Education and «Pädagogik»

Philosophical and Historical Reflections (Central, Southern and South-Eastern Europe)

by Blanka Kudláčová (Volume editor) Andrej Rajský (Volume editor)
Edited Collection 328 Pages

Table Of Content

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Terminology note

1.“Pädagogik” (Ger.) – a scientific and academic discipline, its origins are found at a German pedagogue J. F. Herbart

2.Pedagogy (Engl.) – a discipline that deals with theory and practice of teaching (Ger. Bildungstheorie, Didaktik)

3.Educational Sciences (Educology) – Erziehungswissenschaften (Ger.)

4.Educational Theory – a theory of the purpose, application and interpretation of education and learning

5.Education – Bildung (Ger.)

6.Education – Erziehung (Ger.)

7.Education – Bildung and Erziehung (Ger.)

8.History of Education – Geschichte der Erziehung (Ger.)

9.Chair of “Pädagogik” – Lehrstuhl für Pädagogik (Ger.) – a field tied to professorship in pedagogy, which may have been initially linked with professorship in theology, philosophy or aesthetics; originated throughout the 19th century. In the 20th century, the German notion Lehrstuhl für Pädagogik used to denote also departments of pedagogy

10.Pedagogical Seminar – Pädagogisches Seminar (Ger.) – associated with professorship in pedagogy, in connection with which a seminar may have been or did not have to be established; its aim was practical – training of secondary school teachers; the concept originated in the second half of the 19th century

11.Department of “Pädagogik” – Department of “Pädagogik”, Institut für Pädagogik (Ger.) – departments or institutes of pedagogy, originated in the first half of the 20th century; they are a result of the development and enhancement of professorships of pedagogy, they get emancipated by separation from professorships of theology, philosophy or aesthetics and gain an independent professorship of pedagogy. At the same time, the professorships of pedagogy expand in newly targeted professorships, focused foremost on experimental pedagogy, e. g. in the Czech lands, Germany←9 | 10→

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The objective of this book is a philosophical and historical reflection of education and science of education (Ger. Pädagogik) as an academic as well as scientific discipline. The publication is the result of a several-years-long collaboration of philosophers of education and historians of education from the countries of the Central, Southern and South-Eastern Europe. The majority of the countries cover the territory of the former Austria-Hungary, or the countries neighbouring this territory.

Modern Pädagogik in continental Europe has been influenced by the German Pädagogik, which is apparent in individual chapters in the second part of the publication. Its fundamental concepts were shaped in the period of the Enlightenment and neo-humanism. The etymology shows that the term is derived from the Greek words pais – boy, girl, child and agogé – to lead. Similar terms can be found in other European languages, too: paedagogia (Latin), pédagogie (French), pedagogía (Portuguese, Spanish), pedagogia (Italian), pedagógia (Hungarian), pedagogika (Bulgarian, Czech, Polish, Russian, Slovak, Slovenian), pedagogie (Dutch, Romanian), pedagogija (Croatian, Bosnian, Serbian, Macedonian), pædagogik (Danish), pedagogik (Swedish), pedagogiikka (Finnish), pedagogikk (Norwegian), etc.

The horizon of the Greek paideia was significantly broader than the scope of present-day Pädagogik. The term paideia was related to developmental issues for humans that included their entire life – from birth to death. Paidea, according to Heidegger, does not have an equivalent in modern language. Paideia is not the modern education of a human that seeks to transmit knowledge; it is rather a movement inside of a human, a turnover that can be better expressed by the Platonic term metanoia. In this sense, according to Pelcová (2010, p. 45), “paideia is the care for soul – epimeleia peri tés psychés, what keeps a human being in contact with the truth of being, with the idea”.

Modern times bring up the idea of the “educability” of a child and their ability to learn; consequently. Pädagogik is accordingly shaped as a practical educational art of parents and teachers. However, from the European Enlightenment onwards, this practical activity needed to rely on rationally justified reasons; it needed to establish the finality of its own theses scientifically. Pädagogik sought for its own reasoning in philosophical and theological anthropology. Therefore, it was carried out as applied logic and applied ethics at first (late 1700s), i.e. as coordination of the discipline of reason and discipline of will. This theoretically informed practice gave rise to a triangular model of educational disciplines (Ger. pädagogische Disziplinen). Within this discipline anthropology answered the question of who a human is, educational teleology determined what a human should ←13 | 14→become and educational methodology connected these two moments. The triangular model was adopted and developed by an author who is considered the founder of Pädagogik as a modern science, Johann Friedrich Herbart (1776–1841). Herbartian Pädagogik dealt with educational epistemology for the first time. This however remained at the level of “applied metaphysics” – including ethics, which provided Pädagogik with scientific objectives, as well as psychology, which provided Pädagogik with operative means. But both deduced their principles directly from metaphysical anthropology. All in all, Herbartian theory of education represented a new paradigm, thanks to which it was possible to speak of Pädagogik as of a field of cognition that tries to understand its own scientific identity.

The shaping of Pädagogik in individual European countries occurred in different ways throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, reflecting their different paths to national identity. But despite the specific development of individual nations and their cultures, several fundamental joint elements in the field of Pädagogik can be observed. These include the following: the significant influence of the German tradition; the profiling of the so-called basic educational disciplines (see further on); the establishment of similar models of university-based teacher training; the establishment of a similar type of academic and scientific institutions; the establishment of similar types of schools for elementary and secondary education. Pädagogik was gradually shaped as an autonomous scholarly discipline, which started to find its place within university education in the second half of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. Already in the first half of the 19th century, so-called chairs of Pädagogik (Ger. Lehrstuhl für Pädagogik), which were still a part of the departments of philosophy, started to be inaugurated. Independent pedagogical seminars1 (small departments, Ger. Pädagogisches Seminar) started to be established later. These were transformed to departments of education (Ger. Department Pädagogik or Institut für Pädagogik) throughout the 20th century. In the last third of the 19th century, Herbartianism was gradually pushed aside by Positivism and subsequently also by American progressivism and pragmatism. Together with a newly emergent experimental Pädagogik, these developments created a space for a broader educational discussion. The turn of the 20th century also witnessed the advent of a reform of pedagogy movement that placed ←14 | 15→the accent on the child. Unfortunately, in the first half of the 20th century, the rise of fascism and nationalism in Europe meant that Pädagogik and education in several countries got into ideological bondage.

In spite of the fact that the theoretical position of Herbart and his followers found critics and opponents from many sides, up to the end of the 1960s the scientific status of Allgemeine Pädagogik (General Pedagogy) was not fundamentally questioned. Pädagogik was gradually structured into constituent educational disciplines, namely: General Pädagogik (Ger. Allgemeine Pädagogik), Theory of Education (Ger. Theorie der Erziehung), Pedagogy/Didactics (Ger. Bildungstheorie, Didaktik) and History of Education (Ger. Geschichte der Erziehung). However, some turbulence for the discipline occurred with a new ascendency of empirical educational sciences during the 1960s (Fr. sciences de l’éducation, Ger. Erziehungwissenschaften). In 1966, the French minister of education appointed a group of educational research specialists (Maurice Debesse, Gaston Mialaret and Paul Fraisse and others) to elaborate a project of creation of courses of teacher training leading to master’s degree at universities. Members of the group used the term “educational sciences” because they wanted to emphasise the scientific dimension of studies, aiming at an identification of Pädagogik (pédagogie in French) with empirical sciences. In 1985, a well-known book by Gaston Mialaret and others educators was published with the title Introduction to Educational Sciences (Introduction aux sciences de l’éducation).2

Representatives of the new conception of educational sciences rejected the then prevailing monopoly of humanistic spiritual-scientific Pädagogik and subjected it to dramatic criticism (cf. Winkler, 1994, but also Brezinka, 1971). The attacks on this “queen of educational sciences” had two prongs. Firstly, it was charged that General Pädagogik originated from a need to provide some academic training to teachers in the 19th century. Secondly, it was alleged that a “general” subject of Pädagogik does not exist (cf. Stępkowski, 2010, pp. 143–146).

The first critical camp pointed out that academic General Pädagogik was devised as a practical course of teacher training at a time of institutionalisation of education in the state system of schooling. It was argued ←15 | 16→that its purpose was “disciplinarisation” of teachers’ training in order to ensure continuity of the system. General Pädagogik, on this account, had a textbook character, not a scientific one. It represented a complex of “educational dogmas”. The second camp of criticism of General Pädagogik accused it of: uselessness (decline in scientific outcomes of this discipline); non-functionality (no direct connection to educational practice); outdatedness (as a result of the decline of speculative sciences) and insubstantiality (it loses its legitimacy with the rise of educational science).

General Pädagogik is even at present often perceived as an obstacle to the development of rationalised education, within which education and formation must be guided by the principle of functionality and effectiveness (e.g. Scheerens, 2000). A strong pressure for technologisation of education, teaching and instruction comes particularly from people with a technicist outlook. General Pädagogik, together with its reflexive role, loses any apparent meaning. Educational technology, productive and reproductive practice, take its place (Cambi et al., 2009, p. 19). However, as several contemporary educational researchers have pointed out (Benner, Heim, Prange, Baroni, Bellingreri, Brezinka, Mari, Kilian, Henz, Ruschke-Rhein, Stępkowski, and others) General Pädagogik is still irreplaceable as metatheory of educational science, a sort of “framework theory”, whose tasks are manifold. These tasks include: to usher to educational thinking; to grasp and interpret main educational concepts; to provide theoretical resources to Pädagogik as a science; to connect research outcomes of educational sciences with educational practice. Scholars who thus defend General Pädagogik see in the criticisms the rejection of a more fundamental understanding of education; a rejection that actually represents an abandonment of the scientific status of educational research. This academic dispute has far-reaching implications for any serious understanding of education. It is an instance moreover of a fruitful discourse through which European continental Pädagogik deepens and enriches scientific educational thinking itself. In this book, mainly in its first part, Philosophical Reflections on Education, several similar fronts of argumentation are opened.

The authors of this book encountered several terminological differences in key educational concepts used in continental traditions, central European tradition in particular and apparently similar concepts in English. An emblematic example is the concept pedagogy itself. Even though the English term “pedagogy” is very similar to the German term Pädagogik, using them interchangeably causes confusion, since the term “pedagogy” is significantly narrower in content. Since there is no English equivalent of the term Pädagogik in the sense of a scientific and academic discipline, we ←16 | 17→decided to keep the term in the original version – i.e. untranslated. Another problem is to find an equivalent for the German notion Erziehungswissenschaften. In this case, we decided to use the phrase educational sciences, which can be found in specialised literature written by continental authors. Also, there occurred a problem with a distinction between the German Bildung and Erziehung and the corresponding theories Bildungstheorie or Didaktik and Theorie der Erziehung. These distinctions do not have real counterparts in English terminology. Both words are regularly translated as Education, or Theory of Education. In case of a need to distinguish their meaning in the text, the authors use the original German versions in italics. In view of incompatibilities in the continental (German) educational tradition and Anglophone traditions, a brief Terminology note is provided at the beginning of the book.

The research perspectives provided in the various contributions in the book help to fill gaps in understanding that arise from contrasting historical paths taken by European countries in recent times. In the second half of the 20th century, Europe was divided by the Iron Curtin into two parts, not only territorially but also mentally. Communication among philosophers, scientific and academic professionals was frozen for several decades. After the Second World War, communism, which was already well-established in the countries of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, was implemented into life of the countries of the Eastern Europe too. Together with it, a conception of socialistic Pädagogik and a model of unified education came to be implemented in these countries. In the western part of Europe, where postmodern thinking made advances from the 1970s onwards, Pädagogik started to lose its philosophical moorings and traditional pattern became unsettled. It can be stated in any case that both Western and Eastern European countries experienced strong ruptures in the continuity of educational thinking. This was, however, caused by different factors. In the countries of Western Europe, these ruptures were induced by an evolving postmodern thinking. In the 1960s, the subject and methodology of history of education were questioned by general historians. According to them, the overly optimistic narratives of modernism did not provide answers to serious dilemmas and problems in education in Eastern Europe in the period of the onset of postmodern thinking. It may be claimed that it was a natural developmental crisis. According to Rajský, “the paradigm of postmodernism shook and questioned the scientific status of history as such, placed theoreticians of history in front of a mirror: they were forced to reflect on the question of their own meaning, re-configure their own beliefs, purify themselves from submission to the persisting narratives and ←17 | 18→emancipate themselves from the established schemes of interpretation” (Rajský, 2014, p. 17). A similar statement can be found in the researches of Iggers, according to whom “the postmodern critics have correctly pointed out the ideological premises that were present in the dominant discourse of professional historical scholarship. However, rejection of the possibility of any rational discourse and questioning of the notion of historical truth and thus, historical untruth, resulted into throwing the baby out with the bathwater” (Iggers, 2002, p. 22). In contrast to the Western countries, in the countries of the Eastern Europe, political and ideological influences were the strongest factors. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in the 1990s, we can speak of the loss of continuity in the field of historical-educational research and in philosophical reflection on education in both parts of Europe. At issue here is the loss of the sense of continuity – in thought, in moral life, in ethical traditions, in historical experience – that constitutes any particular civilisation (cf. Kudláčová and Rajský, 2012). Continuity carries the risk of homogenisation, totalisation and exclusivity; however, it also represents a necessary condition for an adequate perception of the past and future, for responsibility for cultural and other inheritances, for consistent work, for building and development. Without the presupposition of continuity, Pädagogik and education, perceived either as a science or art, would not be possible.

Under the influence of rising globalisation at the end of the 20th century, two traditions, “two worlds” of educational thinking, represented by sometimes conflicting terminologies, started to come into contact. This contact opens several questions: e.g. the problem of Pädagogik as a scientific discipline, the problem of educational terminology, the problem of investigating the phenomenon of education itself, the problem of undergraduate teacher training, its focus and content structure, etc. This new contact, or “encountering”, however, may lead to a clearer definition of identity of both traditions of educational thinking. It can encourage a sustained dialogue between them and consequently, their mutual enrichment. It can contribute to a better understanding of humankind itself and its educational possibilities.

The book approaches education from two kinds of perspectives: philosophical and historical. The philosophical perspectives, contained in the first part of the book, explore key philosophical influences underlying the notion of Pädagogik, and also the later notion of Erziehungwissenschaften (educational sciences). Questions are raised about the status of philosophy of education, and of Pädagogik as a field of study. The nature and scope of their contributions in academic workplaces are critically reviewed.

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Concerning the historical perspectives in the second part of the book, these explore key historical moments in the development of Pädagogik as a scientific and academic discipline in individual countries of Central, Southern and South-Eastern Europe. By combining philosophical and historical reflections on continental Pädagogik, we attempted to overcome the fragmentation and limitations of using only a single discipline: so-called disciplinarism. The book goes beyond the horizon of regionalism and creates a more inclusive picture of the development of present-day Pädagogik in the countries examined.

