Philosophy of education is the philosophical study of education and the problems surrounding it. The major point of discussion in philosophy of education is education, while the methods used are those of philosophy. This branch, similarly to philosophy of law or medicine, is usually out of the study programs in philosophy departments. It is taught in schools or departments of education. Philosophers of education focus on the problems of education from a philosophical point of view. Such studies are done with the help of classical branches of philosophy such as epistemology or the theory of knowledge, ethics, social or political philosophy, philosophy of science, philosophy of language and in some cases philosophy of mind and aesthetics. The methods used by contemporary philosophers of education include analytic philosophy, existentialism, phenomenology, critical theory, hermeneutics and postmodernism. The work of philosophers of education is to analyze and clearly formulate concepts and questions that are of high importance for education. Since the time of Socrates, philosophers and educators have discussed many issues which are trouble contemporary philosophers of education. What is the aim or purposes of education? Who should be educated? Should education depend on natural interests and abilities? What role should the state play in education?
Greek philosophers Plato, Socrates and Aristotle are among the major figures who laid the foundations of educational philosophy. They debated on different subjects in the past that are important for philosophy of education even now. While teaching Socrates engaged the others in dialogue. His method excluded writing, but focused on dialogues where series of questions are discussed by the teacher and the student until the analysis goes as far as both can take it. This way of teaching is known now as the "Socratic method." Plato's way of teaching was tailored to create competent adults to meet the needs of the state. Through this functionalist model Plato developed his image of education in the context of the ideal state. His ideas suggest that there is no inherent conflict between the individual and the state. In Plato's view educators could work to develop people who are useful to the state. In Aristotle's view, people had to be trained or educated according to their place in life. They should excel in their tasks and in line with their function. Aristotle believed that no matter if one is a leader, an artist or a housewife, they have their talents and virtues, but these features differ in every one of them. Aristotle's work is also interesting for modern educators due to his moral thought. Aristotle taught that children should be trained in morally appropriate modes of conduct. The model of moral education he established is widely popular today.
The ideas of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712 to 1778) are also attractive for present-day philosophers. He influenced the views of educators such as Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi (1746 to 1827), Johann Friedrich Herbart (1776 to 1841) and Friedrich Froebel (1782 to 1852). Rousseau believed strongly in the freedom of the human spirit. John Dewey (1859 to 1952) is also among the most influential names in the area of educational philosophy. Throughout his lifetime Dewey wrote many books and articles in nearly all branches of philosophy, including logic, metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of science, ontology aesthetics, political and social philosophy and ethics. For Dewey, philosophy of education was the most fundamental and crucial branch of philosophy, and all other branches were dependent on it. He perceived philosophy of education as philosophy of life. Dewey often put education as a synonymous of growth, though this view met a lot of opposition. He insisted that growth was the ultimate aim of education. Others who devoted part of their work to philosophy of education include Avicenna, John Locke, Immanuel Kant, John Milton and Maria Montessori.