possibly only
“wid a little bit o' luck” or a bounteous divine aid.
Actually, there is another presupposition, not envisaged
in the Meno, namely, (e) that they are not simply
created in oneself by an act of choice or decision, out
of whole cloth as it were (as so many seemed to think
in the 1960's).

One might, of course, conceive of education without
making these assumptions, but then it would be the
idea of a purely hypothetical endeavor. Any X who
actually engages in the enterprise of education can do
it only under these presuppositions, for, if they are
false, then education is either impossible, unnecessary,
or so uncertain of success as to be pointless. X may
be relatively optimistic or relatively pessimistic about
education, but if he engages in it at all, he must make
these assumptions.

We see then that there is such a thing as the idea
of education and that it is possible to give something
more nearly approaching a definition of it than T. S.
Eliot realized. To say that X educates or is educating
Y is to say at least that X is fostering desirable and
morally unobjectionable dispositions in Y by the use
of methods that are also desirable and morally unob-
jectionable, or at least that X is cultivating dispositions
in Y by certain methods. This idea (concept) of educa-
tion is common to all of the different ideas (doctrines,
theories) of education held by Plato, Kant, Dewey,
President Garfield, or the Chinese. They all mean by
“education” (or its equivalents in their languages) a
process, involving an X (educator) and a Y (educated),
of forming desirable dispositions by desirable methods.
They have different beliefs about education—about
what it should be like—but they mean the same thing
by it. There are also different kinds of education—
physical, moral, vocational, public, etc.—but these all
involve the forming of desirable dispositions by desir-
able methods. The same basic concept underlies all
kinds and theories of education. All kinds and theories
of education have the same five basic presuppositions.

We may end our account of the concept of education
with a word about its emergence in the history of
Western thought. Eliot talks as if our notion of educa-
tion has undergone a kind of evolution through the
centuries, but all he shows is that we have had changing
views about what X, Y, Z, and W should be, which
is true but does not mean that our basic concept itself
has changed. Actually, according to the above account,
the concept of education was fully conceived when
some individual or people first consciously judged that
a certain set of dispositions was desirable, that they
were not innate or automatically acquired, nor matters
of fortune or divine gift, and that they could (some
of them at least in part) be acquired or passed on by
some human program of teaching or practice. Just
when and where this was we cannot say for certain,
even if we consider only the Western world. We must
suppose that some kind of education or paideia has
been going on since the beginning of human history.
The self-making of man, of which Kant speaks, may
not be as old as the hills but it must be as old as man.
Education must then have been in the world before
the concept of it came to anyone's consciousness in
an explicit way. As Eliot says, “... a long tradition
and many educational institutions preceded the time
at which the question, 'What is education?' needed to
be asked” (p. 121).

By Pindar's day, however, antidemocratic spokesmen
were arguing that some men have aretē (“excellence”)
by nature and others do not, and that for the former
education is unnecessary, while for the others it is of
no avail. Here we find the concept of education as we
have defined it becoming clear. It came completely
out in the open in the days of Socrates and the Sophists,
when the Greek air was full of debate about education,
as is shown by the discussion Plato purports to describe
in the Protagoras and Meno about the teachability of
aretē. For Meno begins by asking how aretē is acquired
and he lists four alternatives: (a) that it is acquired by
teaching, (b) that it is acquired by practice, (c) that
it is acquired by fortune or divine gift, (d) that it is
possessed by nature. The ostensible conclusion is that
(c) is true and hence that aretē is unhappily not


acquired by education, but the point is that education
is being definitely conceived as the attempt to foster
excellences by such methods as teaching and practice.
Thus the idea of education is here essentially complete
and its postulates understood. This discussion, when-
ever it first took place, marks the real beginning of
the philosophy of education. Indeed, it took place
precisely because philosophy was beginning to take a
hand in the educational enterprise.


Differing ideas of or views about education must
agree with much of what has been said, particularly
with the general outlines of the analysis given of the
idea of education and with the statement of the pre-
suppositions of any educational enterprise. They may
include different views about the ranges of X, Y, W,
and Z to be built into the idea or definition of educa-
tion. However, even if they agree completely about
conceptual matters, they may and do still differ about
substantive issues. In fact, as Eliot sees, it is precisely
these further substantive questions that have been and
are the historically and practically most important
ones. These substantive questions, which remain open
on any plausible definition of education, roughly stated,
are: (1) Are the postulates of education true? Are the
excellences cultivatible by education? Need they be
so cultivated? (2) What dispositions are desirable and
to be fostered by education? What dispositions are
excellences? (3) By what means or in what ways should
education (educators) seek to foster these desirable
dispositions? (4) Who is to be educated? How should
educational opportunity be distributed? (5) Who should

Actually each of these questions is a family or group
of questions. They are, moreover, interrelated and
hence cannot be answered in entire independence of
one another, e.g., (1) and (2), (2) and (4), (3) and (4),
and (4) and (5). In what follows, however, we shall
have to keep them somewhat separate. It should also
be noted that the last four questions are normative,
since they ask what should be done, or what is desir-
able, while the first is not.

The main point for our purposes now, however, is
the fact that theories and philosophies of education
arise as answers to these substantive questions and,
apart from conceptual or definitional preliminaries like
the above, consist of and are distinguished by their
answers to them. Before we discuss the questions and
the issues involved in answering them, we must stop
to look at such substantive theories and philosophies,
to see what they are like, what they include, and how
they are or should be put together; this is the second
main part of our task—to analyze the kind of idea of
education referred to earlier in (2b).