It seems that in the countries of Central, Southern and South-Eastern Europe, Pädagogik, based on the original German tradition, has still a relatively large amount of similar features. It can be observed that problems of a similar character arise in educational theory and practice even at present. This is evident from themes and discussions pursued at international conferences in a number of countries in recent years (e.g. in Maribor 2010, 2012 and 2015; in Prague 2012, 2018; in Smolenice 2010, 2013 and 2016; in Lodz 2012 and 2014; in Belgrade 2014; in Liberec 2013 and 2015; in Warsaw 2016 and 2018, in Sarajevo 2018).

In conclusion, we would like to thank all the authors, with whom we maintained a lively contact throughout the preparation of the book and gradually shaped its final form. We would also like to thank Dr. Pádraig Hogan from Ireland for a careful reading of the manuscript and comments that helped to improve clarity and quality of the text. We believe that the book will represent an enrichment in the field of continental Pädagogik, shedding new light on its foundations and development. We also see it as a valuable opportunity for entering a dialogue with the representatives of the educational research community in Anglophone countries.


Brezinka, W. 1971. Von der Pädagogik zur Erziehungswissenschaft. Weinheim–Berlin–Basel: Verlag Beltz.

Cambi, F. et al. 2009. Pedagogia generale. Roma: Carocci.

Iggers, G. 2002. Dějepisectví ve 20. století. Praha: Nakladatelství Lidových novin.

Kudláčová, B., Rajský, A. 2012. Záver. In Kudláčová, B., Rajský, A. (eds.) Európske pedagogické myslenie (od moderny k postmoderne po súčasnosť). Trnava: Typi Universitas Tyrnaviensis, pp. 286–288.

Mialaret, G. et al. 1985. Introduction to the Educational Sciences. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

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Pelcová, N. 2010. Vzorce lidství. Filozofické základy pedagogické antropologie. Praha: Portál.

Rajský, A. 2014. Problém kontinuity a diskontinuity dejín a dejepisu. Filozofické impulzy. In Kudláčová, B. (ed.) Pedagogické myslenie a školstvo na Slovensku v medzivojnovom období. Trnava: Typi Universitas Tyrnaviensis, pp. 12–23.

Scheerens, J. 2000. Improving School Effectiveness. Fundamentals of Educational Planning, no. 68. Paris: UNESCO, IIEP.

Stępkowski, D. 2010. Apologia pedagogiki ogólnej w Niemczech w drugiej połowine XX wieku. In Sztobryn, S., Łatacz, E., Bochomulska, J. (eds.) Filozofia wychowania w XX wieku. Łódź: Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Łódzkiego, pp. 138–154.

Winkler, M. 1994. Wo bleibt das Allgemeine? Vom Aufstieg der allgemeinen Pädagogik zum Fall der allgemeinen Pädagogik. In Krüger, H.-H., Rauschenbach, Th. (eds.). Erziehungswissenschaft. Die Disziplin am Beginn einer neuen Epoche. Wanheim – München: Deutschen Studienverlag, pp. 95 and following pages.

1 Pedagogical seminars were associated with professorship in pedagogy, in connection with which a seminar may have been or did not have to be established; its aim was practical – the training of secondary school teachers; the concept originated in the second half of the 19th century.

2 Authors define education as an applied art that attempts to use scientific approaches. This collection of articles presents the European viewpoint, in which scholars consider key elements in the study of educational issues and concerns. Articles include: (1) The Philosophy of Education (O. Reboul); (2) The History of Education (A. Leon); (3) Educational Sociology (G. Mialaret; V. Isambert-Jamati); (4) Educational Demography (G. Mialaret; P. Clerc); (5) Educational Economics (F. Orivel); (6) Educational Planning (S. Lourie); (7) Educational Administration (L. Tiburcio); and (8) Comparative Education (Le Thanh Khoi).

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1.1.1 What Is Philosophy of Education?

Zdenko Kodelja

There are different and often conflicting answers to the question of what the philosophy of education is. This plurality of answers is mostly seen as a necessary consequence of the simple fact that philosophers of education belong to “different and incompatible philosophical traditions” (Carr, 2005, p. 1). But despite a number of different and even opposing answers, there is no doubt that at least some important authors think that philosophy of education is – or should be – understood as a special branch of philosophy.1 Moreover, it is stated that in the sixties “the philosophy of education has been steadily establishing itself in Britain as a branch of philosophy” (Peters, 1973, p. 1). However, many eminent philosophers of education would reject the interpretation that philosophy of education is a branch of philosophy.2 In spite of this, a key question remains: what is philosophy of education, if it is not a branch of philosophy? On the other hand, this question is open even when philosophy of education is defined as a branch of philosophy. For, in this case philosophy of education can be understood in two ways. Firstly, as a branch of philosophy which does not “exist apart from established branches of philosophy such as epistemology, ethics, and philosophy of mind” (ibid., p. 2).3 Secondly, it can be treated as a “philosophy of a specific domain”, that is, in a similar manner to philosophy of law, political philosophy, philosophy of science, philosophy of religion, etc. At first glance, such an interpretation of philosophy of education seems to be obvious. However, it involves certain difficulties. For instance, if philosophy of education is a branch of philosophy, then the question arises as to why it is almost never taught in philosophy departments. It is, in fact – unlike other standard “branches of philosophy”, that is, ethics, ←23 | 24→epistemology, social philosophy and so on – “usually taught in schools or departments of education” (Noddings, 1995, p. 1).4 The absence of philosophy of education from the list of courses offered by the great majority of philosophy departments can be seen as proof that philosophy of education – for many academic philosophers – does not count as a real branch of philosophy. In addition, although philosophers of education are supposed to study education and its problems “from a philosophical perspective” (ibid., p. 2), a lot of them are not philosophers by profession. Since they did not study philosophy, they have neither been formally trained nor have they “acquired competence in one or more areas such as epistemology, metaphysics, moral philosophy, logic, philosophy of science, and the like” (Phillips and Siegel, 2015). Nevertheless, many of them understand and present themselves as philosophers of education. On the one hand, there are two kinds of self-identified philosophers. First are those who can be named “philosophers of education” only in the “loose but common sense” of the term, in which any individual who “cogitates in any manner about issues such as the meaning of life, the nature of social justice, the relationship to Divinity, … the aims of education, the foundations of the school curriculum” and so on, is thereby a philosopher (ibid.). Second are those like “educational theorists or researchers”, whose works about education – in which they “explicitly raise philosophical issues or adopt philosophical modes of argumentation” – demonstrate that they deserve to be recognized as philosophers of education (ibid.). Some of them are actually internationally acknowledged as excellent philosophers of education.

On the other hand are the officially recognized philosophers of education, that is to say, persons who studied philosophy of education in those countries and universities where such a study exists in schools or departments of education. At the beginning, their teachers were “pure” philosophers; today, teachers who carry the title “professor of philosophy of education” or “professor of education” prevail. However, the problem is – if philosophy of education is or should be conceived as a branch of philosophy – that many of them “have the goal (reinforced by their institutional affiliation with schools of education and their involvement in the initial training of teachers) of contributing not to philosophy but to educa←24 | 25→tional policy and practice. This shapes not only their selection of topics, but also the manner in which the discussion is pursued. This orientation also explains why philosophers of education – to a far greater degree” than “pure” philosophers – “publish not primarily in philosophy journals but in a wide range of professionally-oriented” educational journals (ibid). These are some problems which are closely related to the definition of philosophy of education as a branch of philosophy.

These difficulties remain also when in British philosophy of education a similar but slightly more specific definition is usually used, namely, that philosophy of education is a “branch of applied philosophy”. In other words, philosophy of education is “a form of applied philosophy” (White, 1995, p. 216), that is to say, a “field … where basic branches of philosophy have application” (Peters, 1966, pp. 18–19). Understood in such a way, philosophy of education is nothing more than the application of ethics, political philosophy, epistemology, etc., to educational issues and problems. However, these interpretations of philosophy of education are not without certain difficulties. They have been the object of criticism, as David Cooper argues, not only because they “presuppose a problematic distinction between the philosophy which is applied and what it is applied to, but, more problematically still”, they suggest “a one-way relationship, as though it is both necessary and possible first to sort out one’s philosophical ideas and only then apply them” (Haydon, 1998, p. xiv; Cooper, 1998, pp. 23–25). This critique confirms that contemporary British philosophy of education has been conceived as a branch of applied philosophy. At the beginning, when it became a distinctive academic discipline, it was established as an application of analytic philosophy which is primarily “concerned with clarification of the concepts and propositions”, and “interested in answering questions about the meaning of terms and expressions”. This means that genuine “philosophical questions are not about, say, particular facts or moral judgements but about what we mean by facts, what we mean by moral judgements” (Hirst, 1974, pp. 1–2). It is no surprise, then, to find that subsequently also philosophy of education at that time defined itself as a discipline which is, above all, “concerned with elucidating the meanings of basic educational concepts” (Carr, 2005, p. 2). Later on, analytical philosophy of education was severely attacked by a number of philosophers of education with an allegiance to different “philosophical traditions as varied as Marxism, phenomenology, neopragmatism, hermeneutics, neo-Aristotelianism, critical theory and postmodernism” (ibid., pp. 4–5). Among the philosophers who had a major impact on the development of the post-analytic philosophy of education were Adorno, Habermas, MacIntyre, Rorty, Gadamer, Heidegger, Foucault, ←25 | 26→Derrida, Lyotard and so on. As a result, philosophy of education is becoming more and more a field where these and some other philosophies have application. Therefore, the application of different philosophical traditions has challenged the analytic philosophy of education but at the same time has confirmed its interpretation of philosophy of education as applied philosophy. However, this interpretation cannot be acceptable for those philosophers of education who do not understand the philosophy of education as a kind of applied philosophy or as a special branch of philosophy.

Philosophy of education is nowadays conceived in a similar way in some countries of continental Europe as well. However, the term “philosophy of education” is or was also used as a synonym for two things: firstly, for one of the educational sciences, and secondly, for one of the interpretations of that traditional academic discipline whose name has the same meaning and etymological origin in several languages: Pädagogik, pedagogika, pedagogija, pedagogia, pédagogie and the like. These words refer to the specific autonomous philosophic or scientific discipline which is usually taught as an academic discipline at universities. In English-speaking countries it is quite different. Although the English term “pedagogy” has the same Greek origin as the previously mentioned words in some languages, it means something else: “the theory of the methods and principles of teaching” (Collins COBUILD English Language Dictionary, 1993, p. 1058), or “a science of teaching embodying both curriculum and methodology” (Lawton and Gordon, 1996, p. 167). Despite this important difference in the meanings of the words, some authors, even in some prominent French and Italian specialized dictionaries of education and philosophy (Dictionnaire enyclopédique de l’éducation et de la formation, 1981, p. 726; Lalande, 1988, p. 749; Abbagnano, 1993, p. 654), translate these words in English as “pedagogy”. But such translations are problematic and lead to terminological confusion. The same problems arise with the use of the term “pedagogics”.5 At first glance, it seems that it would be more appropriate to use other terms which refer to those theories of education that better correspond to the German concept of Pädagogik. According to Wolfgang Brezinka, such theories are in the United States “usually called ‘foundations of education’ and in Great Britain ‘educational theory’” (Brezinka, 1992, pp. 3–4). But the problem is that, in contrast to the German word Pädagogik, none of ←26 | 27→these English terms refer to the theory of education. These theories “are not scientific theories, but rather ‘theories of practical activities’ or … practical theories. Their purpose is ‘in practical judgements’ to determine ‘what ought to be and what ought not to be done in educational practice’” (ibid., p. 4). For this reason, some authors and translators use the term “educology”, which designates “the theory of education” (ibid., p. 1), when translating the German word Pädagogik into English.

After this short terminological explanation, we can turn back to the discussion about the relationship between Pädagogik (pedagogics, educology) on the one hand and philosophy of education on the other. As is known, there are different interpretations of it. Brezinka, for instance, argues that Pädagogik as a theory of education includes three different kinds of theories of education: scientific, philosophical and practical. In his opinion, therefore, philosophy of education is a constitutive part of Pädagogik (ibid., p. 35). This interpretation differs from the one according to which Pädagogik is “philosophical science” (Giraldi, 1972, p. 5),6 or in other words, it is the same as philosophy of education (Enciklopedijski rječnik pedagogije, 1963, p. 252). But identifying Pädagogik with philosophy or philosophy of education was perhaps at least to a certain extent justified when traditional Pädagogik was so closely associated with philosophy that it was defined as “applied philosophy”. Today, when Pädagogik is defined as an autonomous science, such identification seems to be wrong, although it is sometimes difficult to make a clear distinction between philosophy and science. One of the consequences of the separation of Pädagogik as a science from philosophy is also the fact that nowadays the distinction between philosophy of education and philosophical Pädagogik has been almost totally forgotten. Philosophy of education was identified as one of the disciplines of Pädagogik which does not presuppose its dependence on philosophy, although it includes such topics which are closely related to philosophy (a man as a subject of education, the aim and purpose of education, the problem of values in education, the relationship between education and culture, freedom and discipline, etc.). On the other hand, philosophical Pädagogik was defined in opposition to philosophy of education, namely, as a Pädagogik which is based on philosophy (Pedagogijski leksikon, 1939, p. 94). In any case, what is important for clarifying the discussed problem is that both philosophy of education and philosophical Pädagogik were understood as Pädagogik and not as philosophy.

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Similar to the way in which philosophy of education is, in this context, defined as one of the disciplines of Pädagogik, philosophy of education is today, when Pädagogik is only one of the contemporary educational sciences, sometimes identified as one of the educational sciences (Mialaret, 1976, pp. 82–84). In both cases, when philosophy of education is either one of the disciplines of Pädagogik or one of the educational sciences, it is, therefore, not what it is supposed to be: a branch of philosophy. However, there is a different interpretation of the relationship between Pädagogik, educational sciences and philosophy of education as well. According to this different interpretation, these disciplines are not on the same level of reflection and have different objects of study: education and its problems are the object of educational sciences (psychology, sociology, anthropology, history and so on), educational sciences are the object of general Pädagogik, and general Pädagogik is the object of philosophy of education (Cambi, 2001, p. 7). Philosophy of education is in this context understood not as a philosophical theory but rather as a theory of the theory of education, that is, as something similar to what Brezinka calls “meta-educology” or “meta-pedagogics”.

