Encyclopedia of Educational Philosophy and Theory

2017 Edition
| Editors: Michael A. Peters

Patterns in Teaching Philosophy

Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-287-588-4_169


Introduction: Philosophy and the Philosophers on Stage

Philosophy and education have since their beginnings, in the context of Western traditions rooted in European, Ancient Greek, and Roman culture, showed strong affiliation toward each other. Although philosophy has traditionally been regarded as a fundamentally lonely activity, it is yet only one side of a complex and indeed dynamic picture. The philosopher depicted as the lonely thinker is appropriate in one sense, since thinking – as any cognitive processes in general − always takes place as a critical process (intra muros), i.e., inside the mind. Philosophical thinking has a critical character, in the sense that its main purpose is seeking answers, or as first, seeking appropriate forms of questioning, often fuelled by a deep crisis of various possible sources and features.

The processes in the cognitive sphere coined as philosophy are yet not as individual as it is generally viewed. Not because the processes within the mind would lose their individual character, but – unless they are not confined in a solipsistic world – they must be acknowledged as such in a public discourse. This external characteristic as a condition of philosophy, i.e., the need of philosophical thinking to be identified as philosophy, indicates the other side of the philosopher. Thus we may remember the philosopher as depicted in various social environments, e.g., in the circle of his disciples or being engaged in discussion with peers, etc. The philosopher must be ready to share his ideas, with different possible goals: seeking confirmation, provoking the public, or teaching the young (Arendt 1978). Whatever ambitions he may have, overt or covert motifs behind his public activities in the field of philosophy, these activities are not external to his existence as a philosopher. The Master of philosophy is not simply a wise person bringing forward original thoughts on universally relevant issues, but he must be acknowledged as such by his fellow philosophers and as a rule, by the following generations of his peers – regardless, in historical perspective, of his public reputation.

Apart from its public reputation, philosophy seems to have always been in the need of legitimizing source, i.e., the sphere of philosophers, characterized as a dynamic discursive process which provides the models, strategies, and policies of teaching philosophy with general frameworks at any time. Philosophy, though sometimes regarded as a holy entity, has always been defined by philosophers, who in their due turn would deliver the legitimizing label to their peers according to specific rules, either written or not. Raphael’s well-known fresco, The School of Athens (Stanza della Segnatura, Vatican), could be telling in our perspective, in a twofold sense: first, as grasping the complexity of a symbolical though virtual gathering of the greatest philosophers and scientists in the Antiquity, in the very center of picture with the two greatest philosophers, being regarded as such by their contemporaries. By this moment, their symbolic presence and mutual acknowledgment provide legitimacy to each other, thus having rendered to be respected as such by later generations. The moment grasped by Rafael is by no means ephemeral to the time of its creation, the first decade of the 1500s. This is not only the representation of gathering of ancient philosophers but the moment of the glorious victory of philosophical reason and rationality against the exclusivist omnipotence of Christian theology and the scholastic education of philosophy of the time. The free spirits of the ancients have been liberated from the tutelage of doctrines embedded in another important tradition, fiercely defended by the authority of the Mother Ecclesiae, commonly known as the Roman Catholic Church. At the same moment, all the various spirits of modernity, as regards philosophy and the sphere of sciences, were set free to develop into innumerable varieties – to fight against and by rewriting, preserving most of the traditions of the main historical paradigms.

As mentioned above, we may discern the philosopher engaged in his utmost individual activity, mentally active in various fields of the cognitive sphere, on the other hand pursuing philosophical discourse in the context of a specific public sphere – specific in the sense that it would provide him with the legitimate label, acknowledging him as a philosopher. Needless to say, philosophy and philosophers have a unique position, so much differentiating him from the men of any other science: findings of philosophical inquiries are not only questionable, or defiable, but, much worse, often found hardly verifiable. In fact, again unique to philosophers, their findings are often refuted by their own disciples (if not, their discpiles are probably not philosophers themselves). It still does not necessarily mean that they are not philosophers. But in more serious cases, it may also happen that philosophers are denounced, which is possible on the same grounds – as so often seen in abusive forms of show trials.

At this moment, we ought to remember the unique character of the relation between the philosopher and his relation to the public, in general. The philosopher’s reputation tends to be curiously contrastive, especially in critical periods, when philosophers are put on stage, to the extremes: either highly prestigious or deeply suspicious (Aristophanes 2003). The archetypical conflict refers to a most critical period in the history of Athens, highlighted by the trial of Socrates. Among the major affects it is well-known Plato’s decision to leave the public sphere, with all its consequences to the crisis between the political and philosophical spheres – as regards to the interpretation of the public sphere in Plato’s philosophy (Arendt 1978).

