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4 LESSON 4 EVOLUTION OF PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT IN EDUCATION: A BRIEF OVERVIEW

LESSON 4


EVOLUTION OF PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT IN EDUCATION:

A BRIEF OVERVIEW

 -Satish Kumar

-Sajjad Ahmad

 

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Philosophy originated in ancient Greece under the pressure of questions about the nature of arete (translated as “virtue”). The Sophists (fifth-century B.C.) claimed that they could teach virtue, thereby challenging the traditional wisdom, which held that virtue is a natural possession of the few –the “nobly born,” whose virtues were celebrated in the epics of Homer (c. 850 B.C.) and the odes of Pindar (518-438 B.C.) .In the dialogues of Plato (c. 427-347 B.C.), Socrates (c.470-399 B.C.) is portrayed asking the question, Can virtue be taught? Discussion made it clear that no one know the nature of virtue. Thus another question naturally arose: What is the nature of virtue itself?  Socrates goes on to ask whether virtue is one thing or many things, and how we can know what it is. These are matters of philosophy in that they are question about the life worth living (ethics), knowing (epistemology), and the nature of reality (metaphysics). At the same time they are matters of education. In that answers to these questions can be found only in an educational process that aims to find out the nature of virtue. Thus questions such as what is worth knowing and how we can know it has both, a philosophical and an educational dimension. It is clear that, in their origins, philosophy and educational theory stood on common ground. Ideas on clarifying and elaborating the meaning of philosophical question become theories to be tested. The practical meaning of philosophical ideas-become an activity of education.  Philosophy of education like philosophy in other contexts, is thinking that results in ideas of unsettle things, that brings about something different from that what once had been taken as settled. Beginning in curiosity about the nature of things, philosophy of education is thinking about what to do in education.

In its origins, philosophy attempted to provide a unity in thought that is lacking in the ways reality comes to us, unorganized and fragmented. Yet unity in thought stands only as a possibility for the way things are experienced; can be found out only when ideas go to work, get tested in reality. So it is in philosophy of education:  Any unity that thinking proposes must be tried out in specific processes of education.

The educational thinking of Plato may be taken in two ways. (1) As dramatist of the life of philosophy. Here Plato leaves the philosophical-educational questions unanswered in a final sense. His dialogues are dramas of the life of reason, showing us that we do not know what we think we know, claiming that an admission of our ignorance is a necessary condition for knowing, and holding forth the possibility that further dialogues will clarify the nature of virtue. The conditions for knowing portrayed in his dialogues alert us to find ways of educating others and ourselves. If we ever succeed in knowing virtue, we must gain it through a process of self-examination and clarification in dialogues with others. (2) As philosopher–educator who shapes individuals from childhood to maturity. Inquiry into the nature of virtue continues in the Republic, where Socrates and his companions pursue the nature of Justice. What is necessary, Socrates argues, is knowledge of the Idea of the Good. To know the Good would be to know the source of all reality, the nature of that reality, the shape of things and the ways things take shape, including Justice and the other virtues. Plato does know the Good, but he takes the activity by which we strive to know it to be the ideal by which human beings are educated to be citizens.

Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) shared Plato’s idea that human being are social animals, that they can be human only in the life of a community. Like Plato, Aristotle holding that human beings are a part of nature.  What human beings feel, know, and do are attempts to discover the nature of things, which lies potentially within us. What individuals discover is something they share with a larger nature makes possible, their discoveries become part of social custom to be passed on, by education, to the young. Aristotle shows that striving for virtue is a social undertaking, an activity of education. Like Plato, Aristotle argued that the good must be discovered.