This means that philosophers of education need to know not only a lot about philosophy – otherwise philosophy of education would be nothing more than the false name for something that is not at all philosophy – but also about Pädagogik and its problems. However, we should not overlook that philosophy of education, as the French philosopher Olivier Reboul emphasizes, is not so much a corpus of knowledge, but rather a questioning – a questioning in the sense that it brings into question over and over again all that we know, or believe that we know, about education (Reboul, 1995, p. 3). For example, we have to ask questions over and over again about concepts such as “freedom”, “authority”, “punishment”, indoctrination” and “education”; then about the aims of education and why it is reasonable that we try to achieve them; about the value, meaning and the limits of the arguments and knowledge produced by pedagogy and educational sciences; about what knowledge and skills are worth learning at school and why; as well as about ethical and epistemological questions such as “Can virtue be taught?”, and if it can be, “Which virtue should be taught and why?”; “Who will decide?”; as well as “What can be known?” and “How do we know what we know?” and so on. Without this kind of perpetual questioning, we can quickly become prisoners of various dogmatisms and ideologies while philosophy of education would be reduced to the history of the philosophical ideas about education. Viewed from this perspective, philosophy of education is not the same as the history of philosophical ideas about education; ←28 | 29→it is not just a kind of collection of what the great philosophers have said about education. Of course, it is necessary and very useful to know what Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Rousseau, Locke, Kant and others wrote or said on this topic, but this is not enough. It is not sufficient for two main reasons. Firstly, for the reason that several texts written by great philosophers on education are not at all their most important works. Kant, for instance, is not an important philosopher for philosophy of education simply because of his lectures on education which were published after his death. We can even say that quite a few of his other works – such as Critique of Practical Reason, Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals, The Conflict of the Faculties and An Answer to the Question: “What is Enlightenment?” – are more important for philosophy of education than his book titled: On Education (Über Pädagogik). The same can be said for two of “Locke’s major philosophical writings – the Essay Concerning Human Understanding and the Letter on Toleration” – which “have been, as Harvey Siegel emphasizes, overlooked by most educational theorists over the centuries, even though they have enormous relevance for educational philosophy, theory, policy, and practice” (Phillips and Siegel, 2015). Secondly, it is not enough to know what the great philosophers said about education because Kant himself warned that “Philosophy – unless it be in an historical manner – cannot be learned”; and that we “can at most learn to philosophize”, that is “exercise our powers of reasoning in accordance with general principles, retaining at the same time, the right of investigating the sources of these principles, of testing, and even of rejecting them” (Kant, 1998, p. 694).7

Therefore, if we want philosophy of education to become a real branch of philosophy, then we have to learn not only philosophy from great philosophers and to philosophize, but also to – in the same way, paradoxically – emancipate ourselves from the direct guidance of great philosophers and, as Kant requires, “have courage to use” our “own understanding”, or in other words: “Sapere aude!” (Kant, 2009, p. 1). Moreover, it seems to me that this conclusion might be acceptable also for those philosophers of education who do not agree with the thesis that philosophy of education should become a branch of philosophy.

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Abbagnano, N. 1993. Dizionario di filosofia. Torino: TEA.

Brezinka, W. 1992. Philosophy of Educational Knowledge. An Introduction to the Foundations of Science of Education, Philosophy of Education and Practical Pedagogics. Dordrecht: Springer Science and Business Media.

Cambi, F. 2001. Manuale di filosofia dell’educazione. Roma–Bari: Laterza.

Carr, W. 2005. Introduction. In Carr, W. (ed.) The RoutledgeFalmer Reader in Philosophy of Education. London: Routledge.

Collins COBUILD English Language Dictionary, 1993. London: Harper Collins Publishers.

Cooper, D. E. 1998. Educational Philosophies and Cultures of Philosophy. In Haydon, G. (ed.) 50 Years of Philosophy of Education. London: Institute of Education University of London, pp. 23–40.

Dictionnaire encyclopédique de l’éducation et de la formation, 1981. Paris: Nathan.

Enciklopedijski rječnik pedagogije, 1963. Zagreb: MH.

Giraldi, G. 1972. Storia della pedagogia. Roma: Armando editore.

Haydon, G. 1998. Introduction. In Haydon, G. (ed.) 50 Years of Philosophy of Education, London: Institute of Education University of London.

Hirst, P. H. 1974. Knowledge and Curriculum. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Kant, I. 1968. Nachricht von der Einrichtung seiner Vorlesungen in dem Winterhalbjahr von 1765 bis 1766. In Kant, I. Werkausgabe, Vol. 2. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.

Kant, I. 1998. Critique of Pure Reason. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kant, I. 2009. An Answer to the Question: “What is Enlightenment?” London: Penguin Books.

Lalande, A. 1988. Vocabulaire technique et critique de la philosophie. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.

Lawton, D., Gordon, P. 1996. Dictionary of Education. London: Hodder and Stoughton.

The Living Webster Encyclopedic Dictionary of the English Language, 1975. Chicago: English Language Institute of America.

Mialaret, G. 1976. Les sciences del’éducation. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.

Noddings, N. 1995. Philosophy of Education. Oxford: Westview Press.

Oancea, A., Bridges, D. 2009. Philosophy of Education in the UK: The Historical and Contemporary. Oxford Review of Education, 35 (5), pp. 553–568.

Pataki, S. 1939. Filozofija uzgoja. Pedagogijski leksikon. Zagreb: Minerva.

Peters, R. S. 1966. Ethics and Education. London: Allen and Unwin.

Peters, R. S. 1973. Introduction. In Peters, R.S. (ed.) Philosophy of Education. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Phillips, D.C., Siegel, H. 2015. Philosophy of Education, The Stanford Encyclopedia of ←30 | 31→Philosophy (Winter 2015 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2015/entries/education-philosophy/>.

Reboul, O. 1971. La philosophie de l’éducation. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France. Reboul, O. 1995. La philosophie de l’éducation. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.

White, J. 1995. Education, Problems of the Philosophy of. In Honderich, T. (ed.) The Oxford Companion to Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 216-219.

1 Among them are, for instance, internationally renowned philosophers Olivier Reboul (1971, p. 5) and Richard S. Peters (1973, p. 1).

2 According to Pádraig Hogan’s reviewing remarks to this paper, such interpretation has been accepted and defended in Britain mainly in the context of the analytical philosophy of education, but “it does not describe the work of a post-analytic generation of philosophers of education whose work has characteristically engaged with practical educational issues and also with educational research more widely”.

3 Philosophy of education rather “draws on such established branches of philosophy and brings them together in ways which are relevant to educational issues. In this respect it is very much like political philosophy” (Peters, 1973, p. 2).

4 However, in the sixties, philosophy of education in Britain “is beginning to appear as an option studied in philosophy departments as well as one of the main disciplines contributing to educational theory which is studied in education departments” (Peters, 1973, p. 1). Later it has been taught in some education departments, but also “systematically excluded from initial teacher education and much reduced in masters level programmes under the current funding regimes” (Oancea and Bridges, 2009, pp. 553–568).

5 This term – which also means “the science or art of teaching” (The Living Webster Encyclopedic Dictionary of the English Language, 1975, p. 698) – was used for translating the German term Pädagogik in the English translation of the book: W. Brezinka, Metatheorie der Erziehung. Eine Einftlhrung in die Grundlagen der Erziehungswissenschaft, der Philosophie der Erziehung und der Praktischen Päidagogik (Brezinka, 1992).

6 Moreover, Otto Willmann even went so far, says Brezinka, as to identify “scientific pedagogics” with “philosophical pedagogics” (Brezinka, 1992, p. 37).

7 The distinction is between the “learn philosophy” (Philosophie lernen) and “learn to philosophize” (philosophieren lernen), I. Kant, Nachricht von der Einrichtung seiner Vorlesungen in dem Winterhalbjahr von 1765 bis 1766, in: Kant, 1968, vol. 2, p. 908).

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1.1.2 Reflection and Action in Anglophone Philosophy of Education: Challenges and inspirations

Rafał Godoń

This chapter explores recent Anglophone versions of philosophical reflection in education from a perspective that is Continental European; but it is not its intention to contribute to any divisions or tensions between different ways of pursuing philosophical reflection itself. It is still all too often said that Continental styles of thinking on education substantially differ from those originating in the English-speaking world. Despite the efforts to bridge the gap between analytic and Continental in philosophy of education, undertaken among others by Michael Peters (cf. Peters, 2004, pp. 104–106), it seems to me that there is still a strong tendency in contemporary educational theory to compare, juxtapose and rank two differing approaches.

The situation raises some doubts and questions. What is really at stake in emphasising divisions between Anglo-analytic and Continental style philosophising? How does the divide influence the way the Anglophone philosophy of education is perceived in other linguistic cultures? Although I take questions concerning the divide seriously, I am rather interested in this chapter in illuminating what the division reveals about the current condition of philosophy of education in European cultures. In other words, I devote the body of this chapter to attempting to trace what the divide means for philosophical research in education and for understanding its domain.

In the following passages, I discuss the argument that what is really characteristic of Anglophone philosophy of education is its view of the relationship between reflection on the one hand and action on the other. This does not mean that I cannot see any interest in such a topic in other cultures. I rather reflect on Anglophone philosophy of education, hoping that it may be quite helpful in building intercultural understanding instead of accentuating division.

Variety of philosophies

It would be a misunderstanding to create a monolithic or uniform picture of Anglophone philosophy of education. It is not a homogeneous disci←32 | 33→pline. It consists of various approaches and conceptions, sometimes even rival ones (cf. Standish, 2007), showing evidence of a plurality of voices in philosophical discourse on education. A good exercise in this matter is to read a program of a conference held by one of the leading research societies in the field: among others, the Philosophy of Education Society (USA) or the Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain. A plethora of different topics and approaches is evident today in such conferences. Quite the same can be said of publications in journals in the field, among others, Journal of Philosophy of Education (UK), or Educational Theory (USA). We can find in such journal articles written from very different approaches and clearly there is no taxonomy readily encapsulate all of them (cf. Hogan, 2010a, p. 9). Nevertheless, in the next passages I will discuss different tendencies in recent Anglophone philosophy of education and then select research approaches applied in the field.

Main disciplinary tendencies

There are two different tendencies in recent Anglophone philosophy of education that merge and together influence the character of academic discourse. These are as follows: (1) a tendency to self-reflect that requires a narrative disposition on the part of educationalists who philosophically focus on education; and (2) a tendency to control the area of philosophical research on education by institutional tools that ensure room in academia for research development of the discipline.

A narrative disposition in the philosophical field signifies a pronounced tendency to reflect on the way that the whole process of thinking is arranged and carried out, as well as the ability to criticize and change one’s own position in understanding and self-understanding (cf. Ricoeur, 1991, pp. 425–437). Philosophy of education, like any other field of philosophical reflection, cannot avoid self-directed questions if it is to do justice to its domain (cf. Carr, 1995, pp. 18–25). Thus, self-reflection becomes one of the most important features of philosophy of education. Researchers engaged in philosophy of education have to be able to analyze their own approach in a critical and insightful style.

The term ‘to philosophize’ conveys mainly the ability to look back on both domains: on the research field as well as on the personal experience of the researcher. This means that thinking on education in a philosophical style is a complex endeavor that requires proficiency in knowledge as well as readiness to scrutinize one’s own situation. A narrative disposition in a scholar ←33 | 34→involves his/her intellectual and existential abilities to build and present a story of research (cf. Pring, 2000, pp. 31–56). It also requires from the researcher awareness that an opposing or contrasting argument to one’s own might yet have sustainable claims to truth (cf. Hogan, 1995, p. 136).

Furthermore, the philosophical researcher in education needs to be able to experiment with language so that the presentation of his/her understanding of pedagogical actions will be intellectually attractive and convincing. In other words, he/she needs to practice ‘thinking creatively’ (Smith, 1992, pp. 72–90). The researcher, on this account, is an unusual user of language who is aware of the richness of linguistic legacies and of the communicative possibilities that language gives. Finally, he/she should be able to draw and discuss some conclusions from his/her research for educational theorists and practitioners alike (cf. Winch & Gingell, 2004).

The other tendency in the recent Anglophone philosophy of education, that is to control the area of philosophical research on education, pertains to the formal and institutional framework of the discipline, necessary if it is to serve society in an efficient way. As Thomas Samuel Kuhn (2001) noticed, a research discipline needs to have at its disposal some tools to prove its social and academic status. To control the research area of social life, researchers need to establish some institutional instruments like journals, organizations, committees, etc. Thus, the philosophy of education became firmly established as a discipline when it launched journals, departments and research networks devoted to its domain. The history of institutions in philosophy of education in the English-speaking world is well presented and discussed in literature (Kaminsky, 1993; Johnson, 1995).

Both tendencies in recent Anglophone philosophy of education are equally important. The first tendency, namely the disposition toward self-reflection – is open for new possibilities and unexpected meanings of educational experience, while the other, control, aims at stability in the field of education. ‘Self-reflection’ reveals a personal character of philosophizing; ‘control’ embraces these features of philosophizing in education that are crucial for establishing and for the functioning of an academic discipline. Although they seem to be different, they complement each other very well. The ability to reflect in a narrative style supports the discipline in revising its status and in strengthening responsiveness to current dilemmas of the field; the ability to control regulates the everyday operation of different bodies of the discipline and helps valuable individual enquiries in the field to become sustained. Having discussed two notable characteristics of Anglophone philosophy of education, I will offer now to differentiate between the main approaches to philosophical research on education.

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Research approaches in recent Anglophone philosophy of education

Reading the recent literature on Anglophone philosophy of education, one can broadly discern a distinction between two contrasting approaches: between cognition-oriented and practice-oriented approaches. I have already presented elsewhere details concerning the two approaches (Godoń, 2012, pp. 123–170). For the sake of outlining my argument in this chapter, I just sketch the main features of both orientations.

Each of the two approaches is dominated by procedures that have a substantial impact on the quality of research practice (cf. Carr, 2003, p. 15). The cognition-oriented approach is organized by a strategy that emphasizes the cognitive value of the research while the practice-oriented model concentrates on practical impact of philosophical research in education.

Cognition-oriented stances spring mainly from an idea of enquiry informed by scientific conceptions of truth-seeking. However, it should not be taken for granted that the main aim of this kind of research is to demonstrate how complex knowledge about the world is. Indeed, the procedures adopted in such a research approach are to support the researcher in proving that the domain being explored is rendered rationally clear and technically approachable. But there is, in such an approach, a kind of rationality that does not easily disclose educational experience and its significance, as distinct from disclosing observed behaviours and performances. I do not bring an accusation of Positivism here against researchers taking a cognition-oriented stance. But I think their style of doing philosophy of education may still show a bias in favor of physically demonstrable forms of evidence. As an examples of such an approach we can think of the work of Israel Scheffler and Richard S. Peters and their protagonists (cf. Godoń, 2012, pp. 125–134). Although we may recognize a quantum leap in analytic orientation in philosophy of education (cf. McLaughlin, 2005, pp. 17–33), we should also note the special position of ‘methodological procedures in philosophy of education’ (Godoń, 2012, p. 134) and that the idea of certainty still prevails in this philosophical orientation.