Three Perspectives

Thus, philosophy in the context of education may perhaps be characterized in three essentially different perspectives to describe the most characteristic paradigms in the context of education, or in a strict sense, teaching philosophy. Far from any intention toward an essentialist typology, these three types are as it follows: (1) the Socratic tradition, (2) the Academic paradigm, and (3) the modern paradigm, with its abundant variety of models, yet usually with more or less overt ideological motivations. The first two great paradigms – resisting to be confined in periods of times − provide models developed under the influence of the Socratic and Platonic ways of interpreting the role of the philosopher in close relation to the meaning of philosophy. In any case, Socrates and Plato provided two sides of the same line of a philosophical school, probably the most influential one of the Greek classics. In Athens, the political, cultural, and economic center of the Mediterranean in the fifth century, Socrates and his disciples paved the ground for a strand of pursuing philosophy on very similar grounds – with two entirely different outcomes. These models made possible the development of two great models in dealing with philosophy. The common ground may perhaps be best grasped by the concept of paideia worked out by Werner Jaeger in his interpretation of Plato’s philosophy in the frame of the fundamental concept of educational activity (Jaeger 1963). Here we may recall some key points from the development of the Greek philosophy (Heidegger 1959). Humans, as strange beings as they are in Nature, and against any other naturally occurring existent, are aware of their own mortality. However, they have some other special faculties that are not clearly conceptualized but help them to find themselves closer to the so-called divine sphere. In a long and complex process of evolution, Heraclitus, Pythagoras, Parmenides, just to mention only a few names, had proceeded in developing a conceptual framework that would allow a movement in the cognitive sphere to understand the world of invisibles, i.e., ideas, otherwise not revealed to human perception. Cognitive skills in the field of mental faculties enable a strange mobility – that is moving “upwards” – toward a monolithic center of truth that reveals itself to a divine capacity, i.e., thinking. This is the point when we first encounter the term philosopher, characteristic to Heraclitus, who had decided to leave the annoying world of the political sphere. As it is known, immortality was accessible to the Greeks by an extraordinary action that is visible to all and worth of memory of all (Kirk, Raven Schofield 1983). It was revolutionary – and very antipolitical − that inside the cognitive sphere, by ascending to the sphere of logos, men may leave the world of mortals and join the world of immortals (the interpretation of “soul” is not a matter of interpretation in here).

The Socratic Pattern

It was the work of the Sophists and Socrates which made possible that philosophical inquiry took the form of critically engaged discourse and as such introduced into the polis, metaphorically speaking, to public spaces of the agora. However, in contrast to the Sophists’ pragmatism, Socrates relied on the pursuit of paideia not for any educative purpose, such as adopting certain techniques to outsmart any given counterpart, nor in order to conveying a set of knowledge, eventually practicing the acquired skills. The Socratic model of paideia (as far as its interpretations are based on an authentic interpretation of solely indirect sources) implies that we are responsible for the world of mortals, i.e., we ought to encourage all our fellow humans, especially our fellow citizens to critically revise the concepts they rely on during their everyday pursuits. Humans share certain commonness in their faculties, e.g., sensus communis that would allow everyone to make distinctions and draw conclusions by using commonly accepted rules of logic (Arendt 1982). In this way, teaching does not directly enriches the person with the idea of good – as a set of knowledge that must be learnt so as to gain better life and attain a good community, described as just and fair – therefore content in itself. Thus, Socrates was engaged in the everyday life of the polis, and was interested in everyone’s lives (he participated in battles fought by the city but also enjoying rather frivolous symposia), assuming a universal responsibility in a community that was given to him by birth.

Among later forms of the Socratic tradition, the concept of cultura animi can be mentioned (Arendt 1982), although it meant, in the Roman period of time, a combination with various forms of Academism. Similarly, skepticism might also be reckoned as heir of the Socratic tradition. In the past century both early phenomenology and Wittgenstein – with the first attempts of the first Vienna Circle (Wiener Kreis) – found interest in the critical understanding of the language of philosophy or even the everydayness. Together with their successors, such as pragmatism and critical thinking they are sometimes regarded as being influenced by the Socratic tradition. However, most of these intentions have hardly gained any impact on the patterns of education – except their immense popularity as topics of teaching and studying philosophy (Pfister 2010; Liessman & Zenaty 2004).

The Platonic Pattern: Academism

The second model of teaching philosophy, probably the most influential paradigm of education in general, is embedded in the tradition of academic philosophy. Thus, as mentioned above, the Platonic model of paideia bears the hallmarks of the consequences of Plato’s experiencing his Master’s trial, as Socrates’ most famous disciple decided to withdraw from the public sphere and turn his (mental) eyes toward the real objects – far from perishing in the sphere of opinions. This is the moment when the philosopher will take the role of a leader of the young soul – hence the term pedagogy as compounding paidea + gogos – leading him out of a sphere of shadows and uncertainties. Against the Socratic practice of paideia, Plato had introduced two remarkable changes, apparently both having technical character, yet profoundly influencing the understanding the role of philosophy and that of the philosopher (Jaeger 1963).
  1. 1.