A theory of education, then, is a set of answers to
the above five questions. Since it includes answers to
the last four it will be normative, saying what educa-
tion should be like, not just descriptive, explanatory,
or predictive, as a psychological theory of learning or
child development would be. In J. S. Mill's language
(A System of Logic [1843], Book VI, Chs. V, XII),
education is not a science, but an art. It may, however,
and no doubt should, make use of such scientific
theories of development and learning as a basis for
some of its normative conclusions; in fact, Mill thought
educational theories should rest their normative “pre-
cepts” entirely on such premisses as psychology alone
can provide, except for the one basic normative prem-
iss supplied by ethics, which for him was the princi-
ple of utility.

What is usually called a philosophy of education is
a theory in this normative sense, but not every such
theory is properly called a philosophy. For a theory
of education might simply assume, without argument,
that the dispositions to be promoted and the methods
to be used are those regarded as desirable by the society
or individual the education is to serve, and then it can
be called a philosophy of education only by extreme
courtesy. It is better regarded as a minimal theory of
education, reserving the title of philosophy of educa-
tion for fuller theories that provide a reasoned justifi-
cation for their answers to normative questions about

Every theory of education in our sense will, then,
assume an affirmative answer to the first question,
though it may do so dogmatically, without discussion.
That is, it assumes that the acquisition of desirable
dispositions is not wholly a matter of nature, luck,
divine gift, or choice, but is in part or to some extent
amenable to educational programming. If it seeks to
defend these assumptions, it must list these dispositions,
analyze them, and show that the claims made in the
assumptions are true. In other words, it must establish
certain facts about human nature and about the world.
To do this it may appeal to science, to metaphysics,
or to theology—different thinkers will have different
views about what is to be appealed to, views that will
depend on their general philosophical orientations.

What means, methods, or practices education is to
make use of—e.g., just what the teacher is to do in
the classroom—will appear in answer to question (3).
Even a minimal theory of education may try to give
a reasoned reply to this question by seeking to justify
its recommendations. How then may a precept about
the method of teaching something be justified? Suppose
one maintains, as the Greeks did, that in order to foster
the moral virtues we should use music of certain sorts,
at least during a certain stage in a child's life (a belief
that was for the most part given up in the Hellenistic


Period, though parents even in the twentieth century
sometimes wonder about the possible moral effects of
some new combinations oof soound that some of their
children listen to). To justify this claim one must use
an argument something like this: (a) Education should
cultivate moral virtue. (b) The hearing of such and such
kinds of music is conducive to moral virtue. (c) There-
fore education should make use of music of those kinds.
Or suppose we use the dictum that, no matter what
disposition is being fostered, learning is by doing. Then
our reasoning must be along these lines: (a) Education
should foster an understanding of music. (b) Any dispo-
sition is more effectively fostered if some relevant
“doing” on the part of the student is arranged for. (c)
Therefore education should include learning to sing or
play an instrument.

Thus, in order to justify any normative conclusion
in answer to question (3), whether this is specific or
general, one must make use of a normative premiss
like (a) in these examples, which says something about
dispositions to be promoted, and of a factual premiss
like (b) which says that a certain method or practice
is necessary, sufficient, or at least helpful for the pro-
motion of those dispositions.

Two things about premisses like (b) should be noted.
In the first place, even if they are simply assumed or
borrowed from common sense or tradition, they are
empirical statements that may in principle be verified
by empirical observation and scientific testing, and any
theory that seeks to justify them must appeal to expe-
rience or to some empirical science. In the second
place, they may be of different kinds depending on
whether they assert that a certain practice is necessary,
sufficient, or neither necessary nor sufficient but still
helpful, for the fostering of the disposition referred to
in premiss (a), or simply that it is more effective in
doing so than other methods are; and the conclusion
in (c) must be understood differently, depending on
which of these claims they make, though the argument
may in each case be read as establishing that the prac-
tice in question has some value or desirability.

Arguments like those illustrated do not, however,
establish that the practices they defend ought to be
employed unless they show the practices to be neces-
sary. Take the following argument: (a) Education
should foster citizenship. (b) Indoctrination is con-
ducive to citizenship. (c) Therefore education should
include indoctrination. Even if one accepts its prem-
isses one may reject the conclusion because one does
not regard citizenship as having top priority; but, even
if one gives citizenship first place, one may reject it
because one regards indoctrination as morally wrong.
Of course, if one believes that citizenship must be given
first place in education, and that indoctrination is nec-
essary for promoting citizenship, then one must con
clude that indoctrination should be used. But then one
will not regard its use as morally objectionable. This
example shows that ethical considerations are impor-
tant in connection with question (3) as well as scientific
ones, since methods must be shown to be morally
unobjectionable as well as effective or helpful in pro-
ducing desirable dispositions before we can consider
them justified.

Still, except when ethical premisses by themselves
dictate something about educational methods, e.g., that
educators should not use lies (except in cases in which
lying is morally excusable, if there are any), the justifi-
cation of answers to question (3) will include a premiss
like (a) in our examples that presupposes an answer
to question (2), plus, of course, a factual premiss like
(b). In this sense, (2) is the central normative question
in any theory of education, and the central part of any
such theory is a list and description of the dispositions
to be fostered by education. How then is one to justify
saying that a certain disposition (which is not simply
a matter of nature, luck, divine gift, or choice) should
be cultivated by education? From what has been said,
it follows that one must show that the disposition is
desirable on some ground and that it is not morally
objectionable. In order to show that it is not morally
reprehensible he must, of course, appeal to some
ethical premiss about what is or is not morally wrong,
bad, or vicious, and at least sometimes also to a factual
premiss. For example, to show that a liking for the
kinds of music Plato and Aristotle banned from educa-
tion is not morally bad, one would have to use a prem-
iss telling us what moral virtues we should have and
a factual one to the effect that a liking for those kinds
of music does not conflict with the acquisition of those