While research activity in cognition-oriented approaches is marked by modern scientific conceptions of evidence, or by ‘the spirit of modern science’ (Husserl, 1965, p. 151), the raison d’être of practice-oriented approaches is investigating change in educational practice. The emphasis on change means that philosophy of education is here disposed to support practitioners in a critical and reflective attitude toward dilemmas and problems that occur in everyday teaching and learning. What is characteristic of such ←35 | 36→approaches is an attempt to form and develop such procedures that practitioners could utilize and eventually reach more adequate understandings of practice. Researchers in practice-oriented philosophy of education seek to influence the ‘real’ world and they are not satisfied with ‘mere’ understanding. There is a presumption here that the actual value of research is based on the impact of research: that it should address the problems that occur in educational practice. In practice-oriented approaches, philosophical reflection has to fulfil these kinds of expectations; otherwise it is not likely to be recognized as a valuable discipline of research.

There are different possibilities of adopting practice-oriented approaches to philosophical research in education. The concept of ‘practical intersubjectivity’ developed by Gert Biesta may serve here as an example (cf. Biesta, 2000; Godoń, 2012, pp. 148–154). This conception rightly stresses that the practical dimensions of education are crucial for understanding for education itself as a domain of research. It is equally necessary to point out that any ‘practical intersubjectivity’ standpoint must acknowledge the many ways in which the researcher himself/herself is engaged in the domain. This acknowledgement begins with a recognition that the standpoint of a detached critical observer is neither available nor appropriate.

In other words, it is vital in philosophical reflection on education to differentiate between: (a) a sense of the practical that is directly concerned with bringing about changes in educational practice and (b) a more dialectical understanding of practice; one which acknowledges an intricate interplay of influences where any changes in practice are concerned. It seems to me that for Biesta understanding is a matter of ‘direct’ interaction with reality rather than a dialectic process concerning meaning and its references (cf. Biesta, 2000; Godoń, 2012, p. 153; Ricoeur, 1991, p. 431).

The cognition-oriented approaches referred to in the previous section not only affect philosophical reflection at a conceptual level but also influence the understandings of education as a practice that come to prevail more widely, including understandings that inform educational research and educational policy. One historic consequence of this is the demise of ideals of liberal education that were the main educational legacy of Western antiquity (cf. Godoń & Hogan, 2014). Another consequence is that research activities are constrained to exclude insights, understandings that arise through the researcher’s own involvement as a participant in the research process; as distinct, that is, from a controller of it. Philosophical reflection is itself intimately bound up with our understanding of human experience. Yet the constraints which research in a cognitive-scientific vein impose upon the researcher are inhospitable to a philosophical illumina←36 | 37→tion of that experience, including its personal achievements and epiphanies.

This is one of the reasons why Edmund Husserl in 1935, in his ‘Vienna Lecture’, announced a crisis of European science, or ‘Europe’s sickness’ (Husserl, 1965, p. 153). This lecture called attention to a decline in the condition of philosophy and to the impact of dualistic thinking on the way that social and individual identities are acquired. Autonomy in some meaningful degree is indispensable for human life if humans are to flourish. But autonomy is also necessary for all academic disciplines, in the sense of freedom to develop the most appropriate forms of enquiry, if they are to support humans in their development and understanding of the world.

Notwithstanding the points just considered, there remain some possibilities to renew forms of philosophical reflection on education, avoiding scientistic research orthodoxies as much as those of politics, and empowering researchers to understand education as a particular domain of human experience. There is a variety of approaches that make use of these possibilities (cf. Pring, 2004, pp. 26–41; Smith, 2009; Hogan, 2010b, pp. 97–107; Bakhurst & Fairfield, 2016).

In Anglophone philosophy of education, one of the examples of such a recovery of educational theory is the project of ‘postfoundationalism’ that revisits the idea of thinking on education and that challenges the instrumental ways that teaching and learning are understood in the educational reform policies of most Western countries in recent decades (Blake et al., 1998). This is a good example of a situation where researchers in philosophy do not accept the constraints of a scientistic research orthodoxy, and in fact probe fruitfully beyond it. In such enquiry, an attitude of openness prevails, together with a readiness to learn about other promising ways to imagine the educational field. Accordingly, thinking is again seriously practiced as an authentic way of being in the world.

Conclusions: challenges and inspirations

In this chapter, I have outlined some main tendencies and research orientations in contemporary Anglophone philosophy of education. There are of course other possibilities to understand the field and to draw another picture of what is currently practiced as philosophy of education in the English-speaking world. My aim here is not to synthesize the philosophical discourse on education or to give any final definition of that but to join again discussion on the field and to reflect on its main challenges and in←37 | 38→spirations, particularly in the context of its international and intercultural impact.

The contrasting tendencies ‘to self-reflect’ and ‘to control’ show how complex Anglophone philosophy of education is. The current structure of the field, including these two tendencies, yields high standards for both aspects of philosophy of education: personal and institutional. As far as research approaches are concerned, what strikes here is the current inclusiveness of Anglophone philosophy of education. Notwithstanding the tendency ‘to control’, evident in many writings in the field, the variety of styles of philosophizing is sustained. It shows that although there are different ways of understanding what philosophy of education is, there is a strong pressure toward the inclusion of all philosophers willing to participate in the discourse.

In this context, the question of the difference or division between Continental and Anglo-analytic is not so important any longer. Obviously, the difference continues but what really matters is the way education is explored and perceived and not a matter of any claimed methodological superiority. The real challenge comes from dilemmas that arise in the many dimensions of educational practice.

If we are really to understand the pedagogical difficulties of teachers, learners and all other participants in educational activities, we should not exclude any opportunity for gaining thoughtful insights in the matter. Cultural or methodological frontiers need not be real barriers for understanding. The wise researcher meets methodological or cultural constraints constructively, approaching them as a challenge on the way to grasp the sense of educational experience. It is high time we overcame the dichotomy between analytic and Continental, as well as between reflection and action in educational experience. In this regard, it is salutary to find in the so-called Continental literature some examples of crossing cultural borders in contemporary philosophy of education (cf. Kudláčová & Sztobryn, 2011).

Perhaps the main lesson we may learn from visiting contemporary Anglophone philosophy of education is this. The style of doing philosophy of education can make a huge difference to the research domain and its possibilities. Education as a sphere of action is hardly recognized in its intricacy if it is researched in a restricted way. For example, limiting research on education to a cognitive-oriented style would result in disappearance of some philosophically insightful questions and in a state of affairs where ‘non-technical, non-expert questions about the role of education in creating the good society are no longer asked’ (Carr, 2003, p. 15). An emphasis on education as practice seems to be prominent in Anglophone philosophy ←38 | 39→of education. Nevertheless there are frequent tendencies in understanding practice itself. As Carr puts it, practice can be understood in terms of ‘mundane technical expertise’ rather than as ‘a form of practical philosophy’ (ibid.).

Philosophy of education needs constantly to excise different styles of reflection where questions concerning its relationship with everyday pedagogical practice still abound. I am not sure how evident the need of such questions is in the practice of Anglophone philosophy of education. And I am not suggesting that all currents in Anglophone philosophy of education are taking education as practice seriously. But the topic of the dialectic relationship between reflection and action still prevails (cf. Dunne, 1995; Hogan, 2010a, 2010b). Impulses that come from ancient practical philosophy, particularly the significance of phronesis ‘practical wisdom’ for current styles of thinking on education, are crucial in this matter and can be supportive not only for academia and scholarly research activities but, what is equally important, for actions performed by teachers and educators in their everyday work with children and youths. But it is also important to include the current trends in philosophy of education from other cultures. If we ignore pedagogical cultures in other societies, we irrationally limit our possibilities to understand education as a coherent and unusually important field of human life. Pedagogical mission requires from educators the effort to understand and practice the best forms of teaching and learning. And as scholars we are particularly responsible for disseminating a European legacy which means conveying not ideological or practical prescriptions for teachers and educators, but supporting them in seeing and engaging with the world around in more complex and coherent ways. Learning about various ways of achieving such goals in other pedagogical cultures is not our privilege; it belongs, rather, to our primary responsibilities if we are really to work for the flourishing and educational well-being of our students.


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Standish, P. 2007. Rivals conceptions of the philosophy of education. Ethics and Education, vol. 2, no. 2, pp. 159–171.

Winch, C., Gingell, J. 2004. Philosophy and Educational Policy. A Critical Introduction. London & New York: RoutledgeFalmer.

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1.1.3 The Idea of Continental Pädagogik

Zvonimir Komar

Introduction: the structure of Pädagogik

This chapter does not take for granted the meaning of Pädagogik. Instead it will try to investigate the idea of Pädagogik critically. This investigation of an idea, or field of study, that provides the basis for professional educational outlooks and actions, is a necessary condition for both the theory and practices that are pursued under the name Pädagogik itself (Palekčić, 2015). Without this critical investigation, Pädagogik, including its purposes and its underlying presuppositions, may remain vulnerable to undetected ideological influences, thus compromising its claim to be a field of research and professional practice. In other words, Pädagogik continually needs to carry out the philosophical discipline of self-examination on the assumptions and presuppositions embodied in its own conduct. The approach taken here represents by no means a complete or even the only possible way to fundamentally think about this science. However, we hope to start the dialogue with some fundamental thinkers in this field, such as I. Kant, J. Fichte and J. Herbart, in order to make a few steps with and through them towards more complete developments of Pädagogik in the future.

We will begin the investigation by reflecting upon an initial claim that Pädagogik is necessarily a purposeful kind of theory and practice. It is usually pointed out that as a word, Pädagogik stems from the Greek word paidagōgos, which historically referred to slaves that took children to their teachers for education. However, the word Pädagogik can be examined on a deeper level in an attempt to conceive what kind of activity and being is implied in the logic of the word itself, apart from these historical connotations. Examining the word more closely one can see its two Greek parts – pais and agein; a pair of terms that function in a dialectical unity. Pais is usually translated as ‘child’ and agein is usually translated as ‘leading’. The inner, logical unity and dialectic of child and leading is what creates the process of pedagogical becoming. The problematic thing that needs to be examined here is what do we actually mean when we say ‘child’. The character of whole process is going to depend on this understanding. That’s why Pädagogik needs to keep this question in open reflection. We cannot simply assume we know what the being of child is. If pais is under←42 | 43→stood as a biological child, then all that is needed for successful “leading” of such child is letting nature take its course while not ruining the child’s biological and psychological development.

If pais is understood as a sociological category, then what’s implied is “child’s” lack of socialization and inculturation. In this context, we have an additional dimension of purpose in the “need” to become a part of culture and society. But what’s also lacking here is a questioning that goes beyond the positivistic idea of society as a fact and into the logic of production of cultures and societies. If society is understood as a natural category, as something that simply is, then we stand in such a relation to society that we cannot conceive its transformation. Transformation can only be thought of and practiced from a standpoint of being outside of what already is. Pädagogik that doesn’t want to be only a reproduction of what already is incorporates a questioning that discloses that cultures and societies could be other than they are. Such questioning transcends not only functionalism, but also interactionism and social constructivism. This reveals that the social and cultural aspects of pais (i.e. of being a child) can be other than what is currently provided by existing social norms and patterns. It also reveals that any standpoint which holds that inculturation and socialization are processes that are enough to achieve pedagogical purpose are reductive or ideological.

It may be asked why pais is not fully grasped by the biological and sociological dimensions, or for that matter by a psychological dimension in the sense of “psychological development”, “cognitive and emotional processes”, “neuroscience” and so on. The reason is that none of those perspectives are able to grasp the full potentiality of pais in its ontological dimension: the being of the child in his or her self. Grasping the fuller potentiality of pais becomes possible only through a fundamental shift in outlook; an ontological shift that reaches beneath and beyond the specific realities examined by the positive sciences. That is why Pädagogik, as that science which is concerned with the being of pais, necessarily has to be of philosophical character. Approaches to pais by the positive sciences by their inner logic comprehend only reduced, derived forms of pais.

The second term in the pair, namely agein, gives a more focused understanding of pais in Pädagogik. Agein shouldn’t be thought of here as something that comes to pais from the outside (that would be an instrumentalization of pais), but as something that pais itself inherently carries as its possibility. Agein is not a mere change or a mere movement. It implies a fundamental possibility of purposeful change of the being of pais itself, which is addressed and brought about through leadership. If we now ←43 | 44→take what’s been said together, we have the situation of something that inherently needs agein and therein needs purpose, which it still has not. The theories that illuminate such purposeful educational leadership and the practices that pursue it, together with this fundamental approach to pais as a dynamic ontology of human beings (being as becoming), can properly be regarded as constituting Pädagogik.

So, following the logic of pais and agein in dialectic of Pädagogik, we’ve found a couple of determinations. Firstly, we’ve come to understand pais as that which is in terms of its mere existence purposeless, while potentially being purposeful. The logic of purposeful becoming opens up the possibility of the process of self-becoming through agein. If this self-becoming is to be in accordance with open-ended autonomous practice (freedom), with nothing uncritically and heteronomously imported into it, then the approach of positive sciences is insufficient, because their starting point is always human being already understood as something specific and concrete. For example, human being as a worker, as a father, as a friend, as a music lover, etc. These are already self-produced positions which if taken as a primary source of self-becoming of pais, become alienations that eliminate the fundamental possibility of self-becoming, which is the practical essence of freedom. Self-becoming as self-production and freedom cannot start from the positive outlook of any already existent specific being.

Bildung as the principle of Pädagogik

Now that we have a basic outline of the inner logic of Pädagogik, we need to ask about the theoretical and practical ways to elucidate this logic. The principle that informs Pädagogik, adequately understood, is that of Bildung. The German word Bildung, however, mustn’t be understood loosely as “education”. Its precise meaning needs to be highlighted to show its true pedagogic character. ‘Bild’ (Ger. image) means idea, eidos, form, image which constitutes the true being of man. In neo-humanism of late 18th and early 19th centuries, particularly in works of people such as W. von Humboldt or J. F. Herbart, the idea of Bildung took on a meaning where this internal image that formed man’s true being was an image that resulted from practice of self-forming (Humboldt, 1982).