    The activities of philosophizing and teaching will be drawn into the safe and autonomous sphere of Academy – literally isolating it from the unsafe world of politics. Thus Academy was conceived of as analogous to the model of the cognitive sphere – as the justly leading part of the soul – against the inferior parts of the soul, closer to its eternal counterpart, the body. Further, Academy had been isolated from the body’s equally perishable worldly formulation, i.e., the polis.

  2. 2.

    The specialization of the fields of universal knowledge, for the time being resulting only in methodologically separated disciplines, to be further divided by the Aristotelian model of philosophy and its particular forms of education. Thus, the once universally present logos will be transformed into techniques of logics, also as means to be applied in different forms of -logies, to be sure, always having the ambition to provide universal coverage to all known physical, political, or spiritual existents.


The Modern Pattern(s)

Although modern forms of theories and philosophies of education, comprising the role of philosophy in education, here labeled as a third paradigm, have been interested in pedagogy, they are approaching the “original” understanding of paideia in departing from or showing contradictory ways to it. As they are regarded here as ideologically motivated paradigms, teaching philosophy may be seen as modern development, with their roots in a revolt against scholastic education. So much different in their characteristics that indeed impossible to coin all of them under one term, the loose term still refers to various models whereby ideology plays – either overt or covert – yet decisive role. Generally speaking, and in an allegedly oversimplifying way, educational models, explicitly in teaching philosophy, have evolved under the tutelage of political ideologies, especially that of liberalism, nationalism, and socialism, or as usually, a specific combination of these dominant ideologies. It is also relevant that ideologies, in the context of understanding the legitimate role of philosophy and the philosopher, are closely related to the ways ideologies define some of the basic values of the human existence. To be sure, ideology is not meant that they are learnt, say indoctrinated as ideologies, but certain values are not only treated as topics of discursive (critical) learning, but they provide a normative framework of education. The principles upon which different models of teaching philosophy are being built have acquired ideological characteristics all over modernity. In the context of modernity, we may mention some of the cardinal values: human dignity, freedom, justice, individuality, and the stability of the State (Hobbes 2011; Locke 2001; Rousseau 1979). Although they are manifold in character, they are primarily associated with ideas that are defining humans as such, without relying on any transcendent foundation and serve as an overall ground for the stability of a political community.

Totalitarian regimes, as extreme cases, may represent specific forms in ideological formulations – however, in general outlines, often imitating some of the Western formulae (social justice in appropriate political order, the concept of “end of history,” social Darwinism, etc.). In its extreme forms ideological education is ready to penetrate the autonomy of the sphere Academy, severely corrupting the autonomy of philosophy and that of the education, in general. The other moment in totalitarian forms of ideological education, paradoxically though, draws closer to the Socratic tradition by its holistic approach, bearing a specific political intention: each human being is responsible for the world. That is why, surely not in ironical sense, philosophy was also coined as the worldview in the educational programs of Communist countries.

Toward Paideia in Teaching Philosophy

The Socratic-Platonic tradition still today lurks over the Western tradition in contemporary education, in both forms of the classical paradigms. Platonic Academism is present in the sense of systematic, specialized yet reflective ways of teaching philosophy – present in either basic forms of teaching philosophy: be it history of philosophy or problem-based teaching. However, providing universal forms of didactics in philosophy, the efficiency depends on a thoroughly processed syllabus and detailed scheme of each lesson. These techniques are often associated with a certain authoritative teacher’s attitude; personally varying communicative skills may prove very efficient if selection of texts and topics are appropriate to the target group’s cognitive skills.

The Socratic tradition, in the strict sense, is also present although more often through the teacher’s personal – often charismatic – attitudes, with all its advantages and hazards: students motivated in autonomous thinking may feel engaged in further reading, thus resulting excellent results, with potentially long-lasting interest in philosophy. On the other hand, the hazards are also well-known: many students may feel neglected, or disinterested if the teacher is focusing his efforts to a relatively close group of students. These methods are preferably applicable, more efficiently practiced in groups where the course was the students’ own choice, such as in optional seminars, classes, reading clubs, etc.

As a summary, the Socratic model of critical discourse has often been noticed as a most influential form of motivating students to engage themselves in further philosophical readings. However, as a model of teaching philosophy, the Socratic model is acknowledged in a very restricted sense – usually without its basic pursuit of paideia, since it is not regarded as compatible with the fundamental aims of the schooling system. By definition and following the very original experience of Socrates, it is regarded as a way of philosophy that means too high risk to the stability of the social and political order. Still, in critical thinking, for example, certain techniques are adopted, yet hardly assuming the universal responsibility and existential risk, so much characteristic to the philosopher who had never written down a word in his life.

Another, relatively new development seems to apply a certain Socratic way of philosophy, yet questioned by many professionals. The worldwide movement known as Philosophy with children has often been regarded as philosophically not legitimate, it still seems to have been spreading and preparing pupils to be open for philosophical thinking: reflecting on the everyday life phenomena, finding conceptual tools and logical forms to a critical understanding of their world. Whatever means applied, philosophy with children may also prove to be a path toward the old tradition of paideia.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Singapore 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Charles UniversityPragueCzech Republic