By Charles Dufour
As we celebrate World Philosophy Day, I reflect on the importance of philosophy in education. Philosophy comes from the Greek words “Philo” and “Sophia”, meaning the “love of wisdom”. It implies enthusiasm to learn.
At its foundation, philosophy questions our existence and the nature of our reality from various critical perspectives. Philosophy comprises five branches that are separate but in dialogue. These branches are as follows: (a) metaphysics, (b) epistemology, (c) logic, (d) ethics, and (e) aesthetics. To these, one can add the philosophy of language, a branch which gained momentum in the 1900s.
A Philosophy of Education is embedded in the Western philosophical tradition, tracing its genesis in Greek Philosophers such as Thales, Anaximander, Anaximenes, Socrates and Plato. With such a rich history, Philosophy of Education covers a number of fields with two main targets: the family and the teachers. It focuses on what we call Applied Philosophy, which looks to the implementation of philosophical theory. As Philosophy of Education developed, it became more and more a practical exercise. While from theoretical perspective philosophy of education continues education in the frame of topics of pragmatic relevance through various intellectual fabrics, the educational practice focuses on ethics, epistemology, political philosophy, and metaphysics.
I will argue that contemporary issues about Philosophy of Education go beyond the boundaries of classrooms – where teachers and students meet – and beyond the relation between parents and children in the family. Meyer Fortes describes family from the philosophical and anthropological viewpoint as “the nursery of fundamental emotional dispositions and personality patterns, as well as being the media of economic and ritual institutions” [Meyer Fortes, Perceptual tests of ‘general intelligence’ for inter-racial use. Trans. R. Soc. South Africa, (1932) vol. 20, 281-299), 84]. From this backdrop, the society of today has various and yet significant understandings of family. For instance, one family could be consists of two spouses and children, of a single parent, of adoptive children, of parents who raised children of their relatives, and of orphans living in community. The acknowledgement that ones ‘family’, Fortes’ ‘nursery of dispositions and patterns’, may be one of many situations, has contributed a great deal to the philosophy of education in the 21st century. Indeed these varied situations are reason to broaden the philosophical education of students. The educational system must be more adaptable to contemporary learning subjects taking into account the mental, physical, emotional, and socio-psychological wellbeing of the students, teachers, and indeed parents.
Though the philosophy of education has evolved in this way, the subject remains true its Greek origins. Socrates remarked that education is systematically inseparable from philosophy and politics in terms of ones’ citizen identity, and sums up the Greek concept of paideia, which means the excellence and reality of cultural norms. In addition, Plato argued that the significant role of education empowers students with human values, the capacity to reason, and value wisdom above human pleasures. In his book The Republic, Plato sets out a frame of education that provides for different groups of students for various educations according to their needs, abilities, interests and practical destination of their career in life. Philosophy of education is profoundly relevant for students, teachers and families to collaborate in choosing the best path of ongoing educational and critical philosophical education.
Charles Dufour is working with staff at Good Shepherd Seminary in Banz, Papua New Guinea. This tertiary institution provides valuable higher education opportunities to young people in the Western Highlands of PNG and the Philosophy program which Charles supports is essential to providing a comprehensive curriculum. You can support this project by becoming a regular donor.