This self-forming character of Bildung is inspired by Immanuel Kant’s opening up of the dialectic of subject–object with his relation of the categories of pure reason to the empirical world, where he argued that only the two together form experience (Kant, 1976). Kant’s work doesn’t ←44 | 45→function in epistemological relation of separateness of subject and object of cognition, defined by striving for adequation of intellect and the thing itself (adaequatio intellectus et rei). Instead, Kant’s philosophy positions the practical subject at the centre of his thought. Kant conceived this subject as freedom and spontaniety of will, while it was further explicated and developed in Fichte’s foundation of his philosophical system in the speculative unity of subject–object, which was formulated in his principle of Tathandlung (Fichte, 1974). This principle meant that speculative unity of subject–object acts practically as both self-setting and self-reflection of this subject, where the act and product of self-setting are the result of one and the same act (Tathandlung). This constitutes the practical subject, which is fundamentally different from the epistemological subject in that it self-produces itself instead of striving for uniting of the fundamentally separated subject and object of thought in their epistemological (essentially theoretical) relation. In the same way, Bildung can’t function as a property of something outside of the dialectics of subject–object seen as self-setting and self-reflection. When we take the idea of self-forming, it implicitly contains dialectics of subject-object explicated above. Bildung in this neo-humanistic and pedagogical context, seen as self-forming, is a pedagogical expression of subject–object dialectics. So what are the inner workings of Bildung in this classical sense? How does this self-forming in Bildung work?

At the root of Bildung and its Bild moment is the Greek ‘idea’ or ‘eidos’. Bildung implies forming or self-forming towards (and possibly from) some ‘Bild’, image (Hentig, 2008). Indeed, there is no formation and no determination, no concrete and specific ‘what’-being of being-of-man-per-se without this idea of Bild. The context underlying the German notion of Bildung is that of Plato’s philosophy and its expansion in Aristotle’s philosophy, specifically in their presentations of idea/eidos. Idea in its classical meaning is not a concept or a construction. It is not a “subjective representation” either, since that would imply that being does not reveal itself to mind, but merely provokes always relative perceptions. Also, idea shouldn’t be interpreted as a “term” for something in the sense of operationalized uniformity of machine language (Marcuse, 1989). “Terms” essentially constitute technical being, not dialectical being. What idea means could be translated as ‘sight’ and this sight implies a possibility of sight of being. In this sense, idea is a character of being itself that manifests itself to a thinking mind through theoretical activity. At the same time, it is that which enables this activity. Aristotle points out that theory does not exist as something that is “formed” or “written” or existent outside of actuality of thinking (Aristotle, 1988). The actuality of thinking and theory in this classical sense is enabled ←45 | 46→by the fact that idea as sight makes being visible. The essential character of all ideas, represented in Plato’s idea of Good (idea of ideas, not a particular idea of some-thing) (Plato, 1942), is such that it identifies no particular being, but the essence of being in general: that which enables being as being. Idea is that which enables mind to see its objects, including itself. So, if idea itself is the general ability of sight of being, then the concrete act of this seeing is that which determines being, that which differentiates being into specific some-thing(s) and that which constitutes the ontic level of particular beings. Idea in this sense is the possibility of determination of being. This is how the general ability of self-forming gives itself concrete forms and content.

Further, in the context of Bildung, if particular (concrete) instances of forming are not to be arbitrary or accidental, then the content and quality of this “some-thing” through which specific determinations happen cannot be relativistic. This relativism is avoided by the idea of truth, which differentiates knowledge (episteme) from opinion (doxa). Like we’ve said, forming is possible through idea as sight of being. Sight that reveals being is called aletheia, or as we say ‘truth’, but more precisely, that Greek word would mean ‘being-revealed’.1 Since what’s revealed through dialectical research is being in its particular determinations and since we don’t deal with constructions of subjectivist mind here, these determinations of being in terms of concrete, dialectically revealed content are what enables the difference between knowledge and opinion. This is the way in which theoretical faculty guides Bildung as self-becoming from within. The character of revealed being keeps it fundamentally different from any kind of constructivism, post-modernist “knowledge as performance” or subjectivism. Idea/eidos is therefore necessary for the very possibility of thinking in strict sense, for the possibility of mind to see objects, for the constitution of both consciousness and self-consciousness and for self-forming. In the form of reflection, idea is determinant moment through which mind gives itself a concrete form. There is no Bildung without Bild, no self-determination without determinant moment of idea. Idea as Bild provides one structural part of the possibility of self-forming. Now we’ll look at the other one, namely freedom. Both are able to exist only in their dialectical unity.

In exploring the notion of freedom, what needs to be explicated further now is the moment of self-formation in Bildung. We’ve already said that this formation through Bildung does not work as something from outside ←46 | 47→that is pressed onto the subject. On the contrary, this determining through idea, theory, thinking, is to be done by the very subject that is being determined on the object-side of things. The very same being is both subject and object of Bildung as self-formation. It is subject in the sense that it is its fundamental formlessness that in itself is potentiality of action. This (active) formlessness is freedom. Freedom in a fundamental sense is not merely freedom from something outside of self. Freedom is also not merely freedom of choice, since choice is choice between what is already existent (i.e. as “given” possibilities in positivistic sense). Freedom in the deepest sense is self-production. So, it’s not even appropriate to say that self has freedom or merely is free in the sense that freedom is an attribute of self, but that self in its deepest potential fundament is freedom itself. It is the very same thing that Herbart conceived in pedagogical context as Bildsamkeit – the possibility of Bildung (Herbart, 2015a). This possibility is enabled only by the fact that what can be formed is in itself alive, active, tense; a practical possibility of forming that at the same time necessarily has to be formed to achieve its being. This is essentially what Aristotle explicated in his way through relation of causa materialis and causa formalis (Aristotle, 1992). Causa materialis is the not-differentiated totality of possibility (dynamis, potentia). Causa materialis is pure possibility that is in itself formless and not differentiated, is hypokeimenon; that which can be predicated (through causa formalis, eidos, idea) and which through predication becomes something. But this something in the sense of entelechy does not exist outside of the unity of causa materialis and causa formalis. Causa formalis as differentiation of totality of possibility happens through a specified form (eidos), which constitutes being as actual being (energeia, actus). Substance of being is thereby inner wealth (ousia) of being in its span of the causa materialis–causa formalis relation. So, the substance is here constituted not as a static being, but as inner efflux of ousia, which is always dynamic.

In the same way, Bildsamkeit is the fundamental possibility of Bildung, but in itself is still mere potentiality, a kind of no-thing, even though it is not absolute non-being. This Bildsamkeit-as-freedom now needs its own active relation to that through which it is forming itself as its own object. This active relation is a theoretical and practical working with, and through, and by, idea, which work self-produces this freedom-Bildsamkeit into something that has form. Again, this form is not arbitrary, since idea as sight is always related to being and is not a mere construction. The dialectical union of freedom–idea, BildsamkeitBildung is in this way adequate to the inner logic and dynamic of Pädagogik as paisagein.

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Idea of man as becoming, reflected in pedagogical theory of purpose of education

What we see now from the above is that the inner logic of Pädagogik and inner logic of Bildung both have a dynamic, dialectical character. Bildung is neither Bild/idea nor Bildsamkeit/freedom in themselves in their abstraction. Bildung is dialectical unity of both. It is a kind of circling (or spiral ascent) of self-determination. If Pädagogik reflects itself as a science and if it sees Bildung as its principle and specific outlook, then it is also clear that Pädagogik is always concerned not with static being, but with becoming. This dynamic logic of becoming is also evident in the way in which J. F. Herbart articulates purpose of education. The structure of pedagogical purpose is also twofold, according to Herbart, and consists of aims of choice and aims of morality. Aims of choice are those that are “the merely possible aims which he [the pupil] might perhaps take up at one time or other” (Herbart, 2015b, p.109), while aims of morality are the “necessary aims which he would never pardon himself for having neglected” (Herbart, 2015b, p.109). This structure enables us to approach pupils in a way where regarding aims of choice we can start with the already existent, concrete pupil, with his/her own preoccupations and interests and thus create a real pedagogical relationship – for example starting with the pupil’s love of chess, mathematics, literature, playing games or whatever else the case may be. On the other hand, in part where it comes to aims of morality, this structure is able to avoid relativism, because aims of morality cannot be left to choice of the pupil. When these two parts of educational aim are taken together, we have a synthesis of individual choice upon which activity and quality of pupil’s will is developed, and those universal humanistic qualities that cannot be neglected. We will explicate these relations a bit further.

Aims of choice

How can the teacher assume for himself beforehand the merely possible future aims of the pupil? The objective of these aims as a matter of mere choice has absolutely no interest for the teacher. Only the Will of the future man himself, and consequently the sum of the claims which he, in, and with, this Will, will make on himself, is the object of the teacher’s goodwill... Thus it is not a certain number of separate aims that hover before us now (for these we could not beforehand thoroughly know), but chiefly the activity of the growing man – the totality of his ←48 | 49→inward unconditioned vitality and susceptibility. The greater this totality – the fuller, more expanded, and harmoniuos – the greater is the perfection, and the greater the promise of the realization of our good will. (Herbart, 2015b, p.110)

It can be seen that regarding aims of choice Herbart clearly states that object(s) of will of the pupil are of no interest to teacher. Instead, it is the will of pupil itself, that is the object of teacher’s interest here. This means that when it comes to aims of choice, Herbart is not concerned with specifics of the content of pupil’s will, with specific subjects etc. Instead, what matters is the quality of pupil’s will itself. For example, it’s unimportant whether we’re talking about pupil’s interest in mathematics, language or some other object of thought or practice. What’s important is the kind of activity of pupil’s will itself and the fact of that will’s activity during these interactions with the object. This approach enables Herbart to start with the pupil as already existent, individual being, by acknowledging the pupil’s “object of choice”, regardless of the properties of that object. This is pedagogically acceptable and not relativistic because at this stage (the first part of educational aim) it’s the pupil’s will itself that’s important, namely, it’s growing vitality, susceptibility and as we’ll see later, manifold receptivity. This is the road towards developing what Herbart calls “many-sidedness of interest”. Therefore, Herbart can say that here teacher is not confused by manifold (possible) objects of will and is concentrated upon activity of the pupil. One should also note that Herbart talks about will and not about (self-) consciousness as a primary category, because he sees humans as primarily practical beings.

Regarding further narrowing of a person’s will into specific objects and activities, Herbart says:

Every man must have a love for all activities, each must be a virtuoso in one. But the particular virtuosoship is a matter of choice; on the contrary, the manifold receptivity which can only grow out of manifold beginnings of one’s own individual efforts is a matter of education. Therefore, we call the first part of the educational aim – many-sidedness of interest, which must be distinguished from its exaggeration – dabbling in many things. (Herbart, 2015b, p.110/111)

This is very important because it’s particularly clear from this quote that particular “goals”, “competences”, “skills”, “particular knowledge” etc. are irrelevant for Herbart’s idea of pedagogical purpose when it comes to many-sidedness of interest. What’s essential and necessary is “manifold receptivity” which grows out of “manifold beginnings”. We’ll explicate fur←49 | 50→ther the logic and dialectic of many-sidedness of interest at a later stage of this text where we’ll talk about logic of pedagogical becoming and interest as an interplay of concentration and reflection.

Aims of morality

Aims of morality are the second part of the dialectical unity of twofold educational purpose. Regarding these: “Since morality has its place singly and only in the individual’s will, founded on right insight (Ger. Richtiger Einsicht), it follows of itself, first and foremost, that the work of moral education is not by any means to develop a certain external mode of action, but rather insight together with corresponding volition in the mind of the pupil” (Herbart, 2015b, p.111). It is necessary to point out at the very beginning that Herbart uses the word “morality” (Ger. Sittlichkeit) in a philosophical sense and that it shouldn’t be understood religiously or dogmatically. It is said in this passage that morality is founded on “right insight”, which for Herbart seems to rest on accepting Kant’s moral philosophy regarding the moral law. Structurally though, the essential character of “right insight” for the character of “aims of morality” in that “they can’t be neglected” is still the same whether we accept Kant’s moral philosophy as the content of that right insight or even if we considered it (the “right insight”) similarly to our discussion about idea as sight of revealed being. Morality then follows from the practical standpoint of will that is determined according to idea. In any case, aims of morality form the determining object-side of subject–object dialectic that we’ve started from. Further, Herbart emphasizes that this kind of determination is not external, neither in its cause, nor in its consequence, but is altogether property of pupil’s mind and will. In terms of dialectical unity of subject-objectivity, this is formally very similar to Fichte’s principle of Tathandlung that we’ve explicated earlier. Since this is an autonomous (self-setting) starting point, it is also able to be used as a systematic starting point for development of Pädagogik as an autonomous science.

In a further determination, this aims of morality object-side of pedagogical subject–object is defined by Herbart as:

Therefore, that the ideas of the right and good in all their clearness and purity may become the essential objects of the will, that the innermost intrinsic contents of the character - the very heart of the personality - shall determine itself according to these ideas, putting back all arbitrary impulses - this and nothing less is the aim of moral culture. (Herbart, 2015b, p.112)

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To transform oneself through clear insight into ideas of right and good and the kind of practice that necessarily follows, to become right and good, is the full purpose of aim of morality. Again, it is clear that Herbart here talks of both (self-)consciousness and will, but he primarily uses practical ideas of “right and good”, as derived from Kant, for determining force, because he is primarily pedagogically concerned with practice.

Now we can sum this twofold purpose of education. Aims of choice as the first part of educational aim enable us to take the pupil in his/her individual, concrete existence and his/her own particular already existent interests and form practical pedagogical relation with him/her through acknowledgement of those interests. At this stage, teacher is not concerned with these objects of pupil’s will, but with the vitality, susceptibility and receptivity of his will itself and is aiming to develop pupil’s many-sidedness of interest. The other part of educational aim is concerned with development of moral culture through “essential” objects of will that are defined by practical ideas of “right and good”. In their synthesis, these two parts of educational aim contain the subject-principle of free will in the aims of choice part and a determining object-principle of aims of morality. Together they form subject-objectivity in terms of aim of education. Now we will take a closer look at the process of pedagogical becoming, in light of this idea of aim.

Interest as logic of pedagogical becoming

As we’ve already said, Bildung has, at its root, the inner logic of both being and becoming of idea/eidos. Even language-wise, it is both, a noun and a verb. The self-determining nature of Bildung as a process is clearer when one sees its connection to what we’ve discussed previously through idea of subject–object dialectics of human being. This same dialectic is seen in Herbart’s structure of pedagogical purpose. The “motor” of this purposeful process is many-sided interest, that’s also from within connected with the idea of morality as proper insight and volition based on ideas of right and good. However, this doesn’t mean that human being can ever become fully right and good to the point where interest would justifiably stop being active. This means that dialectic of interest is and remains the structural logic of pedagogical (self-)becoming. Interest is in its essence the dialectical tension of inter-esse (to-be-in-between) between concentration (Ger. Vertiefung) and reflection (Ger. Besinnung). Interest is a truly dialectical idea and thing: it cannot be grasped by either concentration or reflection taken separately one from another.

