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George Pollack
C.W. Post Campus
Long Island University
ABSTRACT. What is the philosophical status of the philosophy of education? Is it philosophy, no different
from the philosophy of science and the philosophy of mind? Much depends on where these latter derive
their philosophical bona fides from. There are two ways of viewing the matter. On one account, they are
subdivisions of the veritable philosophy branches of metaphysics and epistemology. It being impossible
to view philosophy of education as comparably emanating from any of the philosophical originals, this
approach effectively deprives it of proper philosophical standing. On the other account, nonoriginal phi-
losophy branches may be viewed as attaining philosophihood, each on its own. Such a purview provides
the maneuverability needed to countenance the philosophical nature of philosophy of education as well.
Still, George Pollack argues in this essay that if it is to fully accommodate philosophy of education,
philosophy will need to be reconceived to include the unearthing of the philosophical foundations of a
social practice.
I want to inquire as to the status of philosophy of education as a philosophical
branch of study. The putative case for conferring philosophical status on philoso-
phy of education is, I think, twofold. In the first place, philosophers are hard at
work, discussing an ever-increasing variety of issues pertaining to education. This,
so to say, speaks for itself. And, second, the philosophy of education has a long his-
tory, almost as long as philosophys history. Perhaps it starts with Plato. Platos
dialogues contain quite a bit of discussion of education and of matters related to
education. But nowhere does Plato take up education in greater breadth and depth
than in the Republic.
The Republic is, to many, a classic of philosophy of educa-
tion if ever there was one. It would seem, then, that these two considerations speak
mounds in favor of acknowledging philosophy of educations philosophical authen-
ticity. I want in this essay to probe this matter more deeply.
I will come to the first of these arguments later. The argument from the his-
tory of philosophy is, I think, quite formidable. It builds on the fact that philoso-
phy is replete with all sorts of excursions into educational territory. The case of
Plato, particularly in the Republic, has just been mentioned. But of course the his-
tory of philosophy of education does not end with Plato. Numerous of his succes-
sors in the field of philosophy saw fit to resume the thread: Aristotle, Augustine,
Thomas Aquinas, John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Immanuel Kant, Alfred
North Whitehead, and John Dewey, just to mention some of the more prominent
among them. When major philosophers are found devoting their efforts to a sub-
ject, education in particular, there is every reason to suspect that, from their points
1. Plato, The Republic, in The Dialogues of Plato, trans. Benjamin Jowett (Oxford: Clarendon Press,
EDUCATIONAL THEORY j Volume 57 j Number 3 j 2007
2007 Board of Trustees j University of Illinois
of view at least, the subject is of genuinely philosophical interest. And who is bet-
ter positioned to judge as to educations amenability to philosophical treatment
than philosophers themselves?
Of course, different of these (and other) philosophers have dealt with education
in differing ways. What I mean is that, in the instances of some, special treatises
were composed, dedicated specifically to the subject of education. Locke, Kant,
Whitehead, and Dewey come readily to mind.
By contrast, others of them incor-
porated educational discourse into treatises treating of other philosophical matters:
patently, Plato and Aristotles discussions of education fall into this category. It is
interesting to speculate on the significance of this bifurcation. Does treating educa-
tion in the one way rather than the other confer a higher degree of philosophihood,
if you will, on the treatment?
A prima facie case can be made for saying that, when education talk is embed-
ded in what is acknowledged as philosophical discourse, the topical treatment of
education takes on a manifest philosophical significance, one that it might not other-
wise possess. With this idea in mind, let us look at Plato once again, albeit more
closely. We do this with a view to discerning which of the two ways of a philoso-
phers attending to education shows more in the way of philosophical relatedness.
There are, I think, three interrelated things about the Republics treatment of
education that are worth noticing. One is its coherence and comprehensiveness. It
has things to say about who should receive an education; what purpose receiving
an education should serve; how someones suitability for education should be
determined and how progress should be monitored; what sorts of things the recipi-
ent of an education should be taught and why; at what stages in a recipients devel-
opment should exposure to different subjects take place; in what way a teacher
should relate to, or interact with, pupils in order to best foster the desired kind of
learning; what obstacles to progress need to be eliminated from pupils surround-
ings; what lifestyle pupils should lead and what nature of social experience they
should have; and, finally, what supplemental education the broader society should
receive in order to secure the best possible educational results in the targeted class.
This list is not meant to be exhaustive, but I think that it serves to impress upon us
the breadth in range of elements that the Republics account of education sets out
to cover and the detail and care with which it approaches its task. I think it fair to
say, as well, that the Republics discussion of these items is and will strike most
GEORGE POLLACK is Adjunct Assistant Professor at Long Island University, CW Post Campus, Depart-
ment of Curriculum and Instruction, 720 Northern Blvd., Brookville, NY 11548; e-mail
\vze3zgdr@verizon.net[. His primary areas of scholarship are philosophy of education, philosophy of
language, and psychology of reading.
2. See John Locke, Some Thoughts Concerning Education, ed. F.W. Garforth (London: Heinemann, 1925);
Immanuel Kant, On Education, trans. Annette Churton (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1960);
Alfred North Whitehead, The Aims of Education (New York: Mentor Books, 1929); and John Dewey,
The School and Society (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1899), The Child and the Curriculum
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1902), Democracy and Education (New York: Macmillan, 1916),
and Experience and Education (New York: Macmillan, 1938).
E D U C A T I O N A L T H E O R Y VOLUME 57 j NUMBER 3 j 2007 240
anyone as being integrated and cohesive, and that it does not suffer from the
kind of disconnectedness that often attends discourses of a didactic kind, through
which someone presumed to possess sagacious authority dispenses morsels of wis-
dom. There is a certain systematicity an internal rationale manifest here that
confers intelligibility on the account as a whole.
This brings us to the second item of interest. The noted systematicity goes
beyond affecting the interrelation of the education-related aspects themselves; it
shows itself by taking the whole of the treatment of education and placing it
within the broader context of a theory of social justice. An avowed mission of the
Republic is, after all, the delineation of a theory of a just society and, as is well
known, it constructs a social model in which everyone contributes cooperatively
according to ability. Society is depicted as having special needs owing to its com-
plexity and as comprising individuals with distinct capabilities relative to meeting
those needs. For society to proceed justly, it must be ruled by philosopher-kings
and militarily protected by well-trained soldiers. Education is the means by which
rulers and soldiers are produced. Furthermore, the class of rulers and soldiers is
imposed upon to form a social structure of its own. The emergent society-within-
society is seen to acquire a self-identity that helps further the realization of its
larger social purpose. This is not the place to belabor the details of the proffered
social theory, but the conclusion seems inescapable: the Republics view of educa-
tion is promulgated as an integral component in a larger, more comprehensive
view of just social living as a whole. One suggests with considerable plausibility
that this confers on the educational aspect a degree of theoretical systematicity
that it might otherwise have been thought justly or otherwise to lack.
And now to the third and final item of interest. The theory of society in which
the account of education is embedded is, in turn, itself infused with discussion of
some of Platos most important metaphysical, epistemological, and moral ideas.
Moreover, these philosophical ideas are therein brought to bear directly on the treat-
ment of education developed within. In particular, the theory of Forms is part and
parcel of Platos theory of education, and mastery of the Forms particularly the
Form of the Good is portrayed as being the highest attainment to which a pupils
studies can possibly lead. Even at its earlier, pre-philosophical levels, education is
seen as modulated by the overarching end-goal of a pupils ultimate achievement of
philosophical mastery through the cultivated apprehension of the Forms. The edu-
cational aspect is, then, saturated with the full weight of the Platonist metaphysic.
