The great philosophers have struggled with the dualistic dilemma of mind and body for thousands of years. Educators, too, have a dualistic dilemma between theory and practice: The classroom theories of professional training and thought, to the classroom practice of professional action. Gerald Gutek, in Philosophical and Ideological Perspectives on Education, writes that theory without practice is insufficient; practice unguided by theory is aimless. The purpose of studying philosophical perspectives in education is, ideally, to give aim to the myriad of “practices” that are being proposed in our current era of educational reform.
When we talk about “philosophy” we are talking about how one views the world. Every philosophy has an ontology (a view of what reality is), an epistemology (a view of how we know about that reality), and an axiology (those concepts that are valued within this reality). How one view's reality (ontology) shapes his/her beliefs about knowledge (epistemology). A particular perspective of reality assumes, or is based on, specific conceptions of human nature. This chapter's summary of philosophical perspectives in education will focus on Idealism, realism, Existentialism, Essentialism and Perennialism.
In Socrates' and Plato's era, those known as Sophists proposed one of the dominant theories of philosophical ethics. The word sophist stimulates thoughts of “sophomore” (wise fool) and “sophistry” (deceitful argumentation), but simply stated it was a belief in the relativity of beliefs about concepts such as truth, beauty, and good. The sophists argued for situational ethics, which means that truth, beauty, and good change based on the experiential circumstances of the individual. Therefore, ethics will change when circumstances change. The sophists believed that education could be achieved through specialized vocational or professional training that fit the individual. The emphasis was on specialization.
From a modern anthropological perspective, the sophists have much in common with our society's efforts to foster cultural understanding, religious tolerance, and even acceptance of economically influenced social behaviors. The term “situational ethics” stirs images of “situational leadership”, not so much in a consistency of beliefs but in the procedural interactions with changing circumstances. The Sophists claim that changing experiences and circumstances impacts ethics. This view hints of 'primordial' existentialism. A strong argument can be made that the Sophists were professing a world-view similar to the more eloquent writings of later existentialists Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Sartre.
As a student of Socrates and teacher of Aristotle, the Greek philosopher Plato is considered to be the founder of the western philosophy of Idealism. Socrates and Plato developed a philosophical system that responded directly to the dominant Sophists of the day, and created the foundation for philosophical inquiry by western civilization. Plato's major works include The Republic, Protagoras, and Phaedo. Plato's Cave Allegory, which has achieved icon status in western learning, defines reality as the world of the mind.
Plato's greatest student was also his greatest critic. After studying under Plato, Aristotle challenged the Idealist ontology of the world of the mind as a result of his scientific inquiries into the natural ...