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Regarding concentration, Herbart says:

...the mind must go out clearly in many directions. The question arises - How, in doing this, can the personality be preserved? Personality rests on the unity of consciousness, on co-ordination, on Reflection. The acts of concentration exclude each other, and thus even exclude the Reflection in which they must be united. These processes cannot be contemporaneous; they must therefore follow one upon the other; we get first one act of concentration, then another, then their meeting in reflection. How many numberless transitions of this kind must the mind make before a person, in the possession of a rich reflection and the completest power of reverting at will into every concentration, can call himself many-sided. (Herbart, 2015b, p. 124)

First of all, the many-sided character of interest dictates that mind must go in many directions. Secondly, concentrations exclude each other, which means that the nature of our conscious interaction with objects of the mind is such that we cannot properly concentrate on more objects simultaneously. To concentrate upon an object means literally to become that object, to enter it, to gain insight, to see clearly and distinctly. “Distinctly”, that is – not mixed with similar or different objects of thought. “Clearly”, that is – in all its particulars: “Quiescent concentration, if it be but clear and pure, sees single things distinctly. For it is only clear when everything is kept at a distance that makes the act of presentment a turbid mixture, or when several varied concentrations disintegrated by the teacher’s care are presented one by one” (Herbart, 2015b, p.126).

Only such insight it truly insight. This is why acts of concentration exclude one another and instead follow one another. Herbart also immediately warns us that concentrations by themselves are meaningless – they are something only in reflection and synthesis, in a perception and unity of the self.

Regarding the way in which single concentrations follow one another: “The presentations are associated by the progress of one concentration in another. In the midst of the crowd of associations hovers imagination (Ger. Phantasie); it tastes every mixture and despises nothing but the tasteless” (Herbart, 2015b, p.126). This description shows that progress of concentrations which become clear is what Herbart calls association. It happens not linearly, but is held together by imagination which “despises nothing but the tasteless”, which means – that content where there is no idea.

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Concentration is subject’s intention and action outside of itself, into the world of object that is being grasped, known, understood, conceived through concentration. The goal of concentration is to achieve clearness and association of objects. When those are achieved, they don’t remain abstract objects of thought, but are reflected into the subject. This reflection means synthesis of this new concentration with previous, already existent system of thought that makes up this self-consciousness and this person. This new concentration that’s being reflected in subject, in self-consciousness as system of thought has the potential to disturb the already existent system. This disturbance, this contradiction demands that it should be reconciled, integrated with the already existent system. One cannot exist as a healthy self-consciousness if one’s mind is not in uncontradictory unity with itself. So, this unity of mind has to be achieved with synthesizing each new concentration and its reflection in one’s system of thought.


“But many-sidedness depends also on the result the acts of concentration will give when they meet together. By no means pure reflection, and consequently no true many-sidedness, in so far as they bring together contradictories. They then either do not combine, but remain lying near each other, in which case the man is scatterbrained, or they grind each other down and torment the mind by doubts and impossible wishes...” (Herbart, 2015b, p. 124/125)

The character of reflection (of concentrations into unity of mind, person, being) is such that it has to be without contradiction. This doesn’t mean that pupils shouldn’t be presented with contradictory objects of concentrations – on the contrary. It just means that the true act of reflection is dependent on synthetical thinking that during this dialectical synthesis overcomes contradiction: “Quiescent reflection sees the relationship of the many; it sees each particular thing as a member of the relationship in its right place. The perfect order of a copious reflection is called System” (Herbart, 2015b, p.127).

This reconciliation of new concentration and already existent system must not be done in a way of arbitrary agreement or consensus. It has to be a true synthesis, a true dialectical higher unity of former contradiction. This newly achieved unity means that the self-consciousness as an already existent system of thought is truly transformed through its synthetizing in higher dialectical union with new concentration. This fact is exactly what ←53 | 54→Bildung is: this inner change of self-consciousness and being, transformation of subject. Bildung cannot be understood as mere “knowledge” that could be outside of what subject itself is. Bildung is a category of being, not of knowing, as Max Scheler put it (Scheler, 1996).

Lastly, when pupil becomes a truly self-conscious subject in this process: “The progress of reflection is Method. It runs through system, produces new members of it, and watches over the result in its application” (Herbart, 2015b, p.127). This is actually a standpoint of self-actualized will that is capable of self-governing.

What continental Pädagogik could mean

This basic outline of idea of Pädagogik and its inner logic brings us now at the end to the possibility of asking ourselves: what is continental Pädagogik and what does it mean? Is continental Pädagogik maybe even pleonasm and Pädagogik by definition is determined by and through classical (continental) European thought? If so, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t other possible outlooks on matters of education and different theoretical and practical approaches from different sciences, but our main question here is that of Pädagogik specifically.

If we define this line of European spirit, beginning in ancient Greece and later in humanism and particularly German neo-humanism as what “continental European” thought in Pädagogik and themes related to Pädagogik is, then in the above deductions we have a possible outline of the perspective of continental pedagogical thinking and practice. Fundamental classical Greek revelations of what idea (Gr.), theoria (Gr.), truth as aletheia (Gr.) and being are, have clearly made possible the beginnings of pedagogical thinking. When we look at the first later distinct attempt to fundamentally think through Pädagogik as a specific science, in the work of J. F. Herbart, which was inspired by classical German philosophy, the continuation of this classical Greek and European tradition is clear – especially in context of ideas surrounding freedom and Bildung. In ideas that we’ve followed here, there’s a deep unity which goes much further from what we’ve been able to look at in this chapter. We hope that these reflections can serve as one possible sketch and a moment in dialogue that serves as a good stimulus for trying to think Pädagogik in a fundamental theoretical way.

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1 These arguments are to be found in Heidegger’s later work, but I’ve come to these conclusions independently.

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1.2.1 Modernity and Education: one or many topics?

Giuseppe Mari

Usually “modernity” is considered a singular noun as it is confirmed by the so-called post-modernity and its related opposition to modernity. Obviously, it isn’t wrong, but I think it isn’t completely right. In fact, modernity isn’t a “one-way movement”: there are at least two different kinds of modernity. It is a critical point because it allows to deal with the crisis of modernity without refusing it in favour of post-modernity. In my opinion, post-modernity is very questionable because of its tendency to embrace irrationality against modern rationality.

In this paper, I will be reviewing developments in educational thinking. The context for this discussion is largely that of modernity. It is useful to recognize that there is not only “one” Modernity, but many; for instance, early modernity, high or classic modernity and late modernity. Also, while the dominant currents within modernity are objectivist or rationalist in character, there are also some notable counter-currents, as we shall see. After this review, I will give attention to the concept of “competence” because it is a strategic issue within contemporary education, but a problematic one too. In fact, if the concept of competence is interpreted merely as functional, school education is at risk of being deflected from its own mission related to moral maturity and citizenship. To recognize modernity as “plural” is essential in order to face its crisis (Bauman, 2002; Taylor, 2006; Eisenstadt, 2006; Wagner, 2013).

“Modernity”: what does it mean?

The word “modernity” – common to neo-Latin idioms (French modernité, Italian modernità, Portuguese modernidade, Romanian modernitate, Spanish modernidad), northern idioms (Danish, Norwegian, Swedish modernitet), Slavic idioms (Croatian modernost, Serbian модерност/modernost, Slovak modernosť) and Hungarian modernség – comes from late-Latin modernus, including modo (“now”) and hodiernus (“today’s”). Immediately it is clear that both two words are connoted by the present-centered time-determination, as it also happens with the Polish word nowoczesność and the German word Neuzeit (“new time”), and with the Slovenian word sodobnost and the Russian word современность/sovremennost (they both ←59 | 60→come from the Greek synchronos, “today’s time”). Really the modern age first of all is identified by the chronological reference pointed in the present.

In fact, generally modern cultural features are against traditional customs and they have in common the strong emphasis about the opposition between the past and the present. Many authors confirm the statement. For example, both Bacon and Descartes are very polemic against their education marked by tradition. Descartes is unequivocal:

I have been bred up to Letters from mine infancy; and because I was persuaded, that by their means a man might acquire a clear and certain knowledge of all that’s useful for this life, I was extremely desirous to learn them. But as soon as I had finished all the course of my studies, at the end where men are usually received amongst the rank of the learned, I wholly changed my opinion, for I found myself full of so many doubts and errors, that I thought I had made no other profit in seeking to instruct myself, but that I had the more discovered mine own ignorance (Descartes, 1994, t. I, p. 500).

The same polemic attitude against traditional culture is testified by Bacon because – according to him – it “has the characteristic property of boys: it can talk, but it cannot generate, for it is fruitful of controversies but barren of works” (Bacone, 1998, p. 13). Instead of the lack of foundation proper to humanistic knowledge, Bacon honours mechanical arts as “founded on nature and the light of experience” – that’s why “they (as long as they are popular) seem full of life, and uninterruptedly grow, being at first rude, then convenient, lastly polished, and perpetually improved” (Bacone, 1998, p. 139). Later, during the age of Enlightenment (the acme of Modernity), faith in new scientific perspectives leads to the ideology of progress: Positivistic culture makes systematic that attitude; humankind’s history is interpreted as evolutionary and – as with Comte in Sociology and Tylor in Anthropology – it is common to consider the science as predictive knowledge.

Modernity’s chronological-direction (centered in the present) is confirmed by another issue too. After being started during Alexandrian civilization, philology became crucial within the modern age. Humanist scholars especially were interested in philology because they wanted to study humanae litterae from the historical approach, directed to restore texts to their original shape. Also from this point of view, the attention to the present is peculiar to modern age because philology aims to restore documents and to make them come back to their starting point.

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Modern historical attitudes reach their high point during 19th-century historicism. According to historicism, all human life happens within history, no transcendence is possible and everything is under passing time. Actually, at the beginning, Modernity wasn’t against transcendence (as the openness to the Divine) but it became more and more secular as the time rolled by. In today’s cultural circumstances, it may well seem possible and reasonable to do without transcendence, but contemporary cultural crises raise the question again: is post-modernity the answer or is it necessary to reconsider modern identity? I am inclined to believe that to address the question adequately it is necessary to come back to the starting points within modernity. This may help to recognize more than one way to be modern. With this in mind, I want to focus firstly on “traditional” modernity and then to review some post-modern tendencies.

The so-called modernity in philosophy and education

When did Modernity begin? One could in fact identify its origins with the fall of the Oriental Roman Empire (1453). This provides an analogy with the beginning of medieval age in 476 (when the Occidental Roman Empire was overthrown). Lately 1492 has been preferred because of the discovery of America. From the cultural point of view, strictly speaking, Modernity originates with the “new vision” about knowledge, as captured for instance by Bacon’s Novum organum scientiarum (1620), Descartes’ Regulae ad directionem ingenii (1628), Malebranche’s De la recherche de la vérité (1674–1675), Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690), Hume’s Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748) and Kant’s Critiques (1781, 1788, 1790). With regard to a scientific method informing the “new vision” about knowledge, Galileo is the main reference. From the anthropological point of view, Modernity is generally associated to the “geometrized” idea of human behaviour according to Spinozian Etica more geometrico demonstrata (1677, posthumous) and to the “geometrized” idea of human reason in Hobbes’ De corpore (1655). Actually, this attitude is more ancient, coming from Leonardo da Vinci’s statement: “There is no certainty [in science] where one of the mathematical sciences cannot be applied, or in those [sciences] which are not in harmony with mathematics” (Leonardo da Vinci, 1997, p. 64). Galileo embraced the same idea, as we can read within his Letter to Fortunio Liceti (Arcetri, January 1641):

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I really think that the book of philosophy is that which is perpetually open to our eyes. But being written in characters different from those of our alphabet, it cannot be read by everyone; the characters of this book are triangles, squares, circles, spheres, cones, pyramids and other mathematical figures, the most suited for this sort of reading (Galilei, 1968, t. XVIII, p. 295).

Hobbes’ interpretation of reasoning like calculation is on the same line. He says:

By Ratiocination, I mean computation. Now to compute, is either to collect the sum of many things that are added together, or to know what remains when one thing is taken out of another. Ratiocination, therefore, is the same with addition and subtraction; and if any man adds multiplication and division, I will not be against it, seeing multiplication is nothing but addition of equals one to another, and division is nothing but a subtraction of equals one from another, as often as is possible. So that all ratiocination is comprehended in these two operations of the mind, addition and subtraction (Hobbes, 1972, p. 71).

The same idea is shared by Locke: “By what steps we are to proceed in these, is to be learned in the schools of the mathematicians (…) morality is capable of demonstration as well as mathematics” (Locke, 20072, pp. 1209–1211), as well by Wolff when he says that he draws his inspiration from “mathematicians’ way of thinking, especially the ancient geometers like Euclid’s Elements” (Wolff, 2003, p. 45).

As can be gathered from these examples, the point is the firm belief that “the” method exists. Previously, and on the contrary, according to Aristotle, the common advice was about “many methods”, not only one. Platonic sources might indicate otherwise but – within the scientific field – Aristotle was the authority. In his Metaphysics he is clear:

Hence one must have been already trained how to take each kind of argument, because it is absurd to seek simultaneously for knowledge and for the method of obtaining it; and neither is easy to acquire. Mathematical accuracy is not to be demanded in everything, but only in things which do not contain matter (Aristotle, 1968, t. I, p. 222).

The opposite became characteristic of Modernity: that’s why science became intrinsically predictive, looking for “natural laws” as “no-changeable laws”. Modernity embraced more and more the “objective” attitude towards knowledge and refused the Aristotelian “final cause”, keeping the ←62 | 63→material, formal and efficient ones only. For the same reason, practical knowledge became more an application of science, leading increasingly to functional models. From this point of view, modernity sought progressive mastery of reality through mathematics and technique.

Since Leonardo da Vinci’s interest in automatic systems, as the top of human knowledge, the trend is clear: “Mechanics are the paradise of scientific mathematics, because with them we arrive at the fruits of mathematics” (Leonardo da Vinci, 1997, p. 64). Before Leonardo’s time, starting from ancient Greek civilization and during the medieval Christian period, the world had been interpreted as a living creature: as a big complex “animal”. That is why, for example, Thomas Aquinas – in Summa Theologiae, II–II, q. 95, a. 5, resp. (1991, t. XVIII, pp. 320–324) – was not against astrology as knowledge regarding astral influences over the “sensitive” human soul (as is confirmed by adjectives like “moody”, “sunny”, “jovial”, “martial”, saturnine”). With the 17th-century beginnings of Modernity, however, everything changes, and that former idea is increasingly replaced by an interpretation of the world as a big mechanical system, open to manipulation and use. In particular, everything is interpreted as cause/effect organized. The high point of this early Modernity is the book by De La Mettrie Man a Machine (1747). Later, positivistic movements advanced much the same idea. In reaction, during the 19th century, spiritualism was born. According to the spiritualist thinkers, it is no possible to study the human creature only in the light of cause/effect paradigm because of freedom. For this reason, spiritualist thinkers interpret “facts” as “acts”. That’s why they also distinguish between “natural sciences” and “human sciences”, related to different kinds of knowledge: Erklären (explanation) and Verstehen (comprehension), respectively – the first deals with an object, the second with a subject (the human creature as free being). Educational knowledge was the most involved science within the cultural struggle between Erklären and Verstehen because it deals with education: the human being, understood under the concept of education, is not an object, even if it is possible to describe some educational features in scientific terms.