In order to show that it is desirable to foster a certain
morally innocuous disposition by education, one must,
again, use premisses of two kinds, namely, ethical or
other value premisses stating more ultimate aims or
principles of education, and factual ones stating that
the disposition in question is necessary, sufficient, or
at least helpful in relation to them. For example, one
might accept, as many would, the three aims of educa-
tion discussed by Eliot (p. 69): 1. To prepare a child
to make a living (for a vocation). 2. To equip him to
be a good citizen. 3. To develop his powers and so
enable him to enjoy a good life. Then to show that
education should foster a certain disposition one would
show that its acquisition or possession is required by
or at least conducive to one of these ends (and not
inconsistent with a more important end). The argument
would have this form: (a) Education should promote
such and such an end (or principle). (b) Disposition
W is conducive to this end. (c) Therefore education
should foster W. Here (a) is a normative or value


premiss; it belongs to one's ethical or value theory,
more specifically, to one's political or social philoso-
phy. Political or social philosophy is thus shown to be
of crucial importance in the theory of education. As
Aristotle said, it is politike

that ordains which of the sciences are to exist in states,
and what branches of knowledge the different classes of
citizens are to learn, and up to what point...

(Ethics I, 2).

Then (b) is a factual premiss, saying that a certain
disposition is necessary, sufficient, or at least helpful
in achieving a certain end (or living by a certain prin-
ciple); it will usually be of a kind that depends on
experience and science for its verification, but in some
theories of education it might come from metaphysics
or theology.

Thus, answers to question (3) depend on answers to
question (2)—which give us the “proximate” aims of
education—and answers to question (2) depend on
answers to a more basic question which give us the
more “ultimate” aims or principles of education,
factual premisses appearing in both cases. How then
are answers to this more basic question, statements
about the more ultimate aims of education, to be justi-
fied? An educational theorist might stop at this point
and refer us to a philosopher or theologian, but, if he
is offering us a full-fledged philosophy of education,
he will try to justify his statement in (a) of our last
example. Then, again, he must appeal to premisses of
two kinds: first, a still more basic normative or value
premiss, and, second, a still more basic factual one.
There is no one form his reasoning must take, but he
will make use of premisses like the following: We ought
always to do what will bring about the greatest general
balance of good over evil (the principle of utility);
Society ought to be just; Pleasure is the end of life;
Contemplating the heavens with understanding is good
in itself; Belief in Jesus Christ is necessary for salvation;
Making a living (having a vocation) is necessary both
for life and for the good life; This life is all there is.
Such premisses contain no explicit reference to educa-
tion, and hence do not belong specifically to the phi-
losophy of education but to other branches of philoso-
phy, to science, or to theology. One may, of course,
seek to justify them in turn by appeal to more basic
premisses, until one finally comes to one's most basic
ethical or value premisses and one's most basic beliefs
about man and the universe.

To illustrate what has been said, one relatively com-
plete line of argument in education might proceed as
follows: (a) Other things being equal, what is good in
itself should be pursued and promoted. (b) Contem-
plating the heavens with understanding is good in itself.
(c) Therefore the contemplative understanding of the
heavens should be pursued and promoted. (d)This en-
tails acquiring and fostering the knowledge of astron-
omy (the disposition called a knowledge of astronomy).
(e) This can be done by education and by education
alone. (f) Therefore education should foster a knowl-
edge of astronomy (other things being equal). (g) In
order to do this it is necessary, among other things,
to initiate people into the use of the telescope. (h)
Therefore education should initiate the young into the
use of the telescope. Granting the premisses, this is,
as far as it goes, a good argument for its conclusions
in (c), (f), and (h).

It is not final, however, for the acquisition of a
mastery of astronomy might be incompatible with that
of more important dispositions. But arguments to show
this would have a somewhat similar structure, and so
this example can be used as a basis for a number of
points. (1) Both factual and normative premisses are
necessary to answer normative questions about educa-
tion. (2) Among the factual premisses must be some
empirical or scientific ones, e.g., (e), (g), and possibly
(d). (3) Epistemological premisses are neither necessary
nor sufficient to establish educational conclusions, as
so many twentieth-century writers on the philosophy
of education seem to assume. (4) Specifically religious,
theological, or metaphysical premisses are also neither
necessary nor sufficient, as Eliot and many others
allege. (5) The philosophy of education is not autono-
mous, for it depends on premisses from other fields.
(6) What is basic and central in the philosophy of
education is such normative inquiries as ethics, value
theory, and social philosophy, as is shown by the role
of premisses like (a) and (b) and conclusions like (c)
and (f). (7) Philosophers of education might content
themselves with establishing conclusions like (c) and
(f), leaving more practical steps like (g) and (h) to
educational scientists and practitioners, but they have
usually attempted to supply such steps too.

Four points should be added. (8) Eliot and others
who hold that a philosophy of education must ulti-
mately rest on religious or theological premisses assume
that the final premisses one appeals to are religious
or theological just because they are normative, because
they are about the nature of man and the universe,
or because they are ultimate. But to say that they must
therefore be religious or theological and not just ethical,
axiological, philosophical, or scientific is to make them
religious or theological simply by a kind of baptism.
For then atheism, naturalism, secularism, cynicism,
hedonism, perhaps even skepticism, all become forms
of religion without undergoing any conversion and
without relaxing their opposition to theism or to what
usually counts as religious or theological belief; and
nothing is gained but a Pyrrhic victory. (9) One may