Epicureanism and Stoicism

Epicurus (341- 270 B.C.)  Founded the first about 306 B.C.  In his school, women, men, and slaves lived a communal life dedicated to seeking happiness through ataraxia (peace of mind).  One of Epicurus’ teachings was that in order to experience peace on mind we need to live free from trouble. We gain knowledge, therefore, to provide peace of mind. We aim for peace of mind, by avoiding experience that give us pain. Therefore Epicureans argued against participation in the political and social affairs of society. The aim was to live in obscurity, in a congenial atmosphere of friends, devoting time to gaining peace of mind. Where each person in a community of friends respects the peace of mind of others, it is friendship, rather than laws, that holds the community together. Zeno of Cilium (342-280 B.C.) was its founder around 300 B.C.  Stoicism was predominantly a moral philosophy.  Its ideal is that the life of reason is the highest virtue. Stoics shared with Socrates the idea that knowledge is virtue and reason is both end and the means of life. Learning to live according to reason, therefore, is the highest educational ideal. Human beings can strive for the best that is in their nature only by learning according to reason.

Rhetoric in Greek and Roman Education

Rhetoric grew to maturity alongside philosophy. Isocrates (436-338 B.C.), a teacher of rhetoric, made claims on behalf of philosophy. For Isocrates, the virtuous person was one who made the most of the community’s established opinions and long-standing customs in order to determine which courses of action to take.

The Roman rhetorician Cicero (106-43 B.C.) followed Aristotle in holding that orators must work with probabilities rather than certainties. Oratory is a way of action in which the orator celebrates the virtues that are learned through an education in the subject matters of philosophy and by living a life devoted to the pursuit of the highest virtues.

 

Philosophy in Early Christian Education

In Christianity, the highest virtues come from God. Greek philosophy and Roman rhetoric represented the highest ideals to be found in human teaching, but the diving teachings of Christ are higher in the order of Being. The former teach us, but only in imperfect and incomplete ways, while the latter teach us in the ways of God. Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-c. 215), one of the founders of Christian philosophy, held that the humanism and  naturalism of classical education cannot fully educate us; they come up short of the education  that  is needed, and must be superseded by the word of God.

Augustine (354-430) followed the founders of Christian philosophy and established the relationship between human and divine teachings. Philosophers, when they have God’s assistance, may make important discoveries; when they strive for the highest wisdom by use of reason. According to Augustine’s philosophy of history, whatever has taken place prior to the coming of Christianity is a preparation for Christianity itself; Some Christian educators argued that religious culture was the only culture that deserves to be taught.

Renaissances of the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries

John of Salisbury’s Metalogicon (1159) reveals a familiarity with Latin poets, grammarians, and rhetorical writings. John’s work was Christian defense of the arts of verbal expression and reasoning and, like the ancient rhetoricians and philosophers, he argued that they are to be studied for their influence on human conduct/ Logic, to be effective, must be used in the pursuit of knowledge and in the teaching to knowledge already gained. John argued that the arts are useful for the study of temporal things, as well as eternal truths, to which we have access through faith.

Alongside the humanistic studies, another method was making its way. It came to be called Scholasticism, essentially the application of reason to theological studies.  The growth of logic as the arbiter of all intellectual activity came to overshadow the other arts in the curriculum of the universities that grew to prominence in the thirteenth century.

Renaissance Humanism, Fourteenth to Sixteenth Centuries

By the fourteenth century, there was a renewed interest in Greek and Latin literature, which had been studied very little in the medieval universities. This literature consisted of grammar, rhetoric, poetry, history, and moral philosophy. This literature was read and interpreted in their original languages. The term humanism in this Renaissance was derived from the studia humanistic. Renaissance humanism was less a philosophical system that opposed itself to Scholasticism and more an educational curriculum that emphasized the studia humanitatis and, excluded logic, metaphysics, natural philosophy, mathematics, astronomy, law, and theology the essential curriculum of the medieval universities. The humanists emphasized the technical aspects of the arts of grammar and rhetoric, along with poetry, oratory, and history–the literary expressions of these arts. Thus they renewed an ancient tradition that had lived in the poets and rhetoricians of classical Greece and Rome.

The humanists studied classical authors as writers of incomparable classics, not as authorities in philosophy and theology. In principle, this means that the ability to speak and write clearly and logically is evidence that one comprehends a subject.