Education and “different” Modernity

Among educational authors of the early Modernity under review here, Comenius is the most modern. This is clear if we give attention to the methodological features of his Didactica Magna. Here the matter under investigation is explored through axioms, postulates, corollaries, as if it would ←63 | 64→be Mathematics or Geometry. Comenius has faith in “the” method. In his “Greeting to the reader”, he says: “We venture to promise a great didactic, that is to say, the whole art of teaching all things to all men, and indeed of teaching them with certainty, so that the result cannot fail to follow” (Comenius, 1993, p. 5). Like Comenius, Descartes also identifies knowledge with “analysis” and “synthesis” (XXI, 14), “enumeration” (XVIII, 45), and he associates them to “distinction” (XX, 23). But there is something new. Comenius’ reference to synkrisis as “comparison” among beings, involving “differences” distinguishes him from other figures of early Modernity. Comenius focuses it when he compares educational knowledge to ocular vision:

If the object is to be clearly seen it is necessary : 1) that it be placed before the eyes; 2) not far off, but at a reasonable distance; 3) not on one side, but straight before the eyes; 4) and so that the front of the object be not turned away from, but directed towards the observer; 5) that the eyes first take in the object as a whole; 6) and then proceed to distinguish the parts; 7) inspecting these in order from the beginning to the end; 8) that attention be paid to each and every part; 9) until they are all grasped by means of their essential attributes (Comenius, 1993, p. 325).

Comenius paid particular attention to “difference”, namely to the singularity of each human being. In fact, Comenius stresses the necessity of self-knowledge:

When Pittacus of old gave to the world his saying Know thyself, the sentiment was received by the wise with so much approval, that, in order to impress it on the people, they declared that it had fallen from heaven, and caused it to be written in golden letters on the temple of the Delphic Apollo, where great assemblies of men used to collect. Their action was prudent and wise; but their statement was false. It was, however, in the interests of truth, and is of great importance to us. For what is the voice from heaven that resounds in the Scriptures but Know thyself, oh man, and know Me (Comenius, 1993, p. 45 ).

Something of this departure from the intellectual tenor of modernity is also evident in Pestalozzi. In fact, even if Pestalozzi embraces modern mathematical method, as Girard charges in his Report on the Pestalozzi Institute in Yverdon, written in 1810 (Girard, 1950, p. 89), Pestalozzi clearly speaks about “thinking love” (Pestalozzi, 1970), associated with a mother’s way of educating. I believe that both Comenius and Pestalozzi show a new way of thinking within modernity, more attentive to concrete ways ←64 | 65→of acting, not a mathematical/geometrical way. Nethertheless, key aspects of their thinking remain coherent to modern mentality.

By contrast, other 17th-century authors embrace an open polemic against modernity. For example, Pascal clearly refuses the modern “esprit de géométrie” and takes sides in favour of “esprit de finesse” when the issue is the study of the human being as distinct from the material world (Pascal, 2003). Another educator from early Modernity not involved within “the” method is Balthasar Gracián, who speaks about education aiming for the singular development of each person (Gracián, 2008). He goes back to the Aristotelian concept of “practical truth”. This means that when we are studying the human being, it is not possible to deal only with objective knowledge. Even Immanuel Kant – the most important modern philosopher – in his Critique of Judgement appreciates sensible knowledge as distinct from objective knowledge, introducing the way of thinking proper to Schiller, “aesthetic education” and the Romantic Age (Schiller, 2007).

The authors referred to in the previous paragraphs are champions of a “different” modernity. In fact, they are innovators (for example, both Pascal and Gracián had problems with contemporary religious authorities), but they are deeply rooted within the transcendence horizon, unlike the classic authors of modernity who were closer to secular mind. Today’s cultural crises are actually produced by developments within modernity, particularly developments connected to “the” method: to the mathematical translation of arguments, to the supremacy of descriptive and objective knowledge. From Pascal to Schiller we can find a contrasting way of thinking, more attentive to the singularity of each human person. In fact, authors like those just considered did more than provide enduring counterpoint to the ascendant currents of modernity. They also kept alive ancient classical ideas like that of lógos and inserted these in various ways into the thinking of modernity.

The word lógos – coming from the verb léghein, “to collect” – deals with the comparison among different ideas. It is very important in order to recognize the peculiarity of human knowledge, fit to connect and to separate at the same time. Especially from the educational and ethical point of view, this attitude rejects any formalization according to Aristotelian doctrine concerning the variety of beings and goods. Aristotle stresses that there are many factors within moral decisions. Nowadays it’s important to recognize the difference between this way of thinking and the relativistic one. Aristotle doesn’t support any moral relativism. Just like Socrates’ maieutics he doesn’t think that each one professes one’s own truth, but that every person finds out personally common truth. In the same way, according ←65 | 66→to Aristotle, lógos allows each other to confront ideas and opinions in the light of the community made by gnoseological principles like “not contradiction” asserting that it is no possible to say something and the opposite in the same moment and under the same point of view. Everything happens for a reason open to be explored: that’s why it is possible to find it by picking up in unity different things. This attitude is referred to one of the most important Socratic ideas, according to Plato’s testimony within Gorgias:

Of what sort am I? – Socrates says – One of those who would be glad to be refuted if I say anything untrue, and glad to refute anyone else who might speak untruly; but just as glad, mind you, to be refuted as to refute, since I regard the former as the greater benefit, in proportion as it is greater benefit for oneself to be delivered from the greatest evil than to deliver someone else (Plato, 1992, t. V, p. 156).

Among modern authors Rousseau is clearly aware of the limits of modern rationalism. It is interesting to observe that Rousseau had problems not only with the Catholic Church (because of his idea about nature as something “pure” in itself), but also with Enlightenment thinkers. In fact, he rejects their descriptive and functional way of thinking and supports “nature” as the original reference. But what is the “nature state” according to Rousseau? It isn’t something ancient from the chronological point of view. In his Discourse on the Origin of Inequality he speaks about nature as “a state which no longer exists, perhaps never did exist, and probably never will exist” (Rousseau, 19942, p. 88). If the “nature state” would mean the “primitive state”, surely it would be existed and it could be possible to come back to it from today’s situation. Actually, it is something original not from the chronological point of view, but from the anthropological point of view. Rousseau’s thought is close to the Platonic utopian theory concerning the “ideal city” in The Republic (IX, 592a–b) and Rousseau – in the Book I of Émile – openly says that the Platonic work is an educational book: the “nature state” is actually “metahistorical” (Rousseau, 1995, p. 12).

Rousseau was very interested in ancient moralists. He is clearly aware that human originality is freedom. His educational advice is: “Teach him [the pupil] to live rather than to avoid death: life is not breath, but action, the use of our senses, our mind, our faculties, every part of ourselves which makes us conscious of our being” (Rousseau, 1995, p. 15). That’s why he is in favour of nature – as the natural environment; he organizes teaching starting from moral education and only later aims for functional knowledge. Two centuries later these ideas are still topical, facing the so-called ←66 | 67→question of “youth discomfort”. In fact, young people, well supplied from the functional point of view, have difficulties facing concrete life: in taking decisions about their future and in rejecting what is dangerous, particularly from the moral point of view. In other words, young people have many “competences”, but today’s school is at risk in becoming preoccupied with useful knowledge to the neglect of moral maturity. In this sense, the crisis of modernity today is the crisis of the cultural tendency to prefer “Erklären knowledge” to “Verstehen knowledge”. In the final section, I shall argue that a “different” modernity can help to face this situation.

A revised modernity and the challenge of “competence”

To speak about post-modernity means to recognize the crisis of modernity (Gregory, 2016; Barilli, 2013; Bauman, 2007). While being critical of post-modern ideology, I would grant that it makes clear the crisis of modernity. In particular, I think that it is better to explore constructively a “different” modernity, rather than to seek to escape from modernity’s problems by embracing irrationality and relativism. If we take into consideration authors like Pascal or Schiller, it is easy to recognize that they are, in an important sense, close to today’s sensibility; namely, keenly perceptive of singularity and individual originality. They are also as attentive to the contingency of human existence as is today’s common mind, but not in a relativistic way because they recognize the lógos, even if not in a mere descriptive way. I think that it is desirable the same attention to the contingency of human existence if we want to promote the idea of “competence” from the educational point of view, not only in a functional way.

The idea of “competence” is a crucial issue in today’s educational policies. It is clear that the European Union is promoting school education in order to support to be able to act, not only to know. That is why such policies speak increasingly not just of “knowledge”, but of “competences”. The reference is to the ability to do, not only to know something – respectively the second and first pillars of the noted Delors’ Report Learning: The Treasure Within (Delors, 1996). Obviously, this idea is good, but there is the risk of interpreting practical knowledge as mere functional knowledge. The risk is that of forgetting that the human being is first of all an ethical creature, able to recognize the value not only in useful actions, but principally in good actions. If education in general, and school education in particular, become functional, it is at the risk of failing to recognize the distinctiveness of human originality, as compared to animal identity; in fact, as Aristotle ←67 | 68→said centuries ago, within On the Generation of Animals, “nature always does what is useful” (Aristotle, 1973, p. 219), but the human being isn’t like other living creatures.

The European text Key Competences for Lifelong Learning (European Communities, 2007, p. 3) says that “key competences” are the “combination of knowledge, skills and attitudes appropriate to the context”: they are – it is specified – “those which all individuals need for personal fulfilment and development, active citizenship, social inclusion and employment”. Two years later another European document – European Qualification Framework for Lifelong Learning (European Communities, 2008, p. 11) – defines “competence” as “the proven ability to use knowledge, skills and personal, social and/or methodological abilities, in work or study situations and in professional and personal development”. These documents are important because, on one side, they clearly speak about “competence” as something useful, but, on the other side, they say that there is a strong relation between competence and situation: I mean contingency as it is identified by the Aristotelian concept of “practical truth”.

We know that the word “competence”, if interpreted from the perspective of social psychology and the sociology of work, is associated with the description of human productive behavior. The point here is to make it possible to identify competence itself more specifically as a functional ability and to reproduce it. This objective/pragmatic interpretation of the concept is not however so compatible with freedom as human peculiarity. The problem is that it improves the technical, not the ethical (practical not pragmatic) meaning of education. It is necessary to be clear that first of all “competence” has a social meaning. Authors as different from each other as Dewey and Maritain – clearly saw this when the speak about the very nature of school (Dewey, 1900; Dewey, 1916; Maritain, 1943). They are both in favour of the school as the public educational place provided to improve citizenship, as is also clearly affirmed by many national and international documents. We must not to forget that the word “competence” comes from the Latin verb petěre. This word means not only “to ask in order to have something” but also “to be directed to somewhere” (for example, petěre Romam means “to go to Rome”). From this point of view, to have competence means to go into a chosen direction. Besides the same ambiguity is peculiar to the word cum. It means not only association, but also the chronological identification related to the Latin word quando (“when”). For this reason, we can recognize within the word “competence” something of the same meaning as the Greek word phrónesis (“practical wisdom”) as to be able to choose what is better in order to reach elected goals. Aristotelian phrónesis ←68 | 69→isn’t against technical means, but it is in favour of the ability to ordinate and subordinates them to ethical intentions. On this understanding, to be competent means to grow in coherence with the active, transformative and performative identity of human beings: first of all, from the ethical point of view, only secondly from the technical one.

Crises in modernity provide the opportunity to think again about modern cultural trends in order to make our civilization become more attentive to humanization as the capacity not only to live, but “to live well” – morally well – as Aristotle says in his Economics (Aristotle, 1991, t. IX, p. 285). To recognize modernity as a plural noun can help us because a “different” modernity – being attentive to the singularity peculiar to each person – is morally oriented and is able to challenge today’s functional tendencies.


Aristotele. 1968. Metafisica. Napoli: Loffredo, t. I.

Aristotele. 1973. Opere. Roma–Bari: Laterza, t. V.

Aristotele. 1991. Opere. Roma–Bari: Laterza, t. IX.

Bacone, F. 1998. Novum organum. Milano: Rusconi.

Barilli, R. 2013. Tutto sul postmoderno. Rimini: Guaraldi.

Bauman, Z. 2002. Modernità liquida. Roma–Bari: Laterza.

Bauman, Z. 2007. Il disagio della postmodernità. Milano: Bruno Mondadori.

Comenio, A. 1993. Grande Didattica. Firenze: La Nuova Italia.

Delors, J. 1996. Learning: the treasure within. Paris: UNESCO.

Descartes, R. 1994. Discorso sul metodo, t. I. Torino: UTET.

Dewey, J. 1900. The School and Society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Dewey, J. 1916. Democracy and education. New York: Macmillan.

Eisenstadt, S. N. 2006. Sulla modernità. Soveria Mannelli: Rubbettino.

European Communities, 2007. Key Competences for Lifelong Learning. Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities.

European Communities, 2008. European Qualification Framework for Lifelong Learning. Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities.

Galilei, G. 1968. Le opere di Galileo Galilei, t. XVIII. Firenze: Barbera.

Girard, G. 1950. Rapport sur l’Institut de M. Pestalozzi à Yverdon. Fribourg: Egger.

Gracián, B. 2008. L’eroe. Milano: Bompiani.

Gregory, T. (Ed.) 2016. Nuoro realismo/postmodernismo. Roma: Edizioni Officina.

Hobbes, T. 1972. Elementi di filosofia. Il corpo. L’uomo. Torino: UTET.

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Leonardo da Vinci. 1997. Scritti letterari. Milano: Rizzoli.

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Rousseau, J.-J. 1995. Emilio. Firenze: La Nuova Italia.

Schiller, F. 2007. L’educazione estetica dell’uomo. Milano: Bompiani.

Taylor, C. 2006. Il disagio della modernità. Roma–Bari: Laterza.

Tommaso d’Aquino. 1991. Somma teologica, t. XVIII. Bologna: Edizioni Studio Domenicano.

Wagner, P. 2013. Modernità. Torino: Einaudi.

Wolff, C. 2003. Metafisica tedesca. Milano: Bompiani.