Taken together, these considerations appear to lend very considerable cre-
dence to the notion that Plato dealt with education in an inherently philosophical
way. Full systematic integration carries with it perceptible philosophical over-
tones. Its manifestation counts in favor of subsuming the embellished intellectual
activity under the rubric of philosophy.
I would hasten to point out, parenthetically, that Platos treatment of educa-
tion is not alone in betraying a decidedly systematic and integrated character in
relation to a broader, more encompassing social perspective. Another staple of
POLLACK Philosophy of Education as Philosophy 241
educational philosophy is Jean-Jacques Rousseaus Emile; and it patterns itself after
the Republic insofar as it arrays a range of striking educational details into an inte-
grated whole, with a sweep and consistency emblematic of a fully developed and
comprehensive philosophical view. Historical scholarship inclines toward the view
that Emile was intended as an appendage to Rousseaus Social Contract, rounding
out his account of life in a state of nature.
To the extent that this is borne out, edu-
cation is once again seen as serving as a component in a far-reaching view of social
structure; it at one and the same time derives its integrity from the broader
account and contributes to it. That education should be cast in so central a role in
so grand a theory tells affirmatively in regard to its philosophical respectability.
The argument is, then, that educations embeddedness in larger theoretical
frameworks, which are propounded by acknowledged philosophical figures and
which possess a decidedly philosophical character, is sufficient to account its treat-
ments philosophical. However, I do not believe that the case has been successfully
made. However much space may be allotted to education within the context of a
philosophical discussion, and however much the education may be brought to bear
on the philosophy and vice versa, talk of education does not assume a philosophi-
cal nature unless the topic of education is made to serve as a subject of considera-
tion, that is, unless it is treated as a problem in need of handling and resolution. If
it serves, instead, as part of a solution to an articulated problem a different one
then its mention, however elaborate and intricate, in the discussion does not in
itself confer philosophical standing upon it. On the contrary, invoking education
as an element in the explication of some other problematic issue in this case,
the structure of society evinces an attitude of complacency in regard to educa-
tion and the level at which it is understood. And with the assumption in place that
it is already sufficiently well understood enough so to render intelligible its use
in expounding on something deemed problematic educations identification as a
locus of philosophical speculation and consideration is effectively contravened.
That Plato and Rousseau dealt with education in the way that they did tells
against the view that they attached any philosophical perplexity to it. One can,
without being ridiculous, view them as denying the possibility of a truly philo-
sophical treatment of education.
The argument from the history of philosophy seems, then, to have been seri-
ously undermined. We will want to return to the question of the proper character-
ization of Platos views on education as worked out in the Republic later in the
essay (see the section Platos Public Revised).
I think it worthwhile to pause to take note of the source of our misgivings
about educations susceptibility to full-blooded philosophical treatment. One
might be guided in ones doubts about philosophy of educations claim to full phil-
osophical standing by intuitions such as these: Philosophy takes as its object
domain problems that are of bewildering gravity and deep human significance. It
3. See, for example, Patrick Riley and Jennifer Welchman, Rousseau, Dewey, and Democracy, in
A Companion to the Philosophy of Education, ed. Randall Curren (Oxford: Blackwell, 2003).
E D U C A T I O N A L T H E O R Y VOLUME 57 j NUMBER 3 j 2007 242
considers only such things and ideas as are primordial and culturally invariant. It
probes the ultimate essence of things, and in so doing it transcends the realm of
empirical availability. There is only so far that scientific investigation can go;
beyond that, one can only intellectually speculate and argue. It is in this transcen-
dent region that philosophical activity makes its presence felt. The foregoing
should serve to convey the general tenor of the feeling. On the face of it, edu-
cational phenomena elude truly philosophical consideration, taken in this light.
Education, as embodied in schools and other practical affairs, is an institutional
elaboration, the product of human and social endeavor. It is artifactual and by no
means primordial in its bearing. So it does not lend itself to properly conceived
philosophical treatment.
The foregoing reflections return a negative verdict, not only on the question of
whether philosophical works such as the Republic and Emile embody philoso-
phical treatments of education, but also on whether texts given over entirely to
education those of Locke, Kant, and others can be regarded as philosophical
in any meaningful sense of the term. I should like now to approach this issue from
another angle.
My point of departure is the acknowledgment that philosophy is a composite
whose component parts comprise such well-entrenched branches of philosophy as
metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, aesthetics, and several others besides. Among
these others number the philosophy of science, the philosophy of mind, the philos-
ophy of language, and so on (in a seemingly continually expanding series). What
it is about these latter branches of philosophy that qualifies them for inclusion
in philosophy proper is an immensely interesting question. I would venture two
competing diametrically opposed interpretations. One is to view them as
extensions of the central mother branches, if you will, that is, of metaphysics, epi-
stemology, and whatever others may be deemed as belonging to this core group.
Thus, the philosophy of mind is naturally accounted a part of metaphysics, cordon-
ing off for special attention that segment having to do with mental phenomena. In
view of the fact that the purview of metaphysics is ontology, or existence, and
given also that the mental poses a peculiarly thorny ontological problem, one can
readily appreciate the splintering off of this patch from the base metaphysical core
as a means of facilitating concentrated and unobstructed investigation.
Parallel remarks may be made in regard to, say, the philosophy of language,
which too may naturally be viewed as belonging to metaphysics and as paring
away a subset of the latters problem base for independent investigative pursuit.
The problems, for example, of reference and predication may be viewed as trans-
posing to a linguistic platform the traditional occupation with universals and
4. The case of Dewey, for whom philosophy may.be defined as the general theory of education
(Democracy and Education, 328), calls for special treatment and is beyond the purview of the present dis-
cussion. For insightful perspective, see Bruce Kuklick, A History of Philosophy in America 17202000
(New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), esp. chap. 10.
POLLACK Philosophy of Education as Philosophy 243
particulars, nominalism and Platonism. The philosophy of science, by contrast,
will likely be reckoned a break-off not from metaphysics but predominantly
from epistemology although it will be recognized as harboring vestiges of
metaphysical interests as well. After all, what does science represent if not a
pushing forward of the frontiers of knowledge? A survey of key questions in the
philosophy of science will reveal a patent epistemological-metaphysical con-
nectedness: How can laws arrived at inductively be known? What knowledge
can be had of statements couched in theoretical terms, given the gulf between
theory and observation? What is the ontological status of unobserved (theoret-
ical) entities? There are countless others as well. The reasons for these sub-
ordinate-superordinate branch identifications are, I think, unproblematic on an
intuitive level, and I do not sense a need to carry the level of detail to a higher
stratum just here.
It is worth pursuing this further. What motivates the bestowing of hegemony
upon the core, historically certified philosophical branches (metaphysics, episte-
mology, and the rest)? It is, I think, a view of philosophy according to which it is
defined by reference to the object domains of its investigations. What, on this
view, makes a bit of intellectual inquiry philosophy is precisely the fact that it
concerns itself with one or another (or multiple) of the historically demarcated
areas of philosophical investigation. We can name these areas: metaphysics, episte-
mology, ethics, aesthetics, and probably logic. The historical details of how these
particular regions came to be singled out as definitive of philosophical activity
need not detain us here. (Neither ought the matter of the accuracy of these selec-
tions.) It is, in any event, quite clear that history has conferred the title discrimi-
nately, and that subject domains lying outside the acknowledged regions
(whatever they be) have been fated for exclusion. Consequently, any subject area
coming in for philosophical probing perforce belongs to is an extension of an
antecedently certified subject domain, according to this conception.