Empiricism and Rationalism in Early Modern Philosophy

 Francis Bacon (1561-1626) advocated an inductive method of investigation based on the idea that a study of the particulars of experience leads to universals. He contrasted this with what he took to be Aristotelian and Scholastic authority. According to Bacon, the logic of authority is a false method, a method of argument and disputation, not a method of inquiry and discovery. Rather than taking conclusions already reached as the basis of thinking, individuals must learn that such conclusion are suspect; nature, Becon thought, is more subtle than reason, and we need to develop a method of knowing that gets hold of the particular subtleties of nature. Instead of following the tendency of the mind to build things out of itself, the structure of the mind must be built out of the things of nature. Bacon’s appeal to firsthand experience was an effort to let facts speak for themselves and lead to an understanding of nature. 

In contrast, Rene Descartes (1596-1650) worked out a rationalistic method, beginning with what the mind can grasp clearly without doubting what it sees. The mind must be free to proceed by deduction from what is know intuitively to conclusions about particular things. Descartes method sought to avoid the limiting of reason by sensory experience. For him, the ideas that thought alone first grasps will show the way to the nature of sensory things. Descartes stood Bacon’s method upside down by holding that what is most evident are not empirical matters but logical conceptions that are self-evident to individual minds. Concepts of reason are primary. To know what is in nature, we must first see the reasons for its existence in our minds.

Despite their difference, empiricism and rationalism shared a common ground in their criticism of certain claims to authority. Each espoused an individualism that was an inheritance of the Christian conception of the worth of individual souls. Yet individualism had been made subordinate to the authority of religious doctrine in the institutions of medieval society. Thus empirical and rational methods of knowing carry with them a moral responsibility, to apply each method in a way that is true to oneself by learning to be free from dependence on others. Reality must be discovered by and ultimately reside in individual minds, either as a result of applying a Baconian method of induction, or as clear, undoubted intuitions as logical starting points, as in Descartes’s rationalistic method. Truth does not come to the mind on the authority of others, but individual minds must work to find it. Beginning in doubt about the truth of existing knowledge-claims, individuals engage in inquiry to establish the sciences by which the nature of things are known.

In emphasizing the moral responsibility of individuals to employ empirical and rational methods, the early modern philosophers made a problem out of knowing. No longer were human beings taken to be a part of nature, in a way that knowing itself is no less natural than feeling or breathings, as in the thinking of Plato and Aristotle.

The imperative that individual minds must do their own reasoning had its social counterpart in the idea that political organizations are social contracts freely agreed to by all individuals concerned. In a state of nature, individuals would not survive by themselves; thus they enter into contracts with one another for mutual benefit. John Locke (1632-1704),  in his treatise on government, held that human beings, in a state of nature, would be equals as well as free and  independent from one another. This is a moral equality in that no individual is subordinate to another, none has more than another. It is not a “biological” or “psychological” equality. Taken together with his argument that our knowledge originates in sensory experience, which means that no one is born in possession of innate ideas, Locke’s espousal of natural equality contributed to “environmentalism” in educational thinking. If our minds are “blank tablets” at birth, and if we are free and equal living with one another, then our natural conditions is such that what we become is an out-come of our education: Our biological and psychological differences are less important than our original ignorance, freedom and equality.

Method of Criticism in the Enlightenment

Lock’s empiricism, by which perceptions enter the mind, was joined with a rationalism according to which the mind reflects, using the ideas that have gained entry. Intuitive knowledge comes when the mind perceives immediately that ideas agree or disagree, as when the mind just knows that block is not white. Demonstrative knowledge comes when agreement or disagreement comes, not immediately, but with intervening ideas, then with one another.

Enlightenment thinkers were heirs of Locke in that they cherished the kind of understanding that comes with an increasing accumulation of empirical details together with the efforts of reason to make sense of them. Yet they went beyond Locke and worked out a critical method from which nothing was safe from criticism. Not content to criticize political institutions only, they took on the religious establishment. Denis Diderot’s Encyclopedia (1751) proposed to subject everything that human minds could take into account to critical scrutiny. In doing so, they would inquire into all arts, sciences, and works of the imagination; theology did not stand above the other sciences but, like them, was to be subject to reason.  However, it was not reason alone that they wanted to further; rather, “reason” was taken as one of the powers of the mind, to be joined with “memory” and “imagination” in the search for understanding.