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1.2.2 The Cosmic Dimension of Education. Eugen Fink in the Continental Tradition Philosophy of Education (Taking into Account the Tradition of Czech Philosophy of Education)

Naděžda Pelcová

If we ask a question about the fundamental nature of the Continental concept of education, then we first have the task of attempting to define the specificity of the pedagogical and philosophical meaning of education, the difference between Pädagogik and the philosophy of education. Pädagogik as a discipline begins by defining terms (Průcha 1997; Průcha 2000) and the definition of its subject: Education, at least from the viewpoint of a discipline such as Pädagogik, is a long-term, deliberate, purposeful process of the holistic formation of a human personality in terms of his intellectual, moral, volitional and social development (Pařízek, 1996, p. 76). Emphasis is on the word “process”, which evokes the idea of a necessary and causal procedure. Such a definition starts from the premise that education is a necessity, given, indisputable fact, in which metaphysical constants are given through historically changing “variables”. The first of them is the educator, the second is the educated, and the third is the subject – namely the material to be studied. Another undoubted constant, on this view, is legality (the legal obligation of the older generation to educate the younger). Then there is the legitimacy of such an educational formation (be it telos, i.e. the purpose of some higher preordained instance, as Prof. Palouš mentions, or human “good will”, expressed, for example in the words of the educator “we’re doing it for the young”). The process is established, the objective is set (it is the development of man for his own), it is only the way – the method to achieve this objective that still needs to be found.

The philosophy of education cannot proceed like this. Unlike science and its positive knowledge, it is typical of philosophy that the most important intellectual act is not the answer but the question. The philosophical approach is characterized by radical questioning; in which nothing remains unquestioned. Hence, we are forced to return to the question: What is education? Although we somehow already know, it is one of the fundamental experiences of our lives. Here education emerges not as an objectifiable subject of scientific inquiry, but rather as a phenomenon or a great phenomenon of human existence, as existential, as one of the supporting pillars on which human ex←71 | 72→istence is formed, scheduled and based. The initial point of view, from which education is deliberated, is primarily care and concern of the existence of those who depend on us, as well as care and concern for ourselves, so we are able to fulfill our tasks and, ultimately care and concern for our shared world, the space where we can meet (it may be home, school, university ...). Man is a creature of the world and education in the philosophical sense is nothing more than presenting man into the common world, in this sense, man has a cosmic character.

The ontology of education

This difference of possible approaches, assumptions and subjects is by Eugen Fink in practically all of his works dealing with the issues of philosophy of education. Eugen Fink (1905–1975) was the last assistant to Edmund Husserl and his peculiar successor in the phenomenology of human behavior (work, play and also education). Education became a major life theme for him. He spent his time not only at the Department of Philosophy but also teaching at the University of Freiburg, and in the 1950s he was involved in drawing up the national education plan called the “Bremer Plan” (Fink, 1960).

Fink continually returned to the question of how to penetrate the essence of the phenomenon of education. He eliminates the possibility that one could proceed by describing some anthropological foundations of education (this also excludes the possibility of systematic science of education) – and then by using these as a basis for educational action: for instance, if man is conceived as animal rationale, then the aim of education is to develop this rationality; if man is conceived as homo faber, then education is a way of developing his practical skills to create the conditions for his own life (as it happens in pragmatism, for example), if man is conceived as a cultural entity, then the aim of education is understanding, acceptance and development of cultural examples (as in cultural Pädagogik). All of these concepts of education, based on a specific anthropological paradigm, have gradually become exhausted in the history of their possibilities and have been replaced by others. On Fink’s view, such understandings of the phenomenon of education have become obsolete.

For Fink, man is not a finally defined substance, but a prodigal son of nature, an alien and an outcast in his own world; the imperfection of our existence, its unformedness, its incompleteness is the most essential feature of our being. Consciousness of this imperfection forces us to seek solutions, and this seeking is human education. Fink therefore argues, unlike Pädagogik, ←72 | 73→that education is not derivable and understandable from a definition of what man is, but rather, that man can be understood from education as: the educated and the educator (homo educandus and homo educans).

Only man is faced with the task of giving a form of education due to his essential openness and incompleteness (an animal is complete in the perfection of its instincts), imperfections (in contrast perhaps to a perfect and eternal God). Education, on Fink’s view, provides man with the ability to understand the world in which he lives, to understand that this world is not something obvious and that it is something alive, something that needs to be taken care of to prevent it being destroyed. Education teaches man to be dependent on the world in the sense of the cosmos, and teaches him to have an open attitude to the world. This openness of man (In-der-Welt-Sein – being in the world) is freedom and freedom is, according to Fink, the foundation allowing all learning (Fink, 1992, p. 66).

The humanity of man essentially helps determine the grand phenomenon of education. “Education is the establishment of sojourn in the whole” (Fink, 1992, p. 22). It is misleading and meaningless according to Fink to want to build Pädagogik as a way of finding how to accomplish a task of society or individual persons (education as socialization and education as individualization). Education must fulfill its task: introduce man to the whole of the world.

“Education is not primarily an institutional matter ... it is a completely original relationship of a sojourn with oneself” (Fink, 1992, p. 176). Fink points out education has taken place in two streams, paths or strategies; firstly, through institutions, which from the beginning have formed human society in order to ensure the continuity of existence. There are fixed rituals, rules and norms of relations, the hierarchical order of society, as well as schools and educational institutions in various forms (educational practices, patterns, guidelines, ideals etc.). It is here in this institutional environment, where the educational sciences (Erziehungswissenschaften) gradually took shape and grew. But secondly, education provides something else, an understanding of what is happiness and unhappiness, and what is the meaning of life. This second stream is something like an undercurrent unobvious, but strong and active. Fink believes that these important life impulses in this undercurrent do not come from a science of education or from a reflex, but from the “foundation of existence” (Untergrund des Daseins) (Fink, 1978, p. 20). This creates a tension between education as traditionally mediated learning in life (Lebenslehre) and education as scientifically thematized knowledge (Erziehungswissenschaften).

The phenomenon of education can be explored in terms of conflict and of apparent and unapparent unity; there arises a comparison with an iceberg, ←73 | 74→most of which remains hidden beneath the surface. Education phenomenon also seems to be always in a certain context, in some enlightenment and we leave it to occur once in the context of reflection and sometimes in unreflected proximity in the sense of the basic experience belonging to human life.

Similarly, the phenomenon of education seems to be always in a certain context, illumination, and we only let it arise in the context of reflection (theory of education), and sometimes in unexamined closeness as a basic experience of human life. In Fink’s words: “Education is a common conversation between young and old, it takes place like the appointment of the laws” (Fink, 1992, p. 177). On this view, it is important for education to be a dialogue, an encounter across generations, bound by solidarity, a sense of belonging, which is committed to caring for those who are newly arriving. According to Fink, the purpose of education is not to present canons and an overview of ready-made answers to the problems of life. Education is about creating understanding and self-understanding, which manifests itself in asking questions about the nature of life itself. Understanding is expressed by a question to which the previous interpretation is the answer. Only he who asks knows what he is talking about. Only he who asks is captivated. Education is not the fastest technique for acquiring knowledge and skills; it is not a transfer of values and norms; it is characterized by courage to ask the question: what is a human being? The great phenomenon of education arises most deeply in questioning.

Therefore, Fink refers to education as “Not – Wendigkeit”, a necessity, also as “Lebensnot”, “life emergency”. Only man is troubled by education. It is a fundamental event in which human existence gains a foothold, form and law. “Life advice, life support, life form and life law are in no way a factual human security against occasional states of emergency; education cannot remove or destroy this, it only reverses and turns it, the same as being full silences hunger but never cancels our basic reliance on food” (Fink, 1992, pp. 24–25).

Therefore, man is essentially “dependent” on education throughout his life; education is the ontological foundation of his sojourn here on earth; it is an expression of the human desire for overcoming an emergency; it is the mainstay of his fragile and vulnerable life, an effort to acquire a human form and the establishment of law. Man is born naked, naked in every sense, a small child is not only weak and helpless, but also incapable of self-preservation. He is fully dependent on protection, care, nutrition; he does not understand his position; he cannot talk; he is undeveloped, immature. During the education process he undergoes, in a sense, his “second birth”, the birth of a social man. Through education in speech, he changes from a little creature into a cultural creature, who understands “meaning” and “sensory content”. ←74 | 75→Education for speech is also education for educability and thus has a fundamental significance (Fink, 1978, p. 149). A child does not live weltlos – without the world; his spirit is not tabula rasa; it exists in a hard to grasp way of possibilities. A child is somehow closed in the world, his spiritual abilities are not yet developed, but they are nevertheless already here! From his very first breath a child belongs to a human, historically social world. Even at birth, he hears his first word. The lack of speech of a child rests in the space of speech, isolation from society rests inside society, closeness to the whole world takes place in this world. We do not begin our lives outside society, or even outside its institutional forms. “As soon as person is born, he is protected in maternal love. Parents are obliged to protect and educate, not only from the natural instinct of the heart or a moral right, but according to state law” (Fink, 1978, p. 150). Relationships with children and caring for them is an undeniable feature of the human society – it determines a mutual affection for the family like a mysterious movement to the future; it rises in a deadly desire for immortality and its expression is found in law. In this sense, education has the task of ensuring and protecting the continuity of culture. “We stand on the soil of tradition, we are the heirs of creative ancestors, we dwell in the house of the spirit that built others, we inhabit a cultural world, which we accept” (Fink, 1978, p. 7). This is how education has always been preserved a movement of humanity.

At the same time, however, education is hope for the future, with every new generation it carries the right to live one’s life independently and to bring something new to life and culture. Hence, education is always accompanied by discontinuity, a desire for the birth of something original, new, ungiven. Fink is aware of this inner tension between continuity and discontinuity, which is present in the thinking, the decision-making and the actions of all those involved in education. It is most pronounced in the question of the meaning of life, which forms the existential basis of all education. The meaning of life cannot be passed on so easily. Each generation brings its own life project (Lebensprojekt) and so heritage contains little information about meaning. The creation of meaning (Sinnbildung) can never be regarded as complete; meaning is constantly being unfolded (questioned) and shaped.

If we ask what is the meaning of life, then it is necessary to realize that the important factor is the courage to ask the question, not the answer. Indeed, meaning is constantly changing and stabilizing. One meaning connects me with my family, another with work or with the country where we live. Live can have one meaning in one’s youth, another in adulthood, and another in old age. It is what binds us to life. If meaning is anything, it is nothing other than questioning about meaning.

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Our situation – European nihilism

“We live in what is perhaps the greatest uncertainty about the meaning of life ... never before has the subject of education become as problematic as it is today ....” (Fink, 1959, p. 33).

In the 20th century, society underwent a significant change: experiencing two World Wars, relinquishing the image of human history as a linear advancement, experiencing the use and abuse of education for power and ideological goals, proclaiming unlimited freedom of human society and the human subject. Such claims to unlimited freedom, however, characteristically subordinate others to one’s own needs. The world, nature which is practically and pragmatically subordinate to one’s own interests and needs, the world, nature and often the other person are seen as a means to one’s own self-realization; economic and material production has become the ultimate foundation of social life. These changes were reflected in the transformation of educational institutions, insofar as they place emphasis on the purely practical focus of education (one’s role in society, on the labor market, qualification and requalification, institutes of lifelong learning, adaptability to the needs of society) and all in the parameters of the here and now. The reduction and profanation of education is thus reflected in its temporal nature.

On this critique of Fink’s, the future is no longer oriented to a higher common goal (meaning, purpose), to which all special subgoals would lead; man no longer has a firmly sketched “essence” that can be fulfilled or squandered – no task has been given to him, which he could take and whose rejection would mean “blame”. Human actions take place in a completely new sense of the “fragmentary”; education no longer holds the clear character of a manageable problem, “the sensory world has lost the restructured horizon of the future”, the core of education has fundamentally changed (Fink, 1978, pp. 144–146). Educators can no longer rely on a customary transfer of a simple ethos of society, children and young people cannot see any older generation which would show them how to cope with life and which represents good archetypes of life management.

With reference to Nietzsche, who talks about the “death of God”, or the “west of the metaphysical sun”, which are Nietzsche’s formulations, indicating the abolition of the meaning of human existence, Fink called the current crisis “European nihilism”. According to him, we have no higher purpose of human life than to search, work and fight. “Modern man has reached – we might say – scientific knowledge, but not wisdom, he has reached a comfortable affluence, but not happiness” (Fink, 1978, p. 141).

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The disaster of contemporary nihilism is significantly deepened by technology, which has pervaded all areas of human life. Technology is not meant here in the sense of “techno” as a deep understanding of the nature of things, as it was in antiquity, nor is it intended as a tool to deal with the circumstances of human life and overcome the deficit of human features such as the early modern period; technology expresses the specific nature of human actions such as enforcement, it is the power which gives man dominion over the world and nature (Fink, 1978, p. 183). So, paradoxically technology controls more and more areas of life and, of course, projects into education: “At no time were the means of education so differentiated, methods of influencing so psychologically perfect, teaching techniques so appropriate in terms of practice and feasibility, educational will so powerful and planned as they are in our present. We can rely less on the effect of simple moral conditions, on cultivating, worshiping powers of social models, customs and paternal manners, attitudes and traditions – we can rely less on the power of family or national spirit. Human education has become a planned project. Educational formation represents a scheduled task, regardless of whether it is an individual child, a social group or an entire nation. Education has become a “technical problem” that is feasible like building a bridge across a river, construction of the house or a city” (Fink, 1978, 138). Strategies of educational formation are thought out to the smallest detail, their extremes can be brainwashing, which is nothing more than “planned, targeted operations of the exploitation of human consciousness” (Fink, 1978, p. 138). Because an engineering method can produce states of consciousness, a disposition to negotiation, manipulation and ultimately controlled fanaticism, there arises the illusion that it gives humanity valid life goals. In fact, Fink argues, although we have technological methods of shaping people more effectively than ever before, we have no goals. Modern man without the prospect of a meaningful and authentic life finds himself in a situation of existential distress. When we have no commonly accepted view of the world but rather a range of sometimes contradictory “world views” of the current political offerings, we need an emergency solution. However, despite the helplessness, pain and a feeling of homelessness which are connected to this nihilism, the possibility of new insight surprisingly opens up for Fink.

Biographical notes

Blanka Kudláčová (Volume editor) Andrej Rajský (Volume editor)

Blanka Kudačova is Professor of Education at Trnava University in Trnava, Slovakia. Her research and publishing activities are focused on the area of history of education. Andrej Rajsky is Associate Professor of Moral Philosophy at Trnava university in Trnava, Slovakia. His research and publishing activities are focused on the area of philosophy of education.


Title: Education and «Pädagogik»