Philosophy of Education: Essays and Commentaries

By Hobert W. Burns; Charles J. Brauner | Go to book overview

Toward an Analytic Philosophy of Education

Israel Scheffler*

Various activities may, with historical justification, lay claim to the honored title of "philosophy." These include, among others, e.g., logical analysis, speculative construction, culture criticism, institutional programming, and the expression of personal attitudes toward the world. It is my purpose neither to cast doubt on any of these claims nor to deny the appropriateness of any of these activities. I do, however, wish to stress the ambiguity of the general term "philosophy" and, correlatively, of the narrower term "philosophy of education." It is certainly no striking news that the latter term is currently widely employed to mean practically anything from a well-articulated metaphysics of knowledge to the vaguest expression of attitudes toward, say, the public school system. What is worthy of note is that one legitimate meaning is almost consistently ignored: Philosophy of education is rarely, if ever, construed as the rigorous logical analysis of key concepts related to the practice of education. In this paper, arguing for the fruitfulness of such an approach, I shall try, first, to explain and illustrate the general notion of philosophy as logical analysis, and second, to outline the ways in which logical analysis appears to me relevant to educational problems.

The conception of philosophy as the attempt to clarify key concepts is hardly a modern invention. For the attempt, by dialectical methods, to clarify the meaning of basic notions is at least as old as Socrates. What distinguishes current analysis is, first, its greater sophistication as regards language, and the interpenetration of language and inquiry, secondly, its attempt to follow the modern example of the sciences in empirical spirit, in rigor, in attention to detail, in respect for alternatives, and in objectivity of method, and thirdly, its use of techniques of symbolic logic brought to full development only in the last fifty years. The result has been revolutionary for philosophic practice. New insights have been achieved in almost every area of traditional philosophy. The individualism so characteristic of its past has, to a marked extent, been tempered by a sense of community of investigation, unified by method rather than doctrine, and by a common search for clarity on fundamental issues. That this development represents no mere doctrinal school is evident from the fact that it comprises sharp differences of opinion within itself, as well as from the fact that a number of its early formulations have undergone orderly revision under the pressure of criticism and new discoveries. Nor can such development be considered entirely negative, for progress has been made in the settling of some older problems and the recasting of new ones, progress which is widely acknowledged by students in this domain. It is, then, this union of

____________________
*
Reprinted by permission from The Harvard Educational Review, XXIV ( Fall, 1954), 223-230.

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