insist that specifically theistic beliefs must be brought
to bear on educational arguments like the above, e.g.,
in connection with premisses (b), (d), or (e), but this
is not obvious and it is not logically necessary; in fact,
one can agree to this only if one already shares such
theistic beliefs. (10) It remains true that religious,
epistemological, and metaphysical premisses may, so
far as the logic of the matter goes, be relevant to the
justification of educational conclusions. If one believes,
as Thomas Merton did, that the whole work of man
in this life is to find God, one may and, indeed, must
use this belief as the basis of one's philosophy of educa-
tion. That epistemological premisses may be relevant
even though they are neither necessary or sufficient
is shown by one of Cardinal Newman's arguments
(1852) for teaching theology in universities: (a) A uni-
versity should teach knowledge. (b) Theology is a form
of knowledge. (c) Therefore a university should teach
theology (The Idea of a University [1959], Ch. II). Here
(b) is an epistemological claim. Incidentally, it should
be noticed that neither of Newman's premisses is
specifically religious or theological. (11) Thus, a full
normative philosophy of education will contain the
following kinds of statements, in addition to definitions,
distinctions, and other bits of analysis: 1. Normative
premisses like (a) and (b) in the longer of our last two
examples. 2. Factual premisses like (d), (e), and (g),
including at least some empirical or scientific ones.
3. Normative conclusions answering questions (2) and
(3) like (c), (f), and (h). It may include epistemological,
metaphysical, or religious premisses, though it need
not; if so, they will belong under the second heading
(unless they are normative).

This brings us to questions (4) and (5) on our earlier
list. Answers to these questions are somewhat inter-
woven with answers to questions (2) and (3), as has
been observed, but it is clear that in general they too
will depend on premisses of the two kinds already
distinguished, normative and factual, and that political
and social philosophy in particular will play an impor-
tant part in establishing them. Among the factual
premisses there will be empirical or scientific judg-
ments, for example, about the capacities, needs, and
responses of different groups of children, or about the
effectiveness of different sorts of teacher training.


The third part of our task is to make, in the light
of our analyses thus far, some clarifications of and
comments on the “history of educational ideas” and
on the chief issues involved in it. Such a history should
be distinguished, more than it sometimes is, from a
history of education. The former is a history of certain
ideas, of certain concepts and theories, and is a part
of the general history of thought or ideas; the latter
is a history of certain actions, institutions, and prac-
tices, and is a part of the general history of what human
beings have done and how they did it. The two histories
are, of course, very intimately connected, but they
should not be confused.

In any case, however, a complete history of theories
of education will include, in one way or another,
histories of the four kinds of “ideas of education”
distinguished early in Section I. The history of the idea
of education would be the story, if it can be told, of
the emergence into full consciousness of the concept
of education we tried to analyze in the rest of that
Section. The closely related history of proposed
analyses or definitions of that concept would be a part
of the history of analytical philosophy of education,
and so might be of interest both for the theory of
definition and for the history of ideas. It would cer-
tainly appear, if what was said in Section I is correct,
that many proposed definitions of education are faulty,
and that many apparent definitions are really disguised
normative theories about what the aims and means of
education should be, in which case they belong to the
history of such theories.

The third of our histories would be a history of “the
belief (or faith) in education” that has characterized
some thinkers and epochs in our culture, and it or parts
of it have often been told. Here we can only analyze
the belief. It is not a normative belief about the ends
or means of education, but a factual conviction about
its efficacy and results, such as Socrates sometimes
appeared not to have. It entails a belief in the presup-
positions of education formulated in Section I, but it
goes beyond them, not just to a confidence that educa-
tion can in fact produce the dispositions it seeks to
produce, but to a conviction that the acquisition of
these dispositions will have certain hoped for results.
In modern times it has been associated with the idea
of progress, and has taken the form of a belief that,
through the spread of education, man as a race can
and will progress steadily either toward material pros-
perity or toward some more ideal goal.

It may, however, take two more individualistic
forms: the belief that education is the key to an indi-
vidual's getting ahead or succeeding in the world, or
the belief that education is his way to a more ideal
happiness, to perfection, or to salvation. An example
of the last is Plato's view in the Symposium that the
right kind of child-leading will lead him to immortality.
In effect, then, the belief in education splits into four
beliefs, viz., two kinds of social faith, one idealistic and
one materialistic, and two corresponding kinds of indi-
vidual faith. Perhaps we should also recognize a fifth
form of the belief—the belief in education as a pana-


cea, said to be especially characteristic of Americans,
at least until the 1960's.

It is, however, especially about the history of
normative theories of education that we are now con-
cerned. Perhaps it is possible to find implicit theories
of this sort in Homer and other descriptions of Greek
education, but, at any rate, more conscious and fuller
theories arose in Greece through a conjunction of two
developments—the rise of philosophy or what Aristo-
phanes called the “Think Shop” and tried to laugh out
of existence, and the breakdown of the traditional or
“old” educational system. In a real sense, philosophy
and thinking about education arose together; philoso-
phers at once set themselves up as teachers and critics,
and education gave them a profession and problems
to think about.

Between the many ideas of education that have
appeared in our history there have been a great many
issues of debate of various kinds, more or less inde-
pendent of or interdependent on one another, but all
related in some manner to our schema of analysis. We
must now try to identify and analyze them, make some
historical remarks about them, and relate them to our
schema—all as an aid to understanding the issues and
their history, and to our own thinking about them.

Some of these “great debates” have been more or
less perennial; others can be roughly dated in the sense
that they peaked early or only recently. One could then
take them up in some kind of chronological order. One
can, however, also take them up in a more logical order
dictated by their relation to our schema of questions.
Here they will be dealt with in a mixture of these ways.
Some of them are specifically educational, since what
is at issue is some normative question explicitly about
education, but others are meta-normative rather than
normative—the debate is about the method to be used
in determining the answer, say, to question (2) in Sec-
tion II, or about the kinds of factual premisses that
are admissible. Still others are about substantive factual
or normative questions that are not specifically about
education, though they are relevant to it. In each case,
our concern here is primarily analytical and second-
arily historical; we cannot attempt to settle the issues

We may begin with three ancient debates.

