3

THE AIMS OF EDUCATION AND THE PHILOSOPHY OF EDUCATION

The pathology of an argument

Peter Gilroy

That was a way of putting it - not very satisfactory:

A periphrastic study in a worn-out poetical fashion,

Leaving one still with the intolerable wrestle

With words and meanings.

T. S. Eliot, East Coker, ii

It almost goes without saying that a general approach to educational issues as typified by the Great Educators or Whitehead’s The Aims of Education, and which was dismissed by Peters as ‘undifferentiated mush’ (Peters 1966a: 7), is of little help in understanding quite how one might come to some grasp of the aims of education. However, the important point I intend arguing for is that their work was rejected by Hardie, Peters and others not simply because much of the material was poorly argued, but also because it could not withstand the assault of a particular approach to the philosophy of education, conceptual analysis. I wish to argue that a consideration of much that has been written about the aims of education, from Peters in the early 1960s to Winch in 1996, reveals a discipline that seems unable fully to accept that there are serious flaws in a purely analytical approach to educational issues.

However, some approaches to examining the aims of education do indeed make use of an alternative approach to the philosophy of education, without fully identifying it for what it is. I will therefore begin by examining briefly the conceptual approach to understanding the aims of education and show how this is founded on a terminally flawed approach to philosophy. I will continue by identifying another approach to philosophy of education and show how some philosophers of education have made use of its insights. In this way the chapter can be seen as an examination of the usefulness of an alternative to conceptual analysis using the particular example of ‘aims of education’ as a case study. For reasons that will become clear I will say rather less about aims and rather more about the way in which aims are examined.

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