Their critical spirit enabled them to see equality and freedom as possibilities to be sought in actual social conditions, rather than as an imagined original condition of human beings in a state of nature. Taking this idea seriously means that human nature is a moral and social condition that human beings must strive to bring into existence, rather than a nature that existed in some past or that is destined to come to pass in some future. This sense of nature as an ideal to be actualized has a radical corollary for human knowing and education.

The eighteenth century also spawned a sense of the limitations of reason in the midst of hopes that it could be used to improve human conduct. Expressed in different ways by Giambattista Vico (1668-1744), and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) this sense was not antinationalistic; rather, it emphasized the point that reason, while necessary, does not suffice to explain the plight of human beings, In his New Science, Vico argued that the first human beings were not rational beings who wrote philosophy and made social contracts; instead, they were simple-minded creatures possessed of large imaginations. Even so, they had a metaphysics a “poetic” metaphysics, by which they made heroes.

Rousseau also acknowledged the importance of reason, but claimed that the very methods by which rational methodology does its work get in the way of understanding. His Discourse on the Origin of Inequality (1755) chronicled the development of the human race from a simple way life in which inequality has come to be an essential feature of the fabric of society. The good features of original human nature are scarcely recognizable in the prevailing conditions of modern society. The predicament of modern human beings in pursuit of an education according to nature is dramatized in Emile (1762), in which the tutor takes Emile away from the existing society and creates a special society that is closer to nature.

Nineteenth-Century Responses to Enlightenment Ideas

 In the early nineteenth century, there were different and something conflicting responses to the Enlightenment idea that, by learning to use their intelligence, human beings might ameliorate the intelligence, human beings ameliorate the conditions that stand in the way of extending freedom and equality.

G.W.F. Hegel (1770-1831) enlarged the scope of attention given to the limits of rationality earlier addressed by Vico and Rousseau. In Hegel’s historical account, “reason” in the Enlightenment sense of understanding is verstand. There is another way of knowing, vernunft, an insight into what has taken place, which comes only at the end of an activity. As we are living, we may have some control over what we are doing, but our rationality cannot assure us of the way things will turn out. Verstand is the kind of understanding by which empirical and rational methods are used to gain reliable knowledge. Vermonft, however, is not entirely under our control; it is akin to the work of poets, who use imagination to gain a kind of insight that is different from verstand. In the work of imagination, as in the working out of history, one cannot determine exactly what the outcome will be. While both kinds of reason had a place in Hegel’s philosophical system, others tended to emphasize the vermonft form of reason.

Romanticism also had an influence on a revised conception of childhood, seeing certain wisdom in the simplicity of children that is lost to adults who try to understand everything. This interest had its origins in Rousseau’s assertion that children are not just small versions of adults; rather they grow through distinct ages in which they have their own ways of thinking and being in the world that are fundamentally different from adult ways.

The empirical evidence in support of the idea of evolution in Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species (1859) enabled thinkers to take seriously the idea that species-the forms of plant and animal existence have come into being through time. Thus the long- standing belief that the nature of species is fixed and unchanging came under attack. To take seriously the idea that nature’s forms have come into being as a historical process is to acknowledge that the nature of things requires a method of inquiry that tries to take into account the history of its own development. Thus John Dewey thought of scientific method as “the evolutionary process grown conscious of itself.”

 

POINTS TO REMEMBER

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·         Originated in ancient Greece.

·    Educational thinking of plato may be taken in two ways: as a dramatist, as a philosopher educator.

·         Epicuranism and stoicism.

·         Rhetoric in Greek and Roman Education.

·         Philosophy in early Christian education.

·         Renaissance of 12th and 13th century.

·         Humanism.

·         Empiricism and Rationalism in early modern Philosophy.

·         Criticism in the enlightenment.

·         Responses to enlightenment ideas.