(1) The discussion in the Meno and Protagoras has
already been referred to. Is a virtue somehow amenable
to cultivation by education or is it not? The question
was not whether education is effective in fostering any
desirable dispositions whatsoever. This is a much more
radical question, which might perhaps also be dis-
cussed, but Socrates had no doubt that some knowledge
and skills could be taught. The question was about a
particular set of desirable dispositions, namely, those
the Greeks included in aretē, and about the efficacy
of traditional methods of moral education in promoting
them (one feels that Socrates has some notion of a new
method that will be effective where the old ones were
not). But it can be asked for any other proposed set
of desirable dispositions and for any other proposed
methods of education—and one might wish to add that
it makes a difference who the pupil and the teacher
are (Plato obviously thought that Socrates could teach
virtue to at least some young men). If a certain disposi-
tion cannot be fostered in anyone by anyone by any
educational method, it cannot realistically be taken as
a goal in education anywhere. Even in his own context
Socrates did not state the question accurately enough,
as Protagoras partly sees. For he does not distinguish,
as we have seen one must, between asking whether
education is necessary for the acquisition of virtue,
whether it is sufficient, or whether it is relevant at all.
At most Socrates' crude evidence would show only that
it is not sufficient, not that it is not necessary or helpful
as far as it goes, in at least some cases. His evidence
does not even show that it is not sufficient in some

Before we leave the Meno it will be interesting to
notice that later theories of education have approxi-
mated more or less closely to one or another of the
alternatives, which, accepted without qualification,
would make the great enterprise of education “turn
awry, and lose the name of action.” This is possible
within the framework of the five postulates of any
educational endeavor (Section I). Thus, Rousseau and
the followers of nature in education stay as close as
possible to the alternative that the dispositions to be
sought in education are in us by nature and are auto-
matically realized if nothing interferes; traditional
Christian theory holds that the most desirable disposi-
tions—faith, hope, and love—are mainly or wholly a
matter of divine gift; and Kant makes the most crucial
of them—good will or moral virtue—a matter of free
noumenal choice that is not determined by anything
that goes on in time or space, while the existentialists
and their followers come close to making such a “deci-
sion” a necessary and sufficient condition of the posses-
sion of any disposition whatsoever, thus rendering the
very possibility of education problematic.

(2) The debate highlighted by the Meno was con-
nected with another which Plato calls “the ancient war
between the poets and the philosophers,” itself high-
lighted in his Republic and in Aristophanes' The
Ostensibly this was a debate over the question
who should teach, that is, who should be the ultimate
educator—the poet, who was also the theologian and
historian of Greece, and who depends on divine in-
spiration, or the philosopher, who was also the scientist


of Greece, and, who depends on reason or thinking.
It may also be thought of as an issue between two
“unified curricula,” two unified sets of dispositions,
both aiming at truth and virtue, but involving the two
radically different approaches indicated. In both of
these aspects, it has been continued ever since, espe-
cially in the patristic and medieval periods, by the
debate in educational theory between the theologians
on one side and philosophers and scientists on the
other. The high point on the philosophical side was
reached in the educational thinking of Socrates, Plato,
and Aristotle—or, as some would say in the twentieth
century, in that of Dewey. Aquinas' philosophy of
education represents the most influential synthesis of
the opposing positions. By that time, however, what
we usually call poetry had virtually dropped out of
contention, except that its study continued to be a part
of the educational curriculum, as it still is. Now its
scope has been extended to include modern literature
and all of the arts, and, as Lionel Trilling has pointed
out (Beyond Culture [1965], p. 219), in spite of the
recent conflict of “the two cultures” it bids fair, for
good or for ill, to be the most important educational
influence of the period since World War II.

The debate had another aspect in terms of our
schema, for it also involves the question of the source
of the basic premisses of any educational theory. Do
they come from some kind of inspiration or revelation
or are they reached by some human effort of critical
and systematic reflection? Here the question is not
whether we are to teach poetry or philosophy, religion
or science, but whether our conclusions about what
to teach, whatever it may be, must be grounded on
premisses from one source or from the other. This again
is an issue that we still have with us, as Eliot's essay
shows. And it is not only religious thinkers who put
themselves on the side of the “poets”; a basic anti-
rationalism infects a large part of contemporary edu-
cational thinking, especially that of the very “newest”
writers—and it is closely connected with developments
in the arts.

(3) A third ancient debate concerning education,
related to both of the others, took place between the
Sophists and Socrates, and was continued by Plato,
Aristotle, and other philosophers on one side, and
Isocrates, Quintilian, and other orators and rhetoricians
on the other, with Cicero seeking a synthesis of sorts
(one might think of this as one aspect of a three-sided
war between poets, philosophers, and sophists). At issue
here, for one thing, was Protagoras' thesis that educa-
tion should be based on a study of the poets. But more
important was the Sophist tendency to conceive of
aretē or excellence as consisting of a number of skills,
which they claimed to be able to teach, and which
could be used to achieve some end or other, or could
be enjoyed for their own sakes, but which had no
essential reference to truth or moral virtue. For
Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle skills that could be used
for or against the true or the good were unimportant;
what really mattered in education was the moral and
intellectual virtues proper, which they conceived of
as essentially directed to the good or the true.

This opposition represents one of the main water-
sheds in the history of educational thinking, for very
different visions of education emerge on the two sides.
It too is still with us in the question whether the
emphasis in education should be on method or skill
or on knowledge and truth. It is not unrelated to the
question of liberal versus vocational education; at any
rate, many “consumers,” if not thinkers about educa-
tion, seem to conceive of it as a tool or a toy, much
as the Sophists did.