How does philosophy of education fare as a prospective branch of philosophy
on this score? Very poorly indeed. It comes up devoid of palpable philosophical sig-
nificance; this, insofar as the subjects it studies and over which its coverage ranges
manifestly do not emanate from the ranks of the veritable philosophical originals.
They are not the base materials of metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, or any
others. Any topical survey of philosophy of education studies will bear this out.
Whether the item of interest be educational aims, the morally admissible means
of reaching those aims, the appropriateness of particular subjects of study, the fun-
damental character of the curriculum, the regard with which pupils ought to be
treated, the school in relation to its social environment and to a particular political
orientation or religious milieu, and so on down the line the thing they have in
common is that the questions they raise are not properly metaphysical, epistemo-
logical, or ethical in their bearing. To be sure, one may forge connections
insightful ones between them and the subject matter of various traditional
branches of philosophy, but, whatever the nature of these connections, they will
inevitably fail to deliver the needed identification with the mother branches as
E D U C A T I O N A L T H E O R Y VOLUME 57 j NUMBER 3 j 2007 244
such. On the proffered perspective, philosophy of education is fundamentally
debarred from attaining to philosophical branchhood.
The upshot is that there is no middle ground, no room for make-believe. A
question either belongs to a realm of things that innately call out for speculative
analysis or it does not. Education may well present possibilities whose investiga-
tion stands to benefit from an application of critical thinking carried out else-
where, but it cannot insinuate itself into the band of perplexity occasioning this
thinking directly. Philosophical thought can be brought to bear on it, but it cannot
hope to maneuver its way into genuine philosophy. To achieve philosophical rec-
ognition at all, education would need to be assimilated to metaphysics and episte-
mology. It cannot be thus assimilated; neither can it alter the face of philosophy,
in the sense of wantonly extending its historically ordained stream of concerns.
As remarked, this does not bode well for the prospects of an autonomous
branch of philosophy of education. For, unlike the situations with the philosophies
of science, mind, language, and the like, problems in education lack philosophical
heaviness. There is nothing particularly metaphysical about them; neither are they
especially epistemological, moral, or what have you in mien. Education problems
are practical and institutional; they are essentially problems of implementation,
that is, of putting ideas and programs into effect. A problem-defined concept of
philosophy will thus not countenance philosophy of education as marking out a
philosophical occupation of its own.
I will go on to suggest that the philosophy of education acquires its philosophi-
cal import from another quarter. In particular, I have indicated that there are two
ways of understanding how the several philosophy-of branches of philosophy
attain their philosophical standing. Thus far I have only explicated the first of
these, that on which they derive their standing from higher level mother branches.
I mean to come to the second of my conceptions in a later section (see Approach-
ing Education in a Distinctly Philosophical Way). And indeed, it is, as I will argue,
within its purview that the source of philosophy of educations philosophical iden-
tity is ultimately to be located. Nevertheless, I would like in the interim to inter-
pose a couple of suggestions as to how philosophy of education might thrive, short
of taking on full philosophical connectivity. This, because I do not presume to
adjudicate the issue as between the two ways of looking at the philosophical
nature of the various philosophies-of. I do not rule out the possibility that the
already presented problem-centered conception of philosophy will ultimately carry
5. See Israel Scheffler, Reason and Teaching (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1973), chap. 4, for
reflections on the nature of scientific disciplinehood.
6. See William Frankena, Three Historical Philosophies of Education (Glenview, Illinois: Scott Fores-
man, 1965), chap. 1, for a discussion of the metaphysical basis of theories of education. But compare
Schefflers assertion that the philosophers job is not to deduce purported educational implications from
his general doctrines any more than it is to derive legal, historical, or scientific implications. His task is
to bring to bear philosophical methods, conceptions, and traditions in seeking to understand the inde-
pendent concerns of his object realm (Reason and Teaching, 19).
POLLACK Philosophy of Education as Philosophy 245
the day. But then, as argued, philosophy of education will not pass muster from the
vantage point of a concern with retaining its veritable philosophical standing. And
its rationale will, consequently, have to be sought elsewhere. That is to say, philo-
sophy of education will need to be conceived in a way that denies it true philoso-
phical rank. Now, I believe that philosophy of education is, in fact, capable of serving
quite effectively under such a reconstituted guise. And it is in either or both of the
two possibilities I am about to introduce that its aphilosophical promise and rea-
son for being are to be properly sought.
One, then, is to view philosophy of education as serving in what Israel Schef-
fler has somewhat pejoratively referred to as an ambassadorial capacity.
understood, philosophy of education functions as a clearinghouse, if you will, sur-
veying the whole of the philosophy landscape and culling discussions, themes,
issues, and ideas that manifestly lend themselves to fruitful application to the edu-
cational terrain. Once identified, a philosophical item will reflectively be brought
to bear on some educational desideratum at the hands of this self-same philosopher
of education. He or she exercises insight and philosophical skill both in ferreting
out the relevant philosophical research and in selectively applying this research to
education in ways evincing proper ingenuity.
What we have here, then, is a form of applied philosophy, leveraged for its
fecundity in helping to illuminate the practical domain. Scheffler is quite clear on
the viability of just such a construal: In analogy with applications of science to
education, I suggest that we conceive of analytic applications in roughly two direc-
tions: (a) the utilization of results already achieved in the autonomous develop-
ment of research, and (b) the use of acknowledged methods directly in the study of
educational problems.
I shall have things to say about the latter of these direc-
tions later in the essay. For now, I simply point to Scheffler as a confirmed advo-
cate of the approach to which I am giving vent: that the (or a) job of philosophy of
education is to tap research conducted within the respective domains of philoso-
phy and to usefully and constructively adapt it to perplexities arising within educa-
tional thought and practice.
Now, I cannot say that I follow Scheffler all the way on this. For there is indi-
cation that he holds to the position that, in discharging its ambassadorial func-
tion, philosophy of education serves in a fully realized philosophical capacity.
Whereas I have been contending that an ambassadorial capacity is something phi-
losophy of education might serve in, given that it is debarred from enjoying full
philosophical status and autonomy. I would argue that to apply philosophy is not
thereby to do it. Application of philosophy is exogenous to philosophical activity
itself; it comes after the fact. Now, in fairness, it is conceivable that Scheffler has
7. See Scheffler, Reason and Teaching, 162164.
8. Israel Scheffler, Toward an Analytic Philosophy of Education, Harvard Educational Review 24
(1954), reprinted in Reason and Teaching, 1314.
9. In his review of D.J. OConnors An Introduction to Philosophy of Education (New York: Philoso-
phical Library, 1957), Scheffler merely expresses misgivings about confining work in philosophy of
education to the ambassadorial function. See Scheffler, Reason and Teaching, chap. 13.
E D U C A T I O N A L T H E O R Y VOLUME 57 j NUMBER 3 j 2007 246
no argument with me on this point, and that he relies on the other of his two
directions, that involving philosophical method, to assume the burden of confer-
ring on philosophy of education consummate philosophical connectedness.
I will
consider whether this latter direction has the wherewithal to deliver on its mission
in this regard later in the essay (see the section Approaching Education in a
Distinctly Philosophical Way). But quite candidly, I am somewhat wary of the
likelihood that Scheffler does in fact intend to shift the burden of providing for the
needed philosophical authenticity onto this other of his delineated directions. Be
this as it may, there is no doubt that Scheffler can be drawn on as an ally in the
cause of saddling philosophy of education with some theory-to-practice application
And this is all I require as far as support for my initial suggestion is
I should, however, clarify my claim that applying philosophy to something or
other education, in particular is different from actually doing philosophy.
The point can be argued in either of two ways. One may make the case that to
enter the sphere of application is automatically, as it were, to depart that of theory.
