Methods in Philosophy of Education

By Frieda Heyting; Dieter Lenzen et al. | Go to book overview

9

How can philosophy of education be critical? How critical can philosophy of education be?

Deconstructive reflections on children's rights 1

Gert Biesta

Some one will say: Yes, Socrates, but cannot you hold your tongue, and then you may go into a foreign city, and no one will interfere with you? Now I have great difficulty in making you understand my answer to this. For I tell you that to do as you say would be a disobedience to the God, and therefore that I cannot hold my tongue, you will not believe I am serious; and if I say again that daily to discourse about virtue, and of those other things about which you hear me examining myself and others, is the greatest good of man, and that the unexamined life is not worth living, you are still less likely to believe me. Yes I say what is true, although a thing of which it is hard for me to persuade you.

(Plato, Apology: 37e-38a)

Deconstruction, if such a thing exists, should open up.

(Derrida 1987:261)


Introduction

If philosophy of education has reason to exist, it is because it has to perform a critical role vis-à-vis education and vis-à-vis the study of education. Philosophy of education is not there to provide ultimate answers, let alone to lay the foundations for education. It exists to raise questions and to institute doubt. In doing so, philosophy of education remains loyal to the main thrust of Western philosophy which, ever since it has lodged itself in Western culture, has conceived of itself as a critical enterprise.

Socrates is without doubt the main icon of the critical style of philosophy. By a constant questioning of received opinions, he tried to reveal that these could not be sustained as easily as was assumed. Plato translated the Socratic approach into a distinction between knowledge (epistémé) and belief (doxa). This was not only a formalisation of the Socratic style. It also installed a division of tasks - and thereby a distinction - between the common man, who could only achieve doxa, and the philosopher, who could have epistémé, i.e., knowledge of an ultimate reality beyond mere convention and decision.

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