What was said is roughly true of the Sophists, but
it will hardly do for the orators, Isocrates and Quin-
tilian, since they thought of the orator not only as the
possessor of a number of skills, but as essentially con-
cerned with truth and virtue. They were, however,
relatively antiphilosophical, and did not make anything
much in the way of either philosophy or theology a
part of education as they conceived of it, as Plato,
Aristotle, and other philosophers did. For them, edu-
cation centered, not in philosophy or theology, but in
the liberal arts, the trivium and quadrivium of the
Middle Ages—which were roughly speaking originated
by the Sophists, and came to form the perennial cur-
riculum of education. For it was not the poets or the
philosophers who won that ancient war, or even the
theologians though they ruled for centuries, but the
Sophists and their followers, those who believed in a
curriculum consisting of a number of arts, disciplines,
or sciences.

Ultimately everything else was simply added to the
number. For long there were only the liberal arts and
classical studies, plus the faculties of law, medicine,
and theology; but slowly, in fact only recently, the
natural and social sciences, modern history, language,
and literature, and other arts, were added to the cur-
riculum—and many other things, including, as was
mentioned, education itself—with nothing dominating
the whole as the poets, philosophers, and theologians
had each hoped their subject would; though some now
think, as Herbert Spencer did (Education [1884], Ch.
I) and as C. P. Snow does (The Two Cultures, 1959),
that science ought to dominate if it does not do so
already. Given this conception of education, of course,
the main remaining questions are: Who studies which
subject and by what compulsion, if any, must he?

Thus these three Greek debates about education


were somewhat complex, involving a number of issues,
and, in one form or another, had important subsequent
histories. Let us now approach other issues in a more
logical manner.

(4) As we saw, the central problem in the theory
of education is question (2): What dispositions are to
be fostered? But this question immediately raises an-
other: How are we to determine what dispositions
education should foster? For some the answer is rela-
tively easy. They assume that education is to promote
the dispositions regarded as desirable by the society
in which it is going on. Or they look at the various
arts, disciplines, and sciences referred to a moment
ago—all there, like mountains to be climbed—and
juggle them into a curriculum or simply let students
“elect” from among them. Such approaches have their
practical advantages. But a less minimal theory of
education must give more of a rationale than this, and
how is it to proceed?

The usual method is to look for “the aims of educa-
tion.” But this method has been much criticized by
Dewey (Democracy and Education [1916], Chs. 4, 8,
18) and his followers and more recently by analytical
philosophers like Peters (Authority... [1959], Ch. 7).
Especially objected to is the notion that education has
an end beyond or external to itself. Aims in education,
and even criteria or principles of education, are not
under attack, only “aims of” or “external” to educa-
tion. For education is life and life can hardly have an
aim external to itself. Comment here must be brief.

To begin with, education in sense (1), i.e., the activity
of the educator, does and must have an end beyond
itself, viz., the fostering of a disposition in the one
being educated. There are criteria for determining
whether he is educating and principles according to
which he must act, but his actions must have an aim—a
proximate aim—to foster some ability, belief, knowl-
edge, skill, trait, or value. One may also say that the
aim of education in sense (1), as distinguished earlier,
is education in senses (2) and (3). The question is
whether it must have any aim beyond that of forming
desirable dispositions, whether the dispositions are
somehow means to something further. Some certainly
are, for example, the habit of brushing one's teeth. Here
the activity in which the disposition manifests itself
has value only or at least primarily as a means. The
same is true, as Aristotle argued, of the activities in
which any technē like a mastery of carpentry manifests
itself; they have an end, which is to build things like
houses. On the other hand, the exercise of some dispo-
sitions like an ability to play a flute or a knowledge
of geometry may or may not have an end beyond
itself—it may be engaged in simply for its own sake,
because it is worthwhile in itself. But even then one
may say that the earlier activity of the educator and
of the one being educated have the aim of putting the
latter in a position of being able to engage in those
activities at will, and so have an end beyond them-
selves, though not necessarily one external to the lat-
ter's life. Whether they must also have an end external
to his life, as Eliot (pp. 75, 109, 117) and Marrou think
(History of Education [1964], pp. 307f.), is another
question, the answer to which depends on one's most
basic factual and normative beliefs.

It remains true that one's ultimate normative prem-
isses need not be statements about aims or ends to be
pursued. They might be principles like Kant's first or
second forms of the categorical imperative, which
serve as the bases of his philosophy of education.
Which form they take depends on one's ethical theory.
Even so, it is hard to see how one can avoid saying
that some experiences and activities are worthwhile
in themselves or, as Dewey prefers to say, consum-
matory—and what is this but to say that we should
aim at having or engaging in them, and at helping
others to have or engage in them?

(5) Another meta-normative issue that runs through
the history of educational theory has to do with the
question concerning what kinds of premisses may or
must be appealed to in determining what dispositions
are to be formed by education: ethical, epistemological,
metaphysical, scientific, or theological. This issue has
already been touched on more than once, but we may
add that theories of education may be classified ac-
cording to the kinds of premisses they appeal to. Thus
a “scientistic” theory will ultimately appeal only to
scientific premisses, claiming, as Dewey does, that
ethical judgments rest or should rest on scientific ones.
A positivistic theory, like Mill's, may deny this claim,
but will insist that, apart from one's normative prem-
isses, one should appeal only to scientific ones. A reli-
gious theory would contend, as Eliot does, that theo-
logical premisses must, or at least may and should be
appealed to. And so on. It should be repeated, however,
that though the issues between such opposing views
are relevant to educational conclusions, and philoso-
phers of education must be prepared to discuss them,
they belong to philosophy generally, and not specifi-
cally to the philosophy of education.