For example, to consider the ethical ramifications of the practice of abortion is to
step out of the theoretical arena and to try to determine what follows from already
deliberated theory with regard to the specific instance of abortion. To be sure, the
consideration of a special case such as abortion may reverberate back to the
base theoretical issue and reorient ones thinking in regard to arguments and
reflections originally adduced and positions taken.
But to grant this is not to deny
that applying the antecedently concluded thinking to the case in question, for the
sole purpose of adjudicating the latter, is something different from the activity that
goes into establishing the general point of view in the first instance.
And similarly, to deliberate the legitimacy of indoctrination as a form of educa-
tion, for example, is typically to seek to ascertain what consequences for this
10. See Israel Schefflers Conditions of Knowledge (Glenview, Illinois: Scott Foresman, 1965), 1314,
where, in discussing the notion that teaching aims at imparting belief, he comments that teaching is
[sometimes] geared toward the development of skills in handling and applying theories rather than
toward acceptance of these theories as true, thus implicitly acknowledging the theory/application dis-
tinction. In this connection, see too his Reflections on Educational Relevance, chap. 10 in Reason and
11. Scheffler is, however, not too sanguine about describing philosophy of education as involving the
application of philosophy to education. Thus, no one supposes.that the philosophers task is practical
engineering or applied science. He prefers metaphorical language to literal invocation of the term apply:
Yet the linkage of philosophical and practical concerns must.be maintained.[D]esegregation is not
achieved by swallowing one field whole (Reason and Teaching, 32, emphasis added).
12. The idea bears an affinity to that of reflective equilibrium, taken in the context of arriving at moral
principles. In analogy with that case, here we want to calibrate our adopted philosophical positions to our
intuitions in response to individual cases as they arise. For the genesis of this idea in the recent literature,
see Nelson Goodman, Fact, Fiction, and Forecast (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press,
1955), 6568; and John Rawls, ATheory of Justice (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press,
1971), 2051, who adapts the concept to the moral realm. Rawls acknowledges a debt to Goodman; it is,
however, worth noting that Israel Scheffler had already made the transition from rules of logic to rules of
ethical behavior in his On Justification and Commitment, Journal of Philosophy 51 (1954): 180190.
See, too, Harvey Siegel, Justification by Balance, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 52, no. 1
(1992): 2746.
POLLACK Philosophy of Education as Philosophy 247
question follow from deliberations of an intellectual kind previously conducted
within the confines of moral philosophical reasoning. It is not intended to break any
fresh ground in moral theory. (And, as I shall momentarily argue, if it were intended
so to do, it would be an exercise in ethical speculation, not in educational theory.)
Or take the question of educational aims, which is quintessentially education-
ally philosophical in its import. How does one go about deciding on educational
aims? All one does all one can do is to identify those values one wants to see
propagated in society, ideals that are worth cultivating. Education is nothing if not
the agency to which we have recourse in transmitting our cherished ideals, stand-
ards, and dispositions to the young and uninitiated. But now, to get on with the
project of deciding values-to-be-transmitted, it will be necessary to conduct delib-
erations of a morally normative kind, or ones falling within the purview of estab-
lished social theory. Moral and social theory is the theater of operations for
reaching the kind of resolutions sought. Beyond this, it will be necessary to carry
over their results to the domain of education. To be sure, determining the optimal
means of implementing established moral objectives within an educational milieu
is likely to necessitate a deliberative process of its own. But and this is the cru-
cial point this latter is no longer a philosophical affair. It takes on a decidedly
practical and strategic character, one that manifestly transcends the recognized
bounds of philosophical penetration.
If the foregoing reflections are correct, applying philosophy to questions in
education is simply not doing philosophy. If philosophy of education had to depend
for its sustenance on this kind of post-theoretic activity, it could not then claim for
itself genuine philosophical branchhood.
On another way of arguing the matter, however, the philosophical nature of dis-
course in which philosophy is applied to something or other the case in point
being education is not in question. The fact that working out the concrete ramifi-
cations of a philosophical position spurs further philosophical reflection is fully
acknowledged. For to bring the thinking to bear on specific cases is not to divert
ones attention from the general issue at hand; it is, on the contrary, to gain a firmer
grip on it and to expose it to otherwise unnoticed sources of criticism. Nevertheless,
as thus brought to bear on particular cases, such theoretic thinking does not (cannot)
overstep the bounds of the branch of learning within whose province it occurs. On
this conception, treating of the ethical dimensions of the abortion issue is, indeed,
doing philosophy; it is not venturing outside. But more than this, it is not venturing
beyond the confines of the philosophy branch ethics that is home to the theory
of which practical application is being sought and made. And, similarly, to give phil-
osophical thought a practical turn and apply it to education is to remain wholly
ensconced in the source branch be it epistemology, ethics, or whatever and
not to set foot into another. Much less is it to establish a new, self-contained branch
of philosophy philosophy of education being, again, the case in point.
Perhaps the situation varies, in the end, with the particular application at
hand. Perhaps some applications are so practical as to extricate those applying
E D U C A T I O N A L T H E O R Y VOLUME 57 j NUMBER 3 j 2007 248
them from the realm of philosophical activity entirely. Others, by contrast, may be
less distant from the theoretical source of gravity and leave their appliers envel-
oped squarely within the perimeters of its aegis. As regards education, the upshot
is in any case the same. There remains no hope of establishing a distinct branch of
philosophy of education on the shoulders of such other branches of philosophical
study as lend themselves to relating their deliberations to questions of educational
interest. Yet, this is not at all to deny the worth of organizing institutional resour-
ces around various kinds of application efforts and conveniently, if derivatively,
dubbing the undertaking philosophy of education.
I indicated that I had two ideas as to how philosophy of education might
thrive, short of taking on the semblance of a bona fide field of philosophy. The sec-
ond of them has philosophy of education serving to dispense recommendations for
educational practice and policy.
It assigns an important role to the philosopher as
purveyor of suggestions and dispenser of these recommendations. It takes the view
that the philosophers special abilities and insights uniquely position him or her to
pronounce on all manner of educational concerns and desiderata. This is, in part,
owing to the fact that education itself possesses deep philosophical roots, histor-
ically speaking.
This is not a matter of taking already extant philosophy and applying it to the
object domain of education. To be sure, philosophers of education may engage in
precisely this sort of activity. They may compose treatises treating of philosophi-
cal topics and directly apply philosophical considerations to questions arising in
regard to education. However, this need not necessarily be the case. Such philoso-
phers may equally authoritatively pronounce on education outside the context of
their distinctly philosophical deliberations. They are deemed qualified to proffer
valued opinions and beliefs by sheer dint of their philosophical standing.
The term authority is used deliberately. What I am suggesting comes to the
idea that the philosopher (of education) as philosopher possesses distinct author-
ity intellectual authority, if you will to contemplate and issue considered
pronouncements and recommendations relative to educational practice, broadly
taken. No one, however knowledgeable in educational affairs, might legitimately
substitute for the philosopher. This authority-based conception may seem a throw-
back to classical Greece a latter-day revival of Platos rule of the philosopher-
king. However, it is not my intention to appropriate Platonism whole. What I
claim for it is an ability to rehabilitate the once prevalent practice of according phi-
losopher-of-education status to philosophical personages found engaged in useful
and enlightened educational discussion. On its basis, it will be readily understood
that Locke, Kant, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Whitehead, Jacques Maritain, Bertrand
Russell, and innumerable others were all doing philosophy of education when
they talked about education. They had spoken with due philosophical authority.
13. Antecedents of the notion that philosophy of education issues in recommendations can be found in
Kingsley Price, Education and Philosophical Thought (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1967).
POLLACK Philosophy of Education as Philosophy 249
(By this same criterion, though, if, say, a university president, whose scholarly
expertise lay outside philosophy, should expound eloquently and penetratingly on
a subject of educational interest, his or her text would, for all its brilliance and
pertinence, not be accounted a veritable piece of educational philosophy.) The
conception, in short, provides pride of place for philosophical participation in edu-
cational conversation, without yet committing itself to extravagant claims on
behalf of philosophy of educations philosophihood.
If it be countered that the basis of such supposed privileged standing has not
been satisfactorily made out, the response will follow substantially this line: Philo-
sophers, possessed as they are of a distinctive turn of mind, are equipped with a sin-
gular perspicacity with which to approach and opine on educational questions.
Their considered judgments are informed by a philosophically critical spirit: these
judgments emanate and take their inspiration from this latter.
Cultivated under-
standing takes no holiday. Regardless of whether the subject of philosophers rumina-
tions falls, on a given occasion, into the speculative-cum-analytical realm or it does
not, the fact remains that the stirrings of their intellectual constitution resonate
within, suffusing their every seriously wrought thought. The statements in which
philosophers musings issue invariably take their cue from these rarified wellsprings.
The suggestion offered here appeals precisely to this image of the philosopher.
This line is rather in keeping with the notion that we are presently entertaining,
namely, that philosophy of education is not properly philosophical. What there is to
study in philosophy of education is, consequently, confined to the opinions, norma-
tive or otherwise, enunciated on the subject of education by persons philosophically
qualified that is, to the literature that they compose. Philosophers, if they are to
proffer noteworthy views, will undoubtedly benefit from a close acquaintance with
goings on in the educational marketplace. But the knowledge thus cultivated does
not become the catalyst for the interest and attention that their views come to
command. It is philosophical competence that garners these philosophers their
recognition. Ironically, the audience offering them its ear will not need to be philo-
sophically tutored, let alone philosophically sophisticated. It may comprise people,
professional and not, having little if any desire to be privy to the philosophical
underpinnings of the educational positions taken. Members of this audience may, in
many cases, regard the philosophically inspired positions and admonitions they
encounter as they do items stemming from the genre of social criticism. Yet, they
will devotedly pay philosophers respect on the strength solely of their philosophical
standing, such being the educational appeal of philosophy.
I would be remiss if I did not mention that, as remote as the foregoing sugges-
tion may seem from the thrust of Schefflers expressed views on the nature of
14. Educational stand-alones authored by philosophers may be seen as hailing from the authority-based
genre as I have here explicated it.
15. In this connection, see Schefflers essay Philosophy of Education and the New Activism, chap. 2 in
Reason and Teaching, where it is argued that, though philosophy and others of the humanities do not
directly solve [social] problems, they still help form the human problem-solver. They create personages
whose characters embody rational dispositions (Reason and Teaching, 28).
E D U C A T I O N A L T H E O R Y VOLUME 57 j NUMBER 3 j 2007 250
philosophy of education, his remarks in another connection lend themselves to
adaptation to just the conception at which I have been hinting. Thus, in a delinea-
tion of the scope of the philosophy of science, Scheffler asserts that, among the
things that someone may do in the name of philosophy of science, one is to pro-
nounce on the role of science in society. He characterizes this activity as a
legitimate occupation of philosophy of science and as, moreover, philosophical
in seeking general knowledge.about science or about the world revealed by sci-
ence. He goes on to describe its purview more fully:
Under [this] heading falls the study of relationships between social factors and scientific ideas, for
example, the influence of political constraints upon theorizing, the effects of scientific discoveries
upon religious allegiances. Here also belongs the investigation of science as an institution, its
social organization and procedures, the training and motivation of scientists, and the relation-
ships of science with education, government, industry, commerce, and the military. Finally, we
may here include fundamental considerations of policy with respect to the social role of science,
the responsibilities of the scientist to society, and those of society to scientific endeavor.
I suggest substituting the word education for each occurrence of science in this
passage (and the word science for the one occurrence of education). It is almost as
if we could do so without disturbing the intelligibility or tenor of the basic claim
apart from rechanneling its import. What emerges is a view on which the philoso-
pher of education assumes the role of pontificator on all manner of desiderata
involving society and educational institutions: a philosopher-king indeed.
In advancing this perspective, Scheffler is taking the view, which tends contrary
to the one I have thus far been urging, that philosophy is no discretely defined activ-
ity, strictly demarcated by a historically ordained subject domain. Indeed, in the sec-
tion from which the preceding extended quotation is drawn, he delineates no fewer
than six disparate occupations to which philosophy of science may be found to
direct its attention. This suggests a multistranded conception of philosophy: more a
congeries of intellectual pursuits bearing to one another a family resemblance (in
the Wittgensteinian sense) than a well-wrought discipline with hard boundaries of
its own. Such a view is in keeping with the historical fact that philosophy was for a
long period home to the myriad theoretical strains of psychology, political theory,
theology, logic, and others besides, a condition that has been displaced only in the
modern era, with the splintering off of specialized activity into separate directions.
It is in keeping also with the recognition that the artificial boundaries restricting
cross-fertilization among areas of philosophical interest are largely the result of
increased academic professionalization. From its erstwhile position of serving as an
independent leisurely pursuit of free Englishmen, for example, philosophy has been
transformed into a set of jobs in universities, yielding a livelihood for some and
imposing prudently calibrated rules of procedure and custom on all.
In the sections
16. Israel Scheffler, The Anatomy of Inquiry (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1963), 3.
17. Schefflers conception of philosophy is sufficiently broad-based to accommodate the philosophers
social ruminations, which I see as extracurricular.
18. I owe some of the reflections sketched in this paragraph to the comments of Israel Scheffler, offered
in personal communication.
POLLACK Philosophy of Education as Philosophy 251
that follow, I want to resume the thread introduced at the outset of this essay along
lines that reflect this more adaptive orientation.
I had said (in the section The Branches of Philosophy) that there were two
ways of looking at the evolution of the various philosophies-of. On the first, they
are merely extensions of the core mother branches: metaphysics, epistemology,
and the rest. The second takes the contrary view: it sees them as autonomous
branches of their own, not as deriving their integrity from other branches. It does
not view the subject matter of, say, the philosophy of mind as belonging inherently
to metaphysics. Metaphysics does not exercise any kind of hegemony. And sim-
ilarly for the others. Once again, how a subject area comes to be carved out for dis-
crete philosophical attention is an interesting historical question, but not one that
need detain us here.
Not unlike the earlier conception, this one has its roots in a more pervasive
outlook on the nature of philosophy. It is one in which philosophical activity is
defined not by its subject matter but, rather, by the manner in which it treats its
subject matter. There is a peculiarly philosophical approach and style that is in evi-
dence wherever philosophical activity is found to occur. It can be deployed over a
wide range of subject areas, without predetermination.
On the face of it, it would appear that this way of thinking might accommo-
date philosophy of education as a form of philosophical activity and, therefore, as
giving rise to an independent branch of philosophical inquiry.
And, indeed, as
previously noted, Scheffler cites the application of philosophical method to educa-
tional issues and phenomena as one of two ways in which philosophy of education
may be conducted in an unmitigated philosophical way.
Yet, it would also appear that there are limits to the range of questions and
problems to which the philosophical approach may properly be applied. The range
is open-ended but not unrestrictedly so. Some issues and desiderata remain outside
of philosophys ken things like coconuts and iPods, for example.
To see this, consider what it would be like to be told by someone that he or
she was occupied in the philosophy of kite flying.