(6) Another relatively abstract, though normative,
issue or group of issues, very crucial in the history of
educational ideas, is that between the Absolutists and
the Relativists. The Absolutists maintain that there is
a certain set of dispositions (they may differ about what
it is) that ought to be fostered by education, or by some
central part or kind of education (e.g., liberal or general
education), everywhere and at all times, in everyone
capable of acquiring these dispositions and to the ex-


tent to which he is capable of acquiring them. This
contention, of course, presupposes that human beings
all have the same basic nature and differ only in the
degree in which they have it (and in “accidental” ways,
like sex or color of skin), though one may accept this
presupposition and yet not be an Absolutist in educa-
tional theory—Aristotle accepts it (with some doubts
about barbarians, slaves, and women) but he holds that
education should be relative to the political consti-
tution of the state, and, even in the case of the ideal
state, offers rather different kinds of education to free-
men, slaves, workers, and women.

Though philosophers have a natural penchant for
being Absolutists when they write about education, it
is surprisingly hard to find good examples of this
position—was Plato an Absolutist?—but we may cite
R. M. Hutchins, M. J. Adler, and perhaps Kant (though
he too had doubts about women).

Relativists about education may be and have been
of many different kinds, depending on what they hold
education should be relative to. They all hold that no
important kind or part of education need or should
be the same everywhere and at all times, that every
kind or part of education of any significance must and
should vary according to some principle, i.e., should
cultivate different dispositions. The following princi-
ples at least have all had followings: (a) that education
should be relative to the desires or value-judgments
of the society in question, e.g., perhaps, H. I. Marrou
and W. H. Woodward; (b) that it should follow the
flag in the sense of varying with the political consti-
tution of the state, and cultivate, not “the virtues of
the good man” but “the virtues of the good citizen”
as defined by that constitution; this was Aristotle's view
and in places Rousseau's, and seems to be that of those
who think that American or democratic education must
take a different form from other educations, including
possibly Dewey; (c) that it should vary with vocation
or station in life, e.g., Rousseau in other places; (d)
that it should be relative to the historical situation in
which it goes on or to the problems facing society and
its members at the time, e.g., Theodore Brameld and
other “reconstructionists,” and, in some passages, P. H.
Phenix; (e) that it should be relative to individual
capacity, commitments, interests, needs, native dispo-
sitions, or decisions, e.g., Rousseau, in still other places,
and other proponents of “child-centered” education.

Further discussion is hardly possible, but a few com-
ments are necessary. This debate shows the central role
of political and social philosophy and of psychology
and conceptions of human nature. One may, of course,
hold some kind of combination of views, one for one
kind or part of education, and another for another. One
might, for example, be an Absolutist about liberal and
a Relativist about vocational education. One can also
be an Absolutist about the dispositions to be promoted,
but hold that the methods to be used are relative in
one of the ways indicated. If Dewey's view is not
wholly relativist in sense (3), then he is most likely
holding that all education should foster certain disposi-
tions (e.g., scientific intelligence) but that it should gear
its methods to the capacities and interests of the indi-
vidual child.

(7) One of the modern educational wars has been
what Dewey called “the case of Child vs. Curriculum”
that accompanied one of the four main revolutions in
the theory of education of modern times, the shift from
subject-centeredness to child-centeredness. We may
distinguish at least the following issues in this debate,
which is an aspect of the one just described: (a) Are
the dispositions to be fostered in a child to be deter-
mined by him, i.e., by his own choice or decision?
There is a strong tendency today to say yes to this
question—in existentialism, “the new morality,” “free”
education, and “do-your-own-thingism.” (b) Are these
dispositions to be determined by the educator but
wholly through a study of the child's desires, needs,
capacities, experience, situation, welfare, etc? If so, is
the educator, to consider only “present” interests, etc.,
or also the child's future? (c) Are they to be determined
by the educator and the educated jointly, by mutual
participation and agreement alone, no matter how
young the latter is? If not, at what age is the line to
be drawn and on what basis? (d) The question corre-
sponding to (a) about the methods to be used. (e) The
question corresponding to (b) about the methods to be
used. (f) The question corresponding to (c) about the
methods to be used. It should be observed that these
questions, some of which overlap, are normative and
must be answered, as indicated earlier, on the basis
of normative premisses from ethics and social philoso-
phy and factual premisses from the empirical sciences
and any other source thought to be available. In any
case, they are clearly the most pressing educational
questions of the present time. Closely related to them,
of course, is the question whether any part or kind
of education is to be compulsory or not.

(8) We saw that reasoned answers to question (2)
presuppose normative premisses stating the more ulti-
mate aims or principles of education, and that these
in turn depend on yet more basic normative premisses
that do not mention education, like the principle of
utility and Kant's categorical imperative. Here is a
large area for debate, of course, but since the basic
issues are not specifically educational, we can hardly
stop to look at them, except to say that they will be
of two kinds in a way that is not always noticed. We
must distinguish, at least prima facie, between what


is morally good or morally right and what is good in
a nonmoral sense; between the morally good life and
a life that is desirable, good, or worthwhile in itself
in the sense in which a pleasant, happy, contemplative
life, or a life of excellent activity or exercises of one's
powers, may and have been said to be the good life;
in this sense it is not a pleonasm to say, as many have,
that the morally virtuous life is the good or best life.

There is, of course, the view that the morally good
or right way for a person to live simply is to do what
will give him the good life in this sense, but this view
(ethical egoism) is only one among many possible posi-
tions, and a dubious one at that. Except on this view,
at any rate, there will be two kinds of ultimate norma-
tive issues, moral ones and nonmoral ones. The former
are illustrated by the debate in ethics between the
utilitarians, the ethical egoists, and deontologists like
Kant, the latter by the debate in value theory about
the good—whether it is pleasure, excellent activity,
virtue, self-realization, etc.