We would find the claim
19. See Deweys Democracy and Education, chap. 20, for similarly tending remarks.
20. Perhaps one of the clearest statements of the view of philosophy and, with it, of philosophy of educa-
tion, that we are considering is to be found in OConnors An Introduction to the Philosophy of Educa-
tion, 4, where he says, philosophy is not in the ordinary sense of the phrase a body of knowledge but
rather an activity of criticism or clarification. As such, it can be exercised on any subject matter at all,
including.the problems of educational theory. See, too, Schefflers review of this work in Reason and
Teaching, chap. 13.
21. [The] task is to bring to bear philosophical methods.in seeking to understand the independent con-
cerns of [the] object realm (Scheffler, Reason and Teaching, 1819).
22. This is not to deny that any philosopher has ever taken a philosophical interest in phenomena
such as kite flying, only that, the existence of the International Association for the Philosophy of Sport
notwithstanding, such interest has not congealed into a generally accepted self-standing branch of
E D U C A T I O N A L T H E O R Y VOLUME 57 j NUMBER 3 j 2007 252
unconvincing, although it might not be entirely certain why it was so. On the view
we are considering, the explanation is to be sought, not in the subject matter itself,
but rather in the nature of the discourse that its treatment is thought capable of
spawning. Some desiderata simply fail to lend themselves to handling in the char-
acteristically philosophical way.
The task before us, therefore, is to consider how education fares as a branch of
philosophy under the proffered conception of philosophical inquiry. We need to
approach the matter by zeroing in on the nature of philosophical discourse itself.
What does it take for a line of narrative to be properly philosophical? Taking our
cue from Scheffler, we might begin by suggesting that discourse is philosophical
when it is conducted on a higher level. He identifies philosophy of education with
the use of second-order discourse seeing it as distinguished in this way from the
kind of talk that goes on in base-level, or first-order, deliberations of educational
On the base level, educational practitioners employ first-order discourse
to deliberate the ins and outs of educational practice and policy, things pertaining
to means and ends. To assume a second-order stance is, then, for philosophical
endeavor to take the deliberations occurring at the base, inclusive of the propri-
etary linguistic and conceptual apparatus by which they are supported, as its object
and to analyze and criticize these latter. Perhaps it is no distortion to say that the
narrative takes on a distinctly formal quality when operating at an elevated level.
Be that as it may, philosophy of education as thus construed makes no pretense to
theoretical authority in regard to the conduct of educational affairs: it takes a neu-
tral stance, deferring in practical matters to the education establishment. It seeks,
rather, to facilitate the productive flow of thought and communication, unencum-
bered by logical defects in the formulation of statements of principle, procedure,
strategy, and the like.
In Schefflers view, then, its second-order aspect confers on philosophy of edu-
cation its veritable philosophical standing. Operating on this premise, he draws
parallels with such acknowledged branches of philosophical inquiry as philosophy
of science and philosophy of law, claiming for philosophy of education identical
purpose and motivation. Thus, the division.between philosophy of education
and general philosophy makes no sense. There is as much basis for philosophy of
education, conceived as a genuine philosophical endeavor, as there is for philoso-
phies of law, art, religion, history, science and mathematics.
Yet, it seems to me
that this notion is problematic. In particular, the comparison to such other
branches of philosophy as philosophy of science or of law and their second-order
deliberations seems rather gratuitous. Let me explain why.
23. [I]t falls to educational philosophy to assume a second-order attitude with respect to the whole of
education, to take the whole structure as an object realm, striving to raise to critical consciousness its
assumptions, orientation and modes of thought (Scheffler, Reason and Teaching, 20).
24. Rudolf Carnap can be credited with the conception of philosophy as involving second-order dis-
course. See, for example, Empiricism, Semantics, and Ontology, Revue Internationale de Philosophie
11 (1950).
25. Scheffler, Reason and Teaching, 1819.
POLLACK Philosophy of Education as Philosophy 253
The source of the difficulty can, I think, be most instructively brought out in
Schefflers own terms. In a seminal essay titled Philosophy and the Curriculum,
he develops the idea of a form of thought.
Addressing the question of how
abstract, detached philosophical reasoning can be made educationally concrete,
Scheffler suggests looking to the several philosophies-of philosophy of science,
law, mathematics, history, art, language, and so on not as analogous to the phi-
losophy of education but, rather, as being constitutive of it. The second-order per-
spective that they provide is of as much interest to the teacher of a given subject as
it is to the concerns of philosophical understanding in relation to that subject.
This is explained by reference to the notion of a form of thought. Science to
harp on one example embodies a formal structure, one that is implicit in its
mode of practice. Through analytical probing, it can be extracted and cast in way
that illuminates the practice; and this, says Scheffler, is what philosophy of science
endeavors to do in one of its characteristic functions. For example, the notion that
scientific practice conforms to an abstract, idealized hypothetico-deductive
method is a conclusion that the philosophy of science yields. This is not the place
to enter into a full-blown discussion of his proposal as regards philosophy of educa-
tion, but the burden of Schefflers claim is that philosophy of science is relevant for
the work of the teacher of science and therefore forms an integral part of philoso-
phy of education precisely insofar as it serves in this way. Its assimilation by a
teacher affords him or her a basis on which to found principles of selection
and organization of curricular materials. The same rationale applies to the other
philosophies-of and the school subjects to which they, respectively, relate. They
may all be seen under a philosophy-of-education aspect.
There are, then, two points that bear stressing. One is that the idea of a form
of thought affords us a clear perspective on what makes second-order discourse at
once philosophically and educationally significant: it is capable of revealing the
inner dynamic structure of a given subject domain. But clearly, its doing so presup-
poses that whatever it is applied to science, language, law, or what have you
possesses a discernible logical form. And this, of itself, immediately calls into
question its applicability to the realm of education, education being fluid and hap-
hazard: entirely devoid of a defining structural form that can be analytically
extrapolated. Consequently, whatever second-order discourse focused on educa-
tional practice may hope to accomplish, it will be ineffectual in extracting a defin-
ing form of educational thought.
The contrast between education and the established areas of philosophical
interest is, it seems to me, stark in the extreme. That science, for example, has an
internal structural form will be appreciated the moment one reflects on the notion
of scientific method that is so prominent in philosophical discussion. However
one is inclined to interpret this guiding mechanism of scientific advance, that
there is something there to be discerned can hardly be denied. It, then, represents
sciences form of thought, something that philosophy of science sets its explicative
26. This essay is reprinted in Scheffler, Reason and Teaching, chap. 3.
E D U C A T I O N A L T H E O R Y VOLUME 57 j NUMBER 3 j 2007 254
designs upon. Language, analogously, possesses certain fundamental formal fea-
tures by virtue of which it succeeds in serving the purposes of human thought and
communication. Philosophy has work to do by way of laying these bare. Or take
law. Who will deny that the law is a formal code, supported by conventionally
instituted, rigorously promulgated procedures of application and execution?
Unquestionably, there is an operative higher rationale that channels the delibera-
tions as to implementation in certain directions. But what general patterns do the
codes and coordinate procedures evince? Enter the analytical and elucidative prow-
ess of philosophy, so constructively harnessed in relation to the legal realm. And
for all the creative expressiveness and free rein that work in the arts and in mathe-
matics purveys, are there no unvarying constants pervading these domains, leaving
it to the imaginative impulses of philosophers in their respective fields to mine
and decipher them, with a view to unraveling their abiding turns of character? But
what correlative aspects might one identify within the perimeters of education,
institutionally and bureaucratically configured as it is? Its free-form activity can
hardly be conceived of as governed by patterns of internally embedded rules of play
that submit to conscious attempts at formal disclosure. It is devoid of the logical
superstructure that would accommodate any such analytical unearthing.
That this is so and here is the second point can be pointedly gleaned from
the dialectic of Schefflers very discussion. He sets out to establish the educational
relevance of abstract philosophical thought, and he invokes the several philosophies-
of, the teaching-subjects to which they relate, and the forms of thought they seek
to crystallize toward achieving this end. He argues for an assimilation of the
philosophy of education to the philosophies-of, rather than for a modeling of the
philosophy of education on them. The underlying assumption is patently clear:
education itself is devoid of a discernible form of thought; its mode of practice is
far too fluid and variegated to yield one. If it were otherwise, an educational philos-
ophy could have emerged that sought to uncover the formal features of educational
practice, making them amenable to analytical scrutiny and opening them up to
scholarly and professional critique. It would, in this way, have yielded live oppor-
tunities for meaningful adjustments to entrenched educational practice. It would
have paralleled the other philosophies-of (those of law, art, language, and the like)
in its functioning, joining them in targeting a practices underlying form of thought
for both elucidation and possible revision. Perhaps most significantly, it would
have obviated the need to look to the other philosophies-of in constituting phil-
osophys concrete educational utility; the source of this utility would have been
located in the philosophical study of educational practice as such. From an
acknowledgment, then, of educations lack of a form of thought the conclusion
inexorably follows that it is incapable of supporting a second-order branch of philo-
sophical study devoted to its structural explication.
The comparison with other
recognized branches of philosophy is misconceived. Or so it would seem.
27. If education were itself a science, it would indeed give rise to a philosophical endeavor devoted to
uncovering its form of thought. For Schefflers thinking on the issue of education as a science, see chaps.
4 and 8 in Reason and Teaching.
POLLACK Philosophy of Education as Philosophy 255
The broader lesson is, I believe, that conducting deliberations on a higher level
does not in itself render discourse genuinely philosophical. As already remarked, it
is decidedly not the case that philosophical method analysis can be applied
to anything and everything.
And characterizing philosophical analysis as involv-
ing second-order discourse leaves the point wholly intact. Being conducted on a
higher level may or may not be necessary for philosophical activity, but it most
certainly is not sufficient. W.V.O. Quine has made the point that semantic ascent
or raising the level of discourse to the second degree is merely a matter of
switching from the material mode to the formal mode and that the switch can be
effected without restriction as to topic.
The denouement of this is that second-
order discourse does not demarcate a region that can rightfully be designated as
distinctly philosophical (employing it as a criterion would subject all things to
philosophical scrutiny!). Further specification is needed before an area can be
marked out as one to which philosophical deliberation may legitimately be ap-
plied. And until such delineation of the philosophical quality of discussion is forth-
coming, the question of educations amenability to philosophical treatment is (to
say the least) left unresolved.
In his quest for a mark of philosophical explanatory efficacy, Plato is reputed
to have insisted upon the element of generality. (Discourse is philosophically-
dialectically illuminating when it succeeds in providing a generally applicable
definition.) For well-known reasons, however, this criterion proves woefully inad-
equate. Building on a suggestion from William Dray, I might venture an approach
to philosophical problemhood and correlative treatment along the following
The idea is to locate the special character of philosophical probing in the
kind of question it confronts. To be philosophical, a perplexity has got to be such
that what is at stake in raising it is the specter failing a satisfactory resolution
of skepticism. A person entering a room expecting to find a particular item but
finding it missing might raise the question, how is this possible? But this person
will not (in the normal course of events) be driven to denying the erstwhile pres-
ence of the item that he or she had so confidently expected to find.
Contrast this
with an inability to resolve the epistemological issue of knowledge of an external
world, for example. Such a state of affairs has driven many a reputable philosopher
to utterly skeptical conclusions. Or imagine that a philosopher pondering the
so-called free-will problem has come up empty-handed, bereft of any palatable
28. The matter invites comparison with the genre of literature. Not every fictional, or even poetic, text
counts as literature; in the same vein, not every piece of second-order discourse need count as philoso-
phy. In this connection, see, for example, Monroe Beardsley, The Concept of Literature, in Literary
Theory and Structure: Essays in Honor of William K. Wimsatt, ed. Frank Brady, John Palmer, and Martin
Price (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1973), 2339.
29. See W.V.O. Quine, Word and Object (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1960), 272274.
30. See William Dray, Laws and Explanation in History (London: Oxford University Press, 1957), chap. 6.
See also Barry Stroud, The Significance of Philosophical Scepticism (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984),
144145, where Drays idea is adapted to philosophical especially epistemological explanation.
31. In science, as well, one does not deny the existence of something whose explanation is not ready to
E D U C A T I O N A L T H E O R Y VOLUME 57 j NUMBER 3 j 2007 256
approach. The only avenue of recourse left is or may be deemed to be whole-
sale denial of free will, an avenue that is indeed well-trodden. And so on down the
line. Philosophical problems, if this suggestion is in the right, are characteristically
directed at warding off thwarting a looming skeptical reaction.
Philosophy of science is philosophy because the validity of scientific knowl-
edge is at stake. Philosophy of mind is philosophy because the prospect of a mind-
less material reality looms. Moral theory is philosophy because there is the notion
of an anarchic, hedonistic way of life to fall back on. But no similarly skeptical
threat is raised by the contemplation of an unexplained process of education.
And this is what calls into question educations susceptibility to philosophical
probing on however elevated a level of discourse.
We are faced with a rather bleak-looking situation. Platos Republic has failed
us as a satisfactory model of philosophy of education. Viewing philosophy as a
problem-defined enterprise has had the effect of excising education from its pur-
view. It permits philosophy of education to exist only as something apart, forcing
its relegation to the extra-theoretical sphere. And now we have come to realize
that even a more liberal, method-based approach to general philosophy appears to
leave philosophy of education out in the cold. Is there no avenue of recourse?
I believe we have already brushed against one without having taken due
notice. We have cited Schefflers explication of philosophies-of as involving an
uncovering of the tacit form of thought embedded in a cultivated practice be it
science, language, history, or whatever. And we have despaired of finding a correla-
tive form of thought embedded in the process of education. But, I want to suggest,
we need not have been so blithely dismissive.
Granted that educational practice is not so logically regulated and systemat-
ized as to yield to attempts at strictly formal analytical extrapolation; it does,
nevertheless, represent an underlying web of philosophical commitments, summa-
rizing the social, ideological, and philosophical assumptions dominant in society.
As practiced at any given time and place, education is an outgrowth of deeply and
pervasively held political, theological, metaphysical, epistemological, aesthetic,
and moral beliefs. As such, it is susceptible to probing through the instrumentality
of all the philosophical genius at its (and our) disposal. A philosophy of education
can, thus, be constructed around the purpose of laying bare the socio-philosophical
assumptions underlying educational practice as it is actually observed to exist.
What I am offering is a distinctive variation on the general theme that philoso-
phy of education is an exercise in second-order discourse. It is a conception on
which we attend closely to the goings on, the deliberations, permeating ground-
level educational affairs, as we try to extract larger assumptions that we deem
32. It is no rejoinder to claim that, absent a sustained theory of education, education is vulnerable to
relapse to abject indoctrination or the like. For so to claim is to beg the question of whether indoctrina-
tion is, in fact, something apart from education.
POLLACK Philosophy of Education as Philosophy 257
foundational to the trajectory of events. We take a broad view of the trappings of
practices and policies that hold sway of the institutional currents to which they
give rise even as we attempt to assess the presuppositions in terms of which the
principles behind the practices are given expression and interpreted. This approach
is, in its initial phase, transcendental in that it seeks to discern and delineate the
preconditions the very possibility of educational undertaking as we observe
it in the concrete. It attempts, in other words, to uncover a rational substratum
underlying the manifest activity, one that gives it meaning, point, and purpose.