However these two sorts of issues are resolved, there
is likely to be agreement that education, considered
as a whole, should foster both the dispositions required
by or conducive to the moral life and those required
by or conducive to the good life, whatever these are.
The most serious disagreement with this position would
come from certain Relativists, e.g., from those who
hold, as Aristotle does, that the virtues of the good
citizen and those involved in the moral life or in the
good life do not coincide, and that, when they do not,
the former must be given precedence in education.
This is why Eliot, who rather surprisingly accepts the
principle of “the relativity of educational theory and
practice to a prevailing order” (p. 95), tries so hard
to show that the good citizen and the good man are
the same in any society. If one adds, as it is plausible
to do, that, inasmuch as being alive, healthy, and able
to make a living are conditions of leading a moral life
and of having a good one, education should also foster
certain physical and vocational dispositions. Then one
arrives at the threefold view of the aims of education
borrowed earlier from Eliot. Even if one accepts this
rather common view one is not out of the woods,
however; one must still wrestle, as Eliot so helpfully
does, with the problem of the interrelation and possible
conflict of the three aims, and also of the means of
realizing them. For example, one must decide what,
if anything, is the primary aim of education: character,
knowledge, excellence, the general good, personal ful-
filment, success, or pleasure.

(9) More specific matters relating to the aims and
means of education in connection with questions (2)
and (3) we must leave untouched, for example, ques-
tions about the curriculum, about the places of the arts,
humanities, and sciences, about teaching methods, or
about stages in the ordering of education. But we must
at least mention some issues relating to questions (4)
and (5). If we list the outstanding revolutions in educa-
tional theory of modern times, then, besides the move-
ment toward child-centeredness, the rise of secularism,
and the introduction of science and other modern
subjects into the curriculum, we must add the advent
of a belief in universal education as an answer to
question (4). For, until relatively recently, Occidental
education was always thought of as virtually a prerog-
ative of a larger or smaller male, white, elite class,
defined in one way or another. The adoption of a belief
in universal education, generally thought of as in large
part compulsory, free, and public, is one of the reasons
our educational theory is so much of a problem. In
a sense, all societies have always provided everyone—
women, slaves, peasants—with some kind of education.
They have all been taught to walk erect, to speak a
language, to obey instructions, to cook, to hunt, to
farm, to practice certain rites, and so on. Again, the
example of wolf children proves this. The issue is not
whether everyone is to be educated, but what educa-
tion each is to have, and how much choice he is to
have in the matter. What is special about the doctrine
of universal education is the belief that everyone is
to have or at least to be offered a formal education
of one or another of a few general types, at least up
to a certain age or stage, the main differences of opin-
ion being about the cost to him, the amount of com-
pulsion involved, just what kinds of education to pro-
vide, and where to set the point at which one is on
one's own.

As for question (5)—one aspect of it is whether
education or a certain kind or part of education should
be public or not, whether the state should be an edu-
cator in the sense of regulating and supporting some
or all of the educational enterprise within its bounds.
The Greeks tended to answer in the affirmative, the
Romans in the negative. The typical modern answer
is that at least a large part of education should be
public, making it a question whether this part of edu-
cation can be in any way religious, and whether private
systems of education should be left free in their choice
of dispositions to be fostered or of means to be used
in doing so.

Other problems relating to question (5) are those of
the amount and kind of training educators are to have,
how teachers are to be recruited, what salaries and
what status they are to receive. As has been indicated,
however, the most crucial problem here is the extent
to which each one of us, however young, is to be his
own educator—how far Bianca in The Taming of the
is right for all children when she says,


Why, gentlemen, you do me double wrong,
To strive for that which resteth in my choice.
I am no breeching scholar in the schools;
I'll not be tied to hours nor 'pointed times,
But learn my lessons as I please myself

(III, i, lines 16-20).


Background material, historical or systematic, may be
found in E. P. Cubberly, The History of Education (New
York, 1920); S. J. Curtis and M. E. A. Boultwood, A Short
History of Educational Ideas,
3rd ed. (London, 1961);
W. K. Frankena, Three Historical Philosophies of Education
(Chicago, 1965); J. W. Tibble, The Study of Education
(London, 1966).

Works referred to in the text are: M. J. Adler, “In Defense
of the Philosophy of Education,” 41st Yearbook of National
Society for Study of Education,
Part I (Chicago, 1942).
Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics; Politics; any edition.
Theodore Brameld, Education as Power (New York, 1965).
John Dewey, Democracy and Education (New York, 1916).
T. S. Eliot, To Criticize the Critic, and Other Writings (New
York, 1965). Moses Hadas, Old Wine, New Bottles (New York,
1963). R. M. Hutchins, The Conflict in Education (New York,
1953); The Higher Learning in America (New Haven, 1962).
W. Jaeger, Paideia: The Ideals of Greek Culture, trans.
Gilbert Highet, 3 vols. (New York, 1939-44). Immanuel
Kant, Education (Ann Arbor, Mich., 1960). H. I. Marrou,
A History of Education in Antiquity (New York, 1964).
J. S. Mill, A System of Logic (London, 1843). J. H. Newman,
The Idea of a University (1852; Garden City, N.Y., 1959).
R. S. Peters, Education as Initiation (London, 1964); idem,
The Concept of Education (London and New York, 1967);
idem, Authority, Responsibility, and Education (London,
1959; New York, 1966). P. H. Phenix, Education and the
Common Good
(New York, 1961). Plato, Meno; Protagoras;
many editions. J. J. Rousseau, Émile (1762), trans.
and ed. W. Boyd (New York, 1962). C. P. Snow, The Two
Cultures and the Scientific Revolution
(Cambridge and New
York, 1959). Herbert Spencer, Education: Intellectual, Moral,
and Physical
(1861; New York, 1884). Lionel Trilling, Be-
yond Culture
(New York, 1965). W. H. Woodward, Studies
in Education during the Age of the Renaissance, 1400-1600

(New York, 1967).


[See also Imprinting; Irrationalism; Pre-Platonic Concep-
tions; Progress; Psychological Theories; Right and Good;