As its source of raw data, the approach will likely draw not merely on active
educational practices but also on social phenomena contiguously adjoined to these
practices: neighboring facets of cultural and social life that undoubtedly exert an
influence on the course that distinctly educational processes are prone to take
(becoming enriched by the salutary reflections of these latter in turn). It will, fur-
thermore, be shortchanged if it confines its purview to the bare here-and-now: it
will want to expand its horizons and dabble into the past, looking at historical
developments (including those of educational history) leading up to the situation
confronting us in the present. Only thus will a clearer picture emerge of the forces
at play in shaping our ongoing and evolving educational commitments. And only
thus will we be afforded a reasonable basis on which to discern overriding patterns
of philosophically principled adherences. Our initial approach is, in short, substan-
tially a-philosophical, tapping resources that are alternately empirical and schol-
arly or historical in nature.
Nor should we minimize the significance of ruminations offered up in a quasi-
popular vein, in the style of social thought and criticism, by learned personages
held in esteem by the educated public. These too might have valuable insights to
impart, which would aid us in piecing together a comprehensive picture of the
bodies of belief that have figured importantly in steering our practice in a particu-
lar direction. We should seek to avail ourselves of all the worthwhile resources at
our disposal and pursue any and every reasonable lead.
With the ground-level data the phenomena themselves, as realized in actual
institutions and loosely formed patterns of human interaction firmly within
our grip we may, in a philosophical spirit, proceed to interpret them philosophi-
cally: to reconstruct their philosophical-cum-ideological underpinnings. This will
call for a judicious deployment of philosophical acumen, a conversance with the
spectrum of intellectual categories and subtleties of nuance that lend substance to
the philosophical quest itself. Historians of thought are wont to indulge in closely
allied inquisitive undertakings, but endowing the outcome with any kind of ana-
lytical precision will entail carrying the activity to lengths and to heights to which
only the trained philosopher can seriously aspire. And then the critical phase will
have to be entered upon.
For the deeper beliefs underlying prevalent practice may turn out, on critical
reflection, to be inept, incoherent, or otherwise ill-begotten and in need of
revision, overhauling, or adjustment. They may be found to be outmoded, that is,
E D U C A T I O N A L T H E O R Y VOLUME 57 j NUMBER 3 j 2007 258
ill-adapted to the more pervasive intellectual winds picking up force in contempo-
rary social life and thought. They will need to undergo painstaking analysis and
logical scrutiny so as to be rid of their infelicities and outfitted with the respect-
ability they deserve if they are to have a continuous influence on the direction of
educational development. Ultimately, principles serve to guide practice, and there
is nothing trivial about the determination to set the principles on sound (cogently
reasoned and defensibly articulated) footing. The critical effort, if it is to be exe-
cuted at its most productive, will need to draw on reservoirs of philosophical
insight and turns of reasoning that have come to us from the historical past and
that have provided grist for the philosophical mill down to the present. A far cry
this is from approaching the philosophical task on the assumption that there is a
community-neutral vantage point from which to semantically decipher the lan-
guage employed in the context of educational deliberation, one indicating a univer-
sal standard. More remote still is it from the textbook schools of thought
method of normatively imposing philosophical direction on the practice of educa-
tion. The emphasis is on extracting the philosophy from the practice and then
scrutinizing and calibrating it for proper adaptability.
On a metatheoretical plane, the payoff is a newfound continuity with others
of the philosophy branches. Philosophy of education will thenceforth be seen as on
a par with philosophy of science, philosophy of law, and all the rest in striving to
uncover a latent cohesive overlay permeating a well-entrenched practice and mode
of contemplation. It will have acquired an autonomy that spares it the need to look
to the venerable traditionals (metaphysics, ethics, and what have you) for inspira-
tion and self-definition. Insofar as it sets its sights on recovering an underlying
logos from the myriad gyrations of educations ebb and flow, philosophy of educa-
tion will be seen as bickering with metaphysics as a brother.
I think it worth pointing out that there are affinities to be discerned here with
a kindred idea in Schefflers account of Justifying Curriculum Decisions.
Developing the distinction between relative and nonrelative general, as he puts
it justification, he makes it a point to stress that justifying educational deci-
sions, even if only relatively to already accepted and entrenched principles and
norms, is no simple task given the difficulty inherent in ascertaining the standards
33. To forestall confusion, it will do well to stipulate that the approach followed here takes a multi-
stranded view of philosophical activity. It does not view it as being uniformly of a single type. This is in
keeping with the outlook adopted at the conclusion of my section on Philosophical Authority vis-a` -vis
Education recall the allusion to Wittgensteinian family resemblance. In particular, it is not by any
means claimed that all philosophical activity is of the form of thought type even in the broad sense
in which uncovering philosophico-social presuppositions may be involved. In fact, the form of thought
characterization is meant to apply exclusively to the several philosophies-of. The more traditional
branches of metaphysics, ethics, and the like may be seen as deriving their philosophical nature from, for
example, the kinds of questions they raise and, specifically, from the latent skepticism they seek to
thwart. Accordingly, it is no objection to the here-proffered approach to point out that political philoso-
phy, for example, may not conform to (even) the extended form of thought paradigm. It may, on analy-
sis, turn out to more nearly resemble metaphysics and ethics themselves in seeking to defeat skepticism.
Further pursuit of this line is, however, beyond the compass of the present discussion.
34. Scheffler, Reason and Teaching, chap. 9.
POLLACK Philosophy of Education as Philosophy 259
and principles that are in effect, that is, in extrapolating these from the complex
and intricately woven fabric of educational and social practice. Education does not
lend itself to an easy reading off of its guiding assumptions. As he puts it, In edu-
cation, [relative] justification seems to relate.to broad social practices and tradi-
tions, the formulation of which has to be abstracted from our history and is itself a
difficult job.
If my reading of him is correct, Scheffler sees the ferreting out of
relevant practices and traditions as constituting a legitimate occupation of philoso-
phy of education.
Having come this far, I want to revisit the question of the philosophical nature
of the discussion of education in the Republic. I suggest that we may now acknowl-
edge its appropriateness to the classification of philosophy of education. For we have
come to view philosophy of education, in one of its vital modalities, as relating
underlying assumptions of a social and philosophical kind assumptions held by a
given society to a societys practices in regard to education. And Platos discussion
in the Republic does a remarkable job of expounding a set of larger social and philo-
sophical attitudes and beliefs, and working out their ramifications for a compre-
hensive view of educational provision and functioning. As originator of the
undergirding metaphysically tempered social theory, Plato is spared the need to
engage in any kind of excavation activity in order to arrive at the basis of his educa-
tional proposals. Neither does he have need to stage himself as an acute observer of
his societys educational practices. The philosophy and the education are both of his
own devising. But his overall treatment very effectively and dramatically captures
the basic insight that educational practice is to be explicated by reference to under-
lying principles foundations of a philosophical kind. He justifies educational
decisions by appealing to socio-philosophical principles arrived at firsthand: in Schef-
flers terms, he does so in a nonrelative way. In his claim to philosopher-of-education
fame he is, accordingly, unremittingly vindicated.
35. Ibid., 122.
I AM GRATEFUL to Professors Israel Scheffler and Harvey Siegel for suggestions, encouragement, and
helpful criticisms of an earlier draft of this paper. I must also thank Professor Nicholas Burbules, who, as
editor, has offered suggestions that have had a salutary effect on the character of the final version.
E D U C A T I O N A L T H E O R Y VOLUME 57 j NUMBER 3